I’m a fan. If you’ve got this far it’s likely you at least know a fan. It’s difficult in today’s always-on world not to have at least some connection with the Star Wars universe. So, how is it that Star Wars has managed to keep us entertained and engaged over the past 40 years (except perhaps for those difficult prequels)? Well – lots of reasons, but today I’m going to focus on three – narrative structure, plot lines and characters.
Let’s start with narrative.
Back in our world, the world of corporate communications, the word ‘narrative’ can be thrown around quite a lot. But in the post-war period a great book was written by Joseph Campbell called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For his book he researched and synthesised narratives from different cultures across the globe and came up with the ultimate narrative ‘monomyth’ structure he called the Hero’s Journey. It identified the key steps the hero takes in a journey whether it’s stepping into the unknown or dealing with a crisis.
The heart of the Star Wars story is Luke’s journey. The point he leaves his childhood planet, Tatooine, is his step into the unknown. He has a mystic guide in Obi-Wan Kenobi who takes him into the unknown. As soon as he’s in this new unknown he has challenges thrown at him – at first small, then greater and greater until he has the ultimate conflict with his father (I hope I’m not giving too much away here).
In a digital world our ability to tell a story over a longer period of time is greater. The depth we can get into is greater, so the journey becomes richer, more engaging. The range of media is also greater, giving us more scope to be more memorable.
When we work with clients to identify their hero’s journey the starting point tends to be the obvious reporter, straightforward facts perspective that needs to be communicated. But the question is how can we use this narrative structure to build out from the facts a richer, more memorable story?
Next up: Plot lines.
There are seven plot lines a given story could take, as per The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. The Hero’s Journey is one of these, but these plot lines help to shape your story further. Star Wars unashamedly uses the Good versus Evil plot line, but others include tragedy, comedy, rags to riches, rebirth and voyage and return.
When it comes to good versus evil, the antagonist tends to be big, bad and evil, and relentlessly throws obstacles in the protagonist’s path – until the final showdown.
To elevate this a little above Star Wars, is your story good versus evil? Or is it more about rags to riches and innovation, or a rebirth accompanying a CEO change? Having a clear lens on the plot line makes for a more resilient communications platform for the scrutiny that comes with our digital world.
What all these plot lines point out is storytelling is about how your characters deal with unexpected change. So…
And this is the real gem in the story box. Luke, Princess Leia, Han Solo, we love them all. But we love them because we admire them and what they stand for. We understand their challenges and we identify with them in the way they react to unexpected change.
It turns out our brains are finely tuned to detect change: change is endlessly fascinating to us; stories are essentially about unexpected change. As an aside, if you are interested in the neuroscience perspective on storytelling, there’s a book called The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr that’s well worth a read.
So, who are your characters? Who is dealing with the real unexpected change? The business and your CEO are the obvious starting points, but they may not, in fact, be the central character in the story – are they more an Obi-Wan than a Luke? If so, who is your Luke? Your customers? This is where the issues your business is facing come to the fore: your hero is the one at the heart of the issues your business is grappling with.
A happy ending?
All characters in your story need to deal with unexpected challenges in ways we understand and lead the reader to a satisfying end. So, here’s your satisfying end: Yes, the content of your story is important. But the craft you put into telling it is equally, if not more, important to convey something that stays in the heads of your audience, like Star Wars has done for the past 40 years.