Storytelling: Framing

Storytelling is the essence of communication. The elements of storytelling are like letters of the alphabet. When you know how to use them, you can tell your best story.

Element 19: Framing

What a story is about, and the conclusion it reaches, depends on how you frame it.

Case study:

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

hill-trump

Who they are:

Respectively, the Democratic and Republican candidates in the 2016 American presidential election. Clinton won the popular vote by an unprecedented margin. Trump won the majority of Electors and is slated to become the next President of the United States.

Why it matters:

The bitter, split decision presidential election highlighted the fact that there is no single “story”. What we think a thing means and what we believe about people and events, is drawn from a rich mass (or mess) of facts, ideas, information and preconception.

After last week’s storytelling post a reader rebutted my assertion that Hillary Clinton is “a experienced, qualified, sane, humane politician”:

Surely this must be qualified as “by comparison?” Isn’t it a fact that Hillary Clinton:

1) Supported the Iraq War forcefully and was a key proponent as an opposition pol from NY

2) Supported overthrow of Libya forcefully

3) Supported overthrow of Syria forcefully

4) Was endorsed by entire Bush family and most of GWB cabinet officials

5) Received 100s of millions from wall street banks and multi-national corporations

So, if Hillary Clinton wasn’t positioned against Trump and you judged her by her policies she would be a rightwing neo-con Republican.

I think perhaps you should also consider the story telling of the Clinton campaign which would argue that perceived racism and sexism are more important than real policies that have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

 

This is a perfect example of framing. My narrative frames Hillary’s experience and views as a positive; my reader highlights different, but equally legitimate, information that casts her in a different light. Trump can, likewise, be any number of things depending on how you frame him. He is either a robust example of American iconoclasm or a racist shit. He