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6 Quick Story Exercises

Gretchen Rubin shared 6 Quick Story Exercises to Spark Your Creativity. Here’s the gist of it:

  1. Funny _____Pick a drama, thriller, or horror film and turn it into a comedy.
  2. Serious _____Likewise, pick a comedy and make it into a drama. SeriousAnimal House – Drama about cheating scandal at a small university ends in A Few Good Men-like showdown.
  3. FBI out of water.This works for comedy or drama. Name five places that a FBI agent in the movies has never been sent to solve a crime. Example: Slob FI agent is sent undercover to a Provence Cooking School.
  4. _____ SchoolWorks for both drama and comedy. Name five examples of an unusual type of school, camp, or classroom. Example: “Wife School.”
  5. Versus!Drama or comedy. Name several pairs of people to be on opposite sides of a burning issue.
  6. My ______ Is a Serial KillerDrama or comedy. Name an unusual person, animal, or thing that a paranoid can suspect of being a murderer.

These exercises are originally taken from Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.


Storytelling Lessons From Andrew Stanton

There are few people who made storytelling in such a successful career like Andrew Stanton – the man behind many of Pixar’s most successful animation movies.


Brothers Grimm Illustrated Fairy Tales

The fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers are some of recent histories most powerful and captivating stories – and I still enjoy reading one every once in a while. That’s why I’m really excited about this book:

You can preview some of the illustrations on the Amazon page, and it’s just wonderfully done – yes, they are vintage illustrations, but I find they really pull you into the story and bring you back into that wonder and amazement which stories could create in your childhood days.


Apple already did it, but now Samsung too uses storytelling to promote their newest and fanciest smartphone. In this YouTube video, you get the story behind the design of the Samsung Galaxy SIII.

There’s a couple of things to say about this.

First of all, it’s brilliant marketing, because it even speaks to people who don’t want to hear about technical features or pixel resolution or processing details.

It’s a story about a bunch of highly talented and passionate people who work on one of the most successful products that will be released to market.

And even though the designers talk about technical things – new manufacturing processes, materials used and so on – it doesn’t sound like that. It’s emotional. He talks about the flow of water, the shimmer of pebbles in a stream on a sunny day, about gracefulness.

They talk about technology that works so well that you don’t even notice it – technology that’s so intuitive you don’t have to adapt to it, where interaction is emotionally engaging at first contact – just like with a human being.

They talk about natural sound design, so that when you use your phone it sounds like a stroll in the forest. The sound designers don’t just sit in front of computers, they used water, they used milk, juice and yogurt to create the perfect sound. You learn that the final sound of the dialer was the sound of orange juice dropping into a small cup – how fascinating is that? Think about it – you wouldn’t expect orange juice sounding different from water or apple juice, but the sound designers who created the auditory interface for the SIII explored it so deeply that they found out orange juice creates the ideal sound.

The swiping motion you make to unlock your phone? They designed the phone so it reminds you of the feeling of running your hands through soft grass, or dipping your feet into a stream of clear water, or the cool breeze of a bicycle ride..

Do you see all these meaningful mental pictures they are painting? All these fundamental and universal human experiences? All of the sudden, it’s not about the phone anymore. It’s not about functions. It’s about you, it’s about a part of your life and how it can be better than it currently is. They’re not trying to sell, but they are inspiring you to buy with this brilliantly created – let’s face it – advertisement.


The Future of Storytelling

What’s the future of storytelling going to be like? It’s surely going to make use of new technologies and stories will be told over multiple platforms – not just TV screens, not just computers, not just tablets, not just radios, not just MP3 players, not just smartphones, not just ___ [insert flashy new device name].

More complexity is being added to storytelling.

In one sentence:

audiences are looking for a blurring of barriers between content and reality in a layered yet cohesive execution

That’s the summary of a study by the research consultancy Latitude.

As KC Ifeanyi recently put it, these are the main factors that will shape the future of storytelling:

Immersion: Delving deeper into the story through supplementary context and sensory experiences.

Interactivity: Allowing consumers to become part of the narrative and possibly influence its outcome.

