Some Insight Into Storytelling Courtesy of Bob Dylan (And Me)
Very early on in my life I discovered that I had an instinctual understanding that one of the most important things in life was maintaining a balance.
A balance between what you want and what you need. A balance between generosity and selfishness. A balance between work and play…etc.
I have spent a number of years working on maintaining this balance. And it’s turned out pretty well. I have an excellent balance between work and play. I have a great family life. And I have several very good friends with whom I can discuss how to put the entire world in a state of balance.
I have had a good balance between ups and downs. Never too far down to cause a lot of worry, hardly ever too far up to cause anxiety and extreme stress.
And this balance is also a very important part of my writing.
The Balance I Strive To Maintain In Writing
To me, and I emphasize that this is my personal opinion based on the types of writing that I do, maintaining balance as a writer means understanding the difference and striking the right balance between telling a story and teaching a lesson.
It means knowing how to use storytelling to exemplify the lesson your are trying to impart.
And it also means being able to discern which situations would benefit from storytelling and which would not.
What’s Bob Dylan Got To Do With This?
I learned a lot about this balance between storytelling and lesson teaching from listening to the music of Bob Dylan. who is arguably the greatest storyteller of my generation.
If you listen to Bob Dylan’s early work especially, he is often pointing out injustices and inequities in society and the world. But he most often does it as an observer and not a participant.
He’s telling stories and not overtly teaching lessons. He wants the lesson to be something you discover and teach yourself.
This is the best of both worlds in writing and one of the key aspects of Bob Dylan’s real genius.
In a lot of his work, Bob describes the situation, then he describes what’s wrong with the situation. But he seldom does he complete the circle of reasoning to get to “And here’s what I’m going to or would do about It.”
He would much rather have you figure that out.
I can’t understate how much I admire that quality and wish I could do it as well as him.
One of Dylan’s songs that most exemplifies this style is The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, which tells the story of a black woman, a barmaid, who was killed by a rich white guy in Baltimore in 1963.
In this song, Bob splendidly uses the power of his words to tell the story of the murder and the ultimate injustice that followed without ever coming out and condemning it personally.
This, in turn, actually gives the listener permission to draw their own conclusion and feel a deeper passion for the situation.
A Little Lesson
Being fortunate enough to have discovered that early on, when my own passion for writing was all shiny and new, was one of the things that shaped my approach to writing and a bit of my style as well.
A lot of people don’t write this way. And I don’t always write this way myself. After all I’m an advertising guy, and as such, am all about the persuasion, which usually falls under the category of teaching lessons.
A lot of people who are blogging, but are not professional writers, write from a very personal perspective. Often times this is designed to sway you over to a cause or a way of thinking and not so much about the telling of stories.
In point of fact, a relatively small percentage of bloggers actually use storytelling in any sort of effective way.
What Does Storytelling Actually Mean?
Well, obviously it means different things to different people. For me it’s pretty straightforward.
When I am having conversations with people about what they should do with their branding or their communications, I will often use examples (aka stories) of other situations I have been in or know about to illustrate how a challenge similar to theirs was met and successfully managed.
This is very common in my business and it is the essence of storytelling for me as an ad guy – quite simply using a real example that you know about or have experienced to make it easier and more appealing for the people reading whatever you are writing.
We all have these kinds of stories in our heads. But many people don’t really bother to use them.
Maybe they feel that they just won’t do the story justice by trying to write it. Maybe they get carried away with the lesson teaching and forget about it.
Whatever the reason, it’s something to think about, and maybe something that will be worth incorporating into your own work.
• No single rule or finite set of rules about writing is ever going to work in every situation.
• Creating and incorporating the kind of storytelling that works for you will help you find the balance that can strengthen your posts and draw more people into them.
Post Script: I had a lot of trouble writing this post. I was trying hard to simplify what is, at the best of times, a complex mental process. Also I have never really written about this aspect of writing before, so I hope the points I was trying to make actually came across with some clarity.
Jim Murray is an experienced advertising and marketing professional and former professional photographer. He has run his own business (Onwords & Upwords), since 1989 after a 20 year career in Toronto as a senior creative person in major Canadian & international advertising agencies. He is specialized in creating communications for businesses working to make a positive difference in the world.
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