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Get Your Story Straight: A Quickie Guide to Story 101

As a bonafide expert in storytelling, nothing gets me more riled up than seeing people fuck it up. Q: OMG, did I really just say that? A: Yep, I totally did. The whole idea of “story” is so personal, so intimate, so individual that the concept of doing it “wrong” almost seems, well, mean. Welllllllllll, I guess I’m just kinda mean! Because, look: you’re not reading this blog post to get soothed to sleep by words of affirmation telling you that you’re amazing, gorgeous, and perfect and you’re doing everything right. You’re reading this because you KNOW that something in your story isn’t totally gelling with your audience and readers. Maybe you’re NOT seeing an increase (even if it’s slow and steady) of readership on your blog or newsletter. Maybe your first book, if you’ve even written one yet, was “good” but it wasn’t a bestseller. Maybe you’re booking some speaking engagements but you’re not getting tons of clients from them. Or maybe you just have BIG dreams for how far you want to go, and how wide you want to reach with your story and message — but you just don’t have the skills just yet. Maybe your writing and storytelling are just, well, average.

AND…. you want to do story BETTER.

For the record, I’m sure you are amazing, gorgeous, and perfect and you’re doing everything right…everything that you KNOW to do, that is. What you’re not doing is the stuff you DON’T know how to do. Because, if you’re a HUMAN like me, you don’t know what you don’t know. I, for one, don’t know how to properly julienne a carrot, surf, or even ride a bike. Yes, this is true. When people hear this, they usually ask me “Wait, so you’ve, like, NEVER ridden a bike?” To which I reply “Yes, I have.” But that was when I was about eight years old and my bike was a pretty-in-pink Barbie one (with a bell, natch) and a solid set of training wheels. My truth is that I haven’t set my ass on a bike seat outside of SoulCycle in about 25 years. Actually, I’ve never done SoulCycle either… See all the things I don’t know!!

But here’s what I DO know: storytelling.

I know because I made it my major in a fit of absolute passion and obsession when I was 18 years old. I know because I wanted to know EVERYTHING. I wanted to read ALL the books. I wanted to study ALL the literature. I wanted to break down ALL the movies. I wanted to write like a goddamn angel plays a harp: effortlessly, and powerfully, and pulling on those goddamn heartstrings because DAMMIT PEOPLE NEED PERMISSION TO FEEL THINGS, EVEN IF IT’S IN A DARK THEATER WHILE SHOVING POPCORN IN THEIR FACES. (Obviously, I have a bit more attitude than an angel, and a lot more fire, which hopefully just makes this a bit more fun for ya.) The thing is, julienning a carrot, surfing, and riding a bike, while fun to learn, won’t help you connect with your audience. But storytelling WILL. Storytelling is the most effective method for engaging with your audience to build trust and love, and to create an emotional connection that builds another level of MEANING right into your product or service. And in case you haven’t heard the good word, BUYING IS EMOTIONAL. People do it when it feels good, to fulfill a DESIRE, accomplish a goal, make their life more convenient so they can…. fill it with the things that MEAN THE MOST TO THEM.

But the only way to imbue a product or service with MEANING is to use STORY.

So let’s talk about that… Let’s start by talking about the big mistakes I see people making in their storytelling. These are the things that make me wanna grab people by the shoulders and shake them yelling “GET YOUR STORY STRAIGHT.”

Mistake #1: STOP focusing on other people’s stories instead of your own.

If you’re constantly obsessing over other people’s branding, website copy, and core sales story, you’re never going to find your own way of wooing your audience. People ask me allllll the time (typically in a judgy, complain-y voice)  — “is RAGS TO RICHES the only story that converts?” First of all, NO. Secondly, it doesn’t always work and thirdly (and this goes to people who are using Rags to Riches stories AND those who are just sitting by the sidelines judging it)… RAGS TO RICHES IS NOT A STRAIGHT LINE. It’s not a straight line because stories aren’t actually linear… That whole “beginning, middle, and end” thing? It works, but it’s a TRICK and sophisticated audiences know this. 😉 Because IRL, we don’t just live in an “ending” – once a story ends, another begins. This means that as your business evolves, so will your story. Whenever any of us accomplishes a goal, we’ve still got more stories to live, more lands to conquer, more goals to slay… so, then what? We start over. Again. Because stories are CIRCULAR, not linear. Sure, “Rags to Riches” works ONCE because people want “the end” as a result, and it’s possible — but that doesn’t mean their story (or that leaders’ story) is ever over. I mean, how many times can you move from NOTHING to WEALTHY? That shit gets boring real quick. To continue having authentic communication with their audience, anyone using that story has gotta own their ongoing journey. (Unless authenticity isn’t their jam, in which case you’re reading the wrong blog.) This evolution of your story WITH your business means that you need to KNOW how to craft interesting and compelling stories to continue engaging with your customers and clients in a meaningful way. Instead of being so finite with story, try repositioning the idea of “the end” as a new beginning as both the buyer and as a leader. From that point of view, the “Rags to Riches” story is really just “So I made a lot of money once!”

Mistake #2: STOP OVERDRAMATIZING your content for the whole damn story.

