The Secret to Why Stories Work

What Dolly Parton, a poet and a former Finance Director taught me about storytelling.

Credit: Janelle Hiroshige — found via Unsplash

Stories contain the chaos of our emotions

I had a mind-blowing conversation with my business mentor, Mark Seabright. Once a Finance Director, he’s now a coach for founders like me. When I asked him why stories work, he shared something so clear that made everything in my head connect and light up like the northern lights. What I heard, was this:

  • You’ve got the characters who to some extent either are or aren’t containing each other’s emotions
  • Then you’ve got all the sub plots and how individual characters are containing their own emotions, or not
  1. Processing it
  2. Handing it back

Think about what a really good story does for us… It draws us in. It holds us there. It lets us go at the end.

Think about any good book, film, or TV ad… we are hopelessly drawn into it because we identify with what’s going on — we see ourselves within it. Not because it’s a familiar story, but because it’s so well written and so well performed. Containment.

Stories create a simplicity people need

Dolly Parton’s music never fails to pull on my heartstrings and, yes, I did binge her Netflix series, Heartstrings. I highly recommend it.

Stories shape disorder and create order in people’s lives

“What’s beautiful about a poem is that you take on this chaos and this responsibility, and you shape it into order and make something of it. Emerson says, what we need to be is “active souls.” And certainly, when you make a poem you have become an active soul. When you’re a victim, you’re a passive experiencer of whatever it is that’s happened. But to turn your world into words and then shape that is to become an active soul. And it’s just as true about reading as it is about writing. Again, Emerson says there is creative reading as well as creative writing.” — Gregory Orr

Stories build strength in our relationships with ourselves and others.

In life, we’re constantly straddling order and disorder and what words can do in stories is hold the disorder and shape it into something that restabilised the meaning in our lives.

Founder and creator of 5 Stories, a methodology I use to help companies tell better brand stories. I write about storytelling, branding and entrepreneurship 🙃