The BAFTAs saw drama’s greatest names take home the gold last week – and with the Oscars set to take Hollywood by storm next weekend, it’s an exciting time for film and TV buffs the world over. Write the Talk’s Mitch Pike chats about the science of storytelling, the tricks that dramatists use to pull us into a story, and the three crucial ingredients for storytelling-brand-success.
Understanding the science of story is pivotal to building narratives that connect with clients and shows that you know your business. Did you know that our brains are 22 times more likely to remember facts if they’re framed in a well-structured story?
The science behind it is actually pretty simple – our brains love story because it gives them a chemical boost.
This is your brain on a story…
Storytelling causes a chemical reaction in our brain that triggers an instant connection to the character, idea or journey, so when someone tells you a good story, a few things happen.
Your brain starts releasing oxytocin – the bonding hormone. It’s what mothers feel when they see their new-born baby for the first time, and it forges an incredibly powerful connection. In storytelling, this is what makes you relate to the story, makes you feel empathy and safety, and conditions you to feel closer to a storyteller and their characters.
The brain also releases cortisol – and that’s what’s making us focus. It’s why cliff-hangers work so well and why we’re all guilty of that ‘just one more episode’ feeling – we have an instinctual, chemical need to know what happens next. Think how you feel about your favourite Oscar-winning film or BAFTA-winning drama series – that’s exactly how you want consumers to feel about your brand.
A good storyteller will build interest by increasing tension throughout the story, and that’s what keeps the audience wanting to know more. Storytelling is all about creating an authentic emotional connection with your audience and forging a connection that builds trust – and that can work for your brand, too.
Start with the foundations
Storytelling has been around for tens of thousands of years, because it’s the most effective way for human beings to pass down important information to future generations. The key to this lies in the brain’s ability to turn story into an experience it relates to, and therefore remembers.
Nobody knows this better than dramatists – the directors, actors, and master storytellers who take the science of communication and weave it into vibrant tapestries of emotion and tension, designed to pull at our heartstrings and delve into that emotional response we talked about earlier.
The secret? There are three key elements to story success that get our brains in gear:
The plot. This is central to engagement – you could have the best written character on screen, but unless they’re growing and evolving, it’s not exciting. The arc of a journey usually peaks and troughs through the telling of a story, beginning with exposition, moving through tension, reaching a climax, before coming back down to a resolution – and this is just as true for your brand narrative as it is for long-running hit drama series like Game of Thrones.
Illustrating your brand journey gives your customers a chance to see your growth and emotionally invest in your story. We’ve seen The Mother of Dragons transform from a frightened young girl into a powerful game changer and the ever-stoic Jon Snow blossom into a fierce leader. We keep coming back to Game of Thrones because we’re gripped by the way the characters evolve as they’re subjected to ever more demanding situations.
Journey sets the stage for your brand’s character to shine, and people will keep coming back if your journey is compelling.
Without tension, there can be no disequilibrium – that’s a change in the status quo, to you and me – and without disequilibrium, there’s no opportunity for characters to adapt, overcome, and grow throughout the passage of a story’s telling. If journey is the stage for your brand character to develop, then tension is the script and direction – the action that drives development. It’s how you enrich your brand narrative with risk, trial, and success.
But tension isn’t about threatening the end of the world. It’s definitely a situation where there can be too much of a good thing. Think of tension as the spice, not the main ingredient – you don’t need much, but without it your meal is a lot less interesting.
Relatable characters let us empathise – fact. To enact a genuine emotional response, a storyteller needs to be able to present a character as a canvas for the audience to project themselves onto. While journey and tension are the vehicle for the story to retain a crowd’s interest, characters are what let people get involved – and an involved audience is an active audience.
For your brand character, personality is key – are you distinctive in your crowd, or are you a voice among many within your genre?