content marketing, copywriting, storytelling, writing tips

The art of storytelling – what Joss Whedon teaches us about content creation


Weaving the right texture into a story can be one of the biggest challenges when creating great content. When you get it wrong, your credibility can fall flat and your audience will split faster than a freshly fertilised egg. The fact is, we learn, engage and connect through story – just ask the scientists. As storytellers by trade, our team here at Make it Peachy are inspired and influenced by some pretty spectacular storytellers. It’s their skill, style and approach that help us create content of the vast range of industries we do. Over the coming months, we plan to pick some of our favourite storytellers and explore just how they can make us all better content producers.

In honour of the 20-year anniversary of one of our favourite TV action dramedies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we have chosen Marvel’s current golden child, Joss Whedon.

 “The main function of the human brain, the primary instinct, is storytelling. Memory is storytelling. If we all remembered everything, we would be Rain Man, and would not be socially active at all. We learn to forget and to distort, but we [also] learn to tell a story about ourselves.”

Arguably one of the most progressive and dynamic storytellers of our time, Joss Whedon has thrilled, amused and enlightened us for more than two decades. The reason? He’s a damned fine storyteller. He has a knack for turning the spectacular into the relatable and vice versa. We’ve identified the TOP FIVE ways Whedon achieves impact.

Have something to say

“I still want to connect with people … The only thing I do know is that if I approach a story with that as my goal, I will not come up with a story. I will come up with a retread, I will come up with a commercial for storytelling.”

We often spend too much time searching for a way to connect with our audience. Don’t get us wrong, that relationship and connection is a key part of storytelling. What Whedon reminds us, though, is the importance of knowing what you want to say before the audience even comes into it. What are you compelled to write about? What is the purpose of your content? When you understand this, you give your story a trajectory that both you and your audience can follow.

Planning and structure are crucial

“I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when?”

When you look at storylines such as Buffy or the Avengers, you’ll notice how clear and simple their structure is. Because the structure is so clear, it leaves us as audience members room to engage emotionally with the deeper plot lines and subplots. As content marketers, storytellers or communicators, when the structure is clear, we have the freedom to explore more sophisticated techniques.

Understand your audience and deliver what they need

“Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” 

The key to engaging your audience, according to Whedon is the notion that creating the story we think that people want to hear will always end in disaster. Don’t speculate about what your audience wants from your content. Understand your audience to the point that you can design and deliver what they need.

Do the unexpected!

One of the coolest things about Whedon’s writing is his ability to catch us off guard. Don’t take the popular path just because you think you’re going to connect. Buzzwords can serve a purpose absolutely. But, find a new way to connect. Disrupt the status quo. Shock, excite and engage your audience.

Use humour where appropriate

“Humour keeps us alive. Humour and food. Don’t forget food. You can go a week without laughing.” 

Fans of his work certainly appreciate the humour that Whedon tosses into all his projects. Interestingly, his use of humour is a device to disrupt or make us think. It is just as pointless creating a piece of content full of purposeless jokes as it is to create content with no value at all. Embrace humour, and if you’ve stumbled across the ultimate one-liner that will nail your intro, then, by all means, throw it in. Just don’t use it as a crutch.

We could write a hundred more tips that we’ve learned from this master and will continue to learn. The fact is inspiring storytellers are the greatest teachers. Read about them, follow their advice and you’ll become a better storyteller by default.

 

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