I’ll admit it. I’m a drama queen. I feel things very intensely. It’s a thing I personally need to navigate on my spiritual path. But, I’ll also be the first to laugh at myself (mid-sob sesh). It’s what makes me so great at my job. Now, I know I said buying is EMOTIONAL and it is, but what you need to keep in mind here is that the entire PROCESS of stories is an emotional process – like a wave, it crests and falls and ebbs and flows until we find our version of “the end” for that moment. But the thing is guys, everything is not that serious and sad. UNLESS your story is about you fighting something that is actually LIFE and DEATH — like fighting cancer, losing a loved one, or being suicidal, it’s not that serious. And while audiences can identify with all levels of struggles – no one likes a whiny, drippy victim. Instead, write from the perspective of heroism and inspire people. Yes. Life is hard. It’s beautiful and also rife with challenges. Business too. And marriage, and motherhood, and being someone’s child, friend, sister, lover. It’s ALL awesome but hard. And that’s OK. But leaving out the good stuff to try to make your audience feel sorry… that’s not gonna work. Audiences can smell “trying” like they can smell desperation. Unless Days Of Our Lives is your intended tone for your story, leave the Soap Operas for the daytime TV watching ladies in mumus who still watch that garbage. Okay, I’ll admit that I used to watch Days of Our Lives when I was a kid and my mom and sister watched it… But I remember nothing except softly focused angles, hospital scenes, and really bad set design and music.

SAVE THE MELODRAMA FOR YO MAMA!

While we’re on the topic of “drama….” STOP UNDER-DRAMATIZING your story too. Pretending everything is just “cool” all the time doesn’t really give your audience anything to grasp onto emotionally. And you need to hook them in the hearts (but not in, like, a serial killer kinda way). Making it seem like the journey is SIMPLE and EASY has its upsides. People want to believe and have the hope that whatever they want to achieve is SO DOABLE. But by making things seem too perfect, clean, and simple, you ALSO make people skeptical. The reason is you’re not giving THEM the permission to fail as they try to make success happen. But in all reality, you can’t achieve success without hard work, trial and error, and learning from mistakes. That’s basically the nature of life, right? They say in school the lesson comes first, and THEN the test. But in life, it’s the other way around – and that’s true. Making it seem like YOU had some kind of awkward shortcut makes you hard to believe — because that’s not the reality most people know. Don’t be afraid to include the rough parts of the journey too, but make sure you’re positioning them strategically along the story path.

Mistake #3: Don’t let your story FLATLINE.

Yes, flatline means death. It’s that moment in the movie theater when everyone checks their phones and yawns, and scrolls Facebook and probably also posts a tweet about how they’re at the movies but it SUCKS. Hello, bad word of mouth!!! Way to snuff out our sales potential right then and there. When your story flatlines you lose the audience and when you lose the audience that tension that exists from their STRONG desire to buy also goes BYE-BYE. If you eliminate tension, you eliminate desire. I wish I could think of a better metaphor for this besides…. “how people feel after sex,” but I can’t. Flatlining your story is another way of saying… “you killed the mood, bro.”

Instead, include DELIGHT and SURPRISE in your story. Add a plot twist, if you will. Whatever keeps tension for the audience is a good move. (and a sexy one at that)

Mistake #4: Stop HIDING THE MESSAGE!

Do you have any idea how many times I’ve listened to someone ramble on and on and then went “okay, so….what’s the point?”  But really though, what are you trying to say? What are you trying to accomplish? And what’s the damn GOAL? That was actually three tips in one, but the point I’m trying to make is simple — You need to give people a reason to care, a strong message, a bold statement, a PURPOSE for your story to exist — in order to maintain a high level of engagement with your audience. And one of the biggest ways to undermine MEANING in your story is to HIDE THE F*CKING MESSAGE. Storytelling is not a time to be coy about what you’re trying to say. In fact, it’s time to hit the nail on the head. You DO want to parse out the information and emotional plot points of how your story is timed. You do want to hide some things until the appropriate strategic time. But you DON’T want to keep your ultimate message under wraps so no one actually knows WHY they should pay attention or what’s coming. The point? HIDE SOME THINGS, BUT NEVER YOUR MESSAGE. My advice is to craft a clear message before diving into the story and you’ll end up with a much crisper, more powerful result.

Mistake #5: Don’t let yourself become a BORING CHARACTER.

Yep, you guessed it. Every story has an interesting character who makes paying attention EXTRA worthwhile. Maybe they’re funny. Maybe they’re kind. Maybe they have a lot of value to offer. Maybe ALL of the above. But the trick here is that they’re NOT BORING. There are different components that make up a real, interesting character. Where they’re from, their likes and dislikes, quirks, values, voice. Much like a personal brand, a character STANDS for something, has a compelling personality, and says things in a way that only they could and would say them. Think about your favorite character from a movie. If you can’t think of anyone, think of Scarlett O’Hara. Is there ANYTHING that woman could NOT do? Is there any situation where you wouldn’t want to watch Scarlett claw her way to security? Of course not, because she’s compelling A F. But one of the most important character identifiers – in addition to everything mentioned above – is ACTION. You know WHO this person is based on what they do. How they respond to crisis, how they behave in the face of conflict, what they’re willing to do to get what they want. Action is what tells us WHO a person is, and the same is true for your story.

Ask yourself if your story displays actions that communicate just how heroic you are, and why it’s both worthwhile and entertaining to the audience to continue watching you.

Things just working out for you and life going its merry way isn’t interesting. Think about the most popular characters in your industry right now. What actions are they taking that show who they are and make them worth watching? What makes them INTERESTING and compelling?
While this blog may be chock full of information, Story is surprisingly simple to master. Once you learn the formula, you’ll find it becomes easier and easier to nail it, and you’ll get better responses from fans, readers, and audience members the more and more you practice.

I want to make this whole story thing easy for you, so I’ve made a bold move and decided that it’s time to teach everything I know about STORYTELLING in a simple, fun, efficient, and highly supportive way.

If you want to be the FIRST to know when this program opens, click here to get on the VIP wait-list for EARLY access to super-sweet limited bonuses before doors open wide. See? I’m not so “mean,” after all. 🙂   xo Jamie

Oh hey, I like you too 🙂

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