“What happens when we take out all the fighting and the f*cking?”
That’s the question Joan Scheckel asked as she developed her unique storytelling workshop called The Technique.
Don’t know Joan Scheckel? Let me give you the CliffsNotes.
✔️ She’s a kick-butt mentor and teacher who helps actors and directors tell better stories.
✔️ Her work on films has earned more than 1,000 nominations and more than 450 awards.
✔️ People pay thousands of $ to attend just one of her storytelling workshops (thousands more to attend all 34 of them).
And you don’t need to spend a cent to grab the one lesson she gladly gives away for free>> The most widely followed formula for story tells us to NEVER take out all the fighting and the f*cking. But blind allegiance to formula is NOT the only way to show up with a creative and a powerful story. (She sums it up below. . . in her own words.)
What I’m about is working out how to tell a story in a creative way without using formulas.
Obviously there are formulas that work, just like in pop music. In screenwriting, for instance, you have the hero structure, where on page six you do this, and on page 12 you do that. That’s a certain rhythm, but it only works if you have a hero on a journey.
If, however, you have a different story to tell and you try to use that structure, it’s confusing.
It’s like singing a lullaby but using a waltz structure, because that happens to be the formula du jour. If you do that, the baby’s going to cry.*
You see, Joan is taking direct issue with the ever-popular formula known as The Hero’s Journey. (Think: Star Wars >> Central character emerges as weak. He gets called into a life-changing journey. He faces tremendous amounts of conflict. He meets a guide to help him on his way. He ultimately overcomes the conflict and emerges as the hero.)
She argues that The Hero’s Journey has turned us into a culture that idolizes conflict’s role in storytelling. It’s become the main (and often ONLY ) tool we use to create our own stories, and as a result, audiences have come to expect conflict in every narrative they experience.
And this is to our great peril.
Because as storytellers, when we place the spotlight on conflict, we are building a world of conflict. . .
a world that centers on good vs. evil, hero vs. enemy, them vs. us. . .
a world where someone is always out to get you. . .
a world where one perspective is always more important than another. . .
and a world where fight and might always achieve right.
Authentic stories acknowledge that the world isn’t always as simple as conflict/hero/right/wrong.
They make space for the power of dialogue and relationship.
They work hard to understand the emotional experience of a particular moment because this is how we empathize with the world around us.
And they help us to understand our audience as complex and layered HUMAN BEINGS who cannot (and should not) always be fit into a box of psychological tricks, persuasion strategies, and perfectly followed formulas.
Right now, we are living in a hazy moment. The world is shifting, and everyone is scrambling to figure out how they fit into the small and big story. Maybe you’re doing this with your brand story, too, and if so, let me give you two questions to think through:
- Does my brand story center on conflict, or does it center on connection?
- Does my brand story invite others into relationship, or is it treating my audience as a character that can be controlled through psychology, persuasion, data, and formula?
A few hints. . .
**You’ll know that conflict has taken a front-and-center role if you’re relying on data to understand your audience more than you do real-life conversations.
**You’ll know conflict is the star of your story if you’ve become such an avid student of the tricks of persuasion that you’ve turned your messaging into easy-to-churn-out formula (a little urgency here, a dash of scarcity there, and a dose of future-pacing here).
**And you’ll know conflict has become your bread and butter when you’ve become so focused on the funnels or the stages of awareness that you forget to acknowledge the true need driving your audience’s behavior in the first place.
Truly authentic brand stories begin with acknowledging the full complexity of the human experience.
Is there conflict in this human experience? Absolutely. But as Joan Scheckel says, “conflict does not have to be the only dance step.”
There’s also nuance and relationship and dialogue and emotion.
Try spending some time shifting the spotlight on your own brand story. And as you do, consider this: You are building worlds with the stories you tell, so what type of world are you building?
*”Film Coach with a Fondness for the F-Word: Feeling” The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July 2002, https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/film-coach-with-a-fondness-for-the-f-word-feeling-20020718-gdfgmn.html