Andrew Stanton, the Pixar writer of beautiful stories such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E and (my favourite film of 2015) Inside Out, said this during a keynote speech at Screenwriting Expo in 2006:
Story physics - such a brilliant and simple concept. What I took away from this was also very simple, yet essential to any storyteller - the importance of allowing two opposing forces to interact.
Opposites are the root of everything. Opposites generate texture in every aspect of ordinary life: sad and happy, rich and poor, young and old, hope and despair. It’s the yin-yang of nature, that principle that claims each polarity contains its opposite. I knew about the principle, but I never noticed it as a tool for storytelling.
Opposites, by their nature, create tension, like the sparks that jump across the two terminals of a battery. The tension pulls together when opposites attract, or pushes apart when we want to maintain our distance from the other.
Thinking about how this applies to the theme of employee engagement and the communications which flow around it, hopefully some of you might begin to see what I see, that these characters and situations are everywhere. Conflict arises every day within businesses, so as communicators it is our role to look at those conflicts, see how the characters react to new and uncomfortable environments, how they change and grow in order to render the best possible outcome.
In my opinion, if you want to make your content engaging, you have to make your audience care, and to do this you need to make sure whatever you are creating adheres to the three step process of Thesis (setup), Antithesis (conflict) and Synthesis (resolution).
Another useful tool I find useful in this regard is John Yorke's Ten Questions, used primarily to surface any issues you might have when crafting your content.
1. Whose story is it - who is our protagonist?
2. What is their flaw?
3. What is the inciting incident?
4. What does our protagonist want?
5. What obstacles are in their way?
6. What is at stake?
7. Why should we care?
8. What do they learn?
9. How do they learn and why?
10. How does it end?
To see how these tools work when applied to a real piece of storytelling, check out this video of John Yorke talking to Google employees and skip to 03:30. Fans of vintage Eastenders will definitely get an added thrill form this too.
What I find so interesting about these questions, is that when you apply the same questions to our protagonist's opposite half, you start to see that the story itself has a simple and beautiful degree of symmetry. The physics of the story is plain to see and this is the real lesson for communicators here. You will know that your story works when you start to see that universal shape, and therefore the key to being a good storyteller is in practicing the construction of your story.