Integration: Having a seamless connection among all platforms being used and going beyond just replicating content on different devices.

Impact: Inspiring consumers to take action of some kind, e.g. purchase a product, sign up for a service, support a cause, etc.

Other findings from the study:

“Transmedia is more than media shifting:” 82% wanted complementary, not duplicating, mobile apps for their TV watching experience.

“The real world is a platform:” 52% consider the real world as another platform in which 3-D technology, augmented reality, and the like are expected to link the digital and physical.

Control: 79% expressed the desire to become part of a story, interacting with its main characters.

You can access the full study online (for free) here: What Audiences Want: Study Uncovers Possible Futures for Storytelling


Branding With Storytelling

Jon Thomas makes a compelling point in his article 7 Reasons Storytelling Is Important For Branded Content.

Especially today, when it comes to advertising or branding, most people think: online! social media! web! TV! radio! print! neuromarketing!

But there’s something missing in the mix: storytelling.

Yes, it’s thousands of years old, but it’s still just as important for effective branding. If not more. If you think about it – all of the “hot terms” people talk about when they talk about branding are essentially “carriers” of good storytelling.

His 7 reasons for storytelling in branding:

  1. Stories produce experience.
  2. Stories reveal what makes your message unique.
  3. Stories are emotional glue that connects you to your customers.
  4. Stories shape information into meaning.
  5. Stories can motivate an audience toward your goal.
  6. Stories are more likely to be shared.
  7. Stories are less likely to be resisted.

Gary Vaynerchuck recently talked at #SoMix2012, and there’s something that is central to everything he said and about how business is done, although he kind of sneaked it in there. But of course, when he slips a comment about the power of stories, we’re not missing it 😉

Gary Vaynerchuck:

Here’s the secret that I barely like to talk about because I want to keep it to myself.

It’s all supply and demand, and it’s storytelling from the proper platform.

Here’s the whole talk:


And then later he said (around 1:01:00)

We are all only in the storytelling business. The story we tell to the customer is everything.

Gary is smart as hell when it comes to running a business. Listen to him 😉


Michael Gazzaniga is one of the world’s best known cognitive neuroscientists, and he recently published an excerpt from his newest book Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain:

In this excerpt he talks about a situation where he jumped away from a sound that resembled a rattle snake (in the area where he lived, there were in fact many rattle snakes).

If you were to have asked me why I had jumped, I would have replied that I thought I’d seen a snake. The reality, however, is that I jumped way before I was conscious of the snake. My explanation is from post hoc information I have in my conscious system. When I answered that question, I was, in a sense, confabulating—giving a fictitious account of a past event, believing it to be true.

I confabulated because our human brains are driven to infer causality. They are driven to make sense out of scattered facts. The facts that my conscious brain had to work with were that I saw a snake, and I jumped. It did not register that I jumped before I was consciously aware of it.

In truth, when we set out to explain our actions, they are all post hoc explanations using post hoc observations with no access to nonconscious processing. Not only that, our left brain fudges things a bit to fit into a makes-sense story. Explanations are all based on what makes it into our consciousness, but actions and the feelings happen before we are consciously aware of them—and most of them are the results of nonconscious processes, which will never make it into the explanations.

So realize: the reasons why we do things are often different from the reasons why we think (and say) we do things.

Then he talks about experiments with split-brain patients:

We showed a split-brain patient two pictures: To his right visual field, a chicken claw, so the left hemisphere saw only the claw picture, and to the left visual field, a snow scene, so the right hemisphere saw only that. He was then asked to choose a picture from an array placed in full view in front of him, which both hemispheres could see. His left hand pointed to a shovel (which was the most appropriate answer for the snow scene) and his right hand pointed to a chicken (the most appropriate answer for the chicken claw).

We asked why he chose those items. His left-hemisphere speech center replied, “Oh, that’s simple. The chicken 
claw goes with the chicken,” easily explaining what it knew. It had seen the chicken claw. Then, looking down at his left hand pointing to the shovel, without missing a beat, he said, “And you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed.” Immediately, the left brain, observing the left hand’s response without the knowledge of why it had picked that item, put it into a context that would explain it. It knew nothing about the snow scene, but it had to explain the shovel in front of his left hand. Well, chickens do make a mess, and you have to clean it up. Ah, that’s it! Makes sense.

