Storytelling That Within Seconds, ...


500 days of summer

It’s not easy to do.

And it’s tougher to accomplish in business communications. Teasing out company stories that cause the left ventricle to quicken are few and far between.

Still, business communicators can learn from the experts – screenwriters – on how to build the front end of a story. They deal with pressure to hook the audience right from the start. Otherwise, movie goers will walk even after shelling out 25 bucks for a ticket and over-salted popcorn.

One of my all-time favorite movie passages comes from “500 Days of Summer.” The opening narrative dangles the hook.

“This is a story of boy meets girl.”

The beauty of this line comes from its simplicity. You’re thinking what a cliché, exactly what the screenwriters want you think.

“The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie ‘The Graduate.’”

The narrative doesn’t tell us that Tom Hansen is an incurable romantic. We connect the dots through the back stories. Quick aside – Margate, New Jersey, is home to Marven Gardens of Monopoly fame (and yes, the game makers misspelled “Marvin”).

“The girl, Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan, did not share this belief. Since the disintegration of her parent’s marriage she’d only love two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and feel nothing.”

Potential conflict arrives on the scene. Again, the story doesn’t tell us this chick has a heart of coal. We figure it out. BTW, great name, “Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan.”

“Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for. This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”

The close is sheer genius. With an economy of words, we learn that the paths of Tom and Summer have intersected. Then, the omnipresent narrator lets us know in language that leaves no room for interpretation, “… this is not a love story.”

Every high school English teacher embraces the mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” That’s what I love about the opener. It “shows” through several mini stories so the few adjectives are used to great effect.

I welcome your thoughts on some of the best openers from movies as well as books. If enough suggestions come through, I’ll package them as a follow-on post.

Just don’t play the “Call Me Ishmael” card.

Note: The voice that delivers the opening from 500 Days of Summer brings the perfect cadence. You can listen for yourself in the video below:


  • joseph

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