Business communicators can learn from novelists and their storytelling techniques.
I’ve always been partial to the Kurt Vonnegut advice:
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
It’s never easy for a company to reveal “awful things,” but when they do, they frame a story with humanity and one that cultivates an emotional connection with the audience.
The Guardian recently ran a piece in which they asked a number of novelists and writers for tips on their craft. With a hat tip to the Guardian for handling the heavy lifting, I’ve culled their content for my Top 10 list:
|1. Elmore Leonard||“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”|
|2. Diana Athill||“You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead.”|
Note: Some of us do the beady-eye thing better than others.
|3. Roddy Doyle||“Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg ‘horse’, ‘ran’, ‘said’.”|
|4. Neil Gaiman||“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”|
|5. PD James||“Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”|
Note: Now that’s a scary thought: how does one avoid bad writing? If only Outlook would filter out emails that don’t make the grade.
|6. Hilary Mantel||“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”|
|7. Andrew Motion||“Think with your senses as well as your brain.”|
|8. Sarah Waters||“Don’t overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs.”|
|9. Will Self||“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”|
Note: Will is old school. Yes, you can capture the idea on a smartphone.
|10. Jeanette Winterson||“Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.”|