What was interesting was that the left hemisphere did not say, “I don’t know,” which was the correct answer. It made up a post hoc answer that fit the situation. It confabulated, taking cues from what it knew and putting them together in an answer that made sense.

We called this left-hemisphere process the interpreter. It is the left hemisphere that engages in the human tendency to find order in chaos, that tries to fit everything into a story and put it into a context. It seems driven to hypothesize about the structure of the world even in the face of evidence that no pattern exists.

Our interpreter does this not only with objects but with events as well. In one experiment, we showed a series of about 40 pictures that told a story of a man waking up in the morning, putting on his clothes, eating breakfast, and going to work. Then, after a bit of time, we tested each viewer. He was presented with another series of pictures. Some of them were the originals, interspersed with some that were new but could easily fit the same story. We also included some distracter pictures that had nothing to do with the story, such as the same man out playing golf or at the zoo. What you and I would do is incorporate both the actual pictures and the new, related pictures and reject the distracter pictures. In split-brain patients, this is also how the left hemisphere responds. It gets the gist of the story and accepts anything that fits in.

The right hemisphere, however, does not do this. It is totally veridical and identifies only the original pictures. The right brain is very literal and doesn’t include anything that wasn’t there originally. And this is why your three-year-old, embarrassingly, will contradict you as you embellish a story. The child’s left-hemisphere interpreter, which is satisfied with the gist, is not yet fully in gear.

The interpreter is an extremely busy system. We found that it is even active in the emotional sphere, trying to explain mood shifts. In one of our patients, we triggered a negative mood in her right hemisphere by showing a scary fire safety video about a guy getting pushed into a fire. When asked what she had seen, she said, “I don’t really know what I saw. I think just a white flash.” But when asked if it made her feel any emotion, she said, “I don’t really know why, but I’m kind of scared. I feel jumpy, I think maybe I don’t like this room, or maybe it’s you.” She then turned to one of the research assistants and said, “I know I like Dr. Gazzaniga, but right now I’m scared of him for some reason.” She felt the emotional response to the video but had no idea what caused it.

The left-brain interpreter had to explain why she felt scared. The information it received from the environment was that I was in the room asking questions and that nothing else was wrong. The first makes-sense explanation it arrived at was that I was scaring her. We tried again with another emotion and another patient. We flashed a picture of a pinup girl to her right hemisphere, and she snickered. She said that she saw nothing, but when we asked her why she was laughing, she told us we had a funny machine. This is what our brain does all day long. It takes input from other areas of our brain and from the environment and synthesizes it into a story. Facts are great but not necessary. The left brain ad-libs the rest.


Consciousness flows easily and naturally from one moment to the next with a single, unified, coherent narrative. The action of an interpretive system becomes observable only when the system can be tricked into making obvious errors by forcing it to work with an impoverished set of inputs, most obviously in the split-brain patients.

Our subjective awareness arises out of our dominant left hemisphere’s unrelenting quest to explain the bits and pieces that pop into consciousness.

What does it mean that we build our theories about ourselves after the fact? How much of the time are we confabulating, giving a fictitious account of a past event, believing it to be true? When thinking about these big questions, one must always remember that all these modules are mental systems selected for over the course of evolution. The individuals who possessed them made choices that resulted in survival and reproduction. They became our ancestors.

From Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, copyright 2011 by Michael S. Gazzaniga. Reprinted by arrangement with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.


Using Stories To Charge More

Two guys did an interesting experiment. They purchased some cheap knickknack and resold it on eBay.  But there’s a twist to this thing: they wrote a whole story around each object. More precisely, they let someone else (professional, creative writers) write a story about each object. And using stories, they were able to “flip” these objects for many times their original value – sometimes as much as a 2700% higher selling price than they bought the object for. That’s the power of stories 🙂

And then they turned the whole thing into a book:

Also check out our other recommended books on storytelling 🙂