Every area has such a great story to tell. All have interesting history such as the area in London known in the 15th Century primarily for its raucous inns, risqué theatres, and sexual notoriety (and it’s not Soho). All have current character, opportunity and challenges and all have future aspirations to reach the stars (in Cornwall’s case quite literally).
Telling place narratives should be fun and play with the past, present and future as Aristotle’s old storytelling adage of beginning, middle and end has some basis in how our brains are formed. We should recognise that telling stories is hard-wired into our DNA and we should think carefully about some core rules used by authors and filmmakers designed to chime with our biology.
As Will Storr points out in his excellent book The Science of Storytelling: ‘We have 68 million brain cells or neurons and every one of them is as complex as a city. Signals flow between them at speeds of up to 120 meters per second. They travel along 150,000 to 180,000 km of synaptic wiring, enough to wrap around the planet four times.
Some evolutionary biologists suggest that the development of this most complex organ in the animal kingdom is partly down to ‘gossip’. To live within large ultra-social ‘hives’ we developed language in part to help keep track for example, of who’s in with the alpha, who can be trusted to reciprocate a favour and who is downright untrustworthy and best to stay clear of.
Our brains are on constant alert for the unexpected. And to make sense of a very complex world we make cognitive shortcuts. For example, it’s estimated the brain processes 11 million bits of information at any one time but makes us consciously aware of no more than 40. The brain sorts through an abundance of information and decides what is important.
This building of a narrative inside your head using memory and the abundance of information helps us make sense. But what makes a great narrative? Here are just three lessons from Will Storr’s book:
- Make sure your narrative tells a story through beginning, middle and end or crisis, struggle and resolution which may be a better way to structure it. Narratives that just set out what the council is committed to delivering (clean, green and safe) may miss a trick in making a more human connection through storytelling.
- Recognise that our brains are hard-wired to make connections that link cause and effect. Strong stories are structured as chains of causes and effects and your narrative should explain forward motion with one thing leading directly to another.
- Start your narrative with an unexpected change or information gap that will attract attention. Then through cause and effect take your audience with you through emotional exploration of the human condition.
Of course, these are only three tips for great storytelling but if we get our story right it will engage people on a more authentic and human level. We are likely to bring people with us if they believe our story.
Ian Farrow, Managing Director of Westco
Ian is an award-winning communications and marketing specialist with substantial experience in politics, local government and the private sector. Ian proudly led Westco to win the CIM Agency of 2016 award.