Wow. I'm seeing it a lot these days. Twitter, blogs, anything having to do with content creation or marketing... it's all about "storytelling." Alright. I get it. It's true, I know. Here's the thing: As a creative, I have an innately low tolerance for the over-used, the hackneyed, the prosaic. And for me, those terms accurately describe how I'm feeling about the term "storytelling" in this context. I'm also one of those people who questions everything, so I've really been mulling my own creative process, and where telling stories fits in that process.
I've been creating, writing and producing content for a long time now, and I don't recall ever thinking in terms of "storytelling." Huh. That's what I've been doing, to be sure. Thinking back on my proudest creative achievements, they have all included some form of narrative structure. But when sharing what I've learned about creating compelling content, the phrases that come to mind are more about the process. "Mix it up", I say. "Just start writing... edit, edit, edit... trust that it will come..." I exhort. Is it that we all know implicitly that we're telling stories? I think so.
Here's my approach to content creation: think hard about your your audience, internalize your client's branding and messaging, then bang away at the creative process by writing, rewriting, walking away, coming back, winnowing, writing and rewriting some more, repeat, repeat, repeat, until the nuggets are left, hammer those into a concept, revise, revise, revise. THEN, look for the story. This is a step I've always done, but never knew I was doing. As I contemplate my process, I realize that those times when it was clear the concept didn't hold together, didn't quite work--and those are very frustrating moments, because you are so in love with the concept--it was because it was a concept absent of narrative. The story wasn't there, as much as I willed it to be. In those cases, you go back to the concepts you have set aside along the way, and you find one that lends itself to that all-important structure, and dive back into the process.
So I'd say for me, thinking in terms of "storytelling" doesn't have to be part of the process--at least not every time. As long as you eventually get there who cares what you call it? But guess who's starting to think more in terms of "the story" these days?
Author/playwright Enid Bagnold (National Velvet) sums it up far better than I: "To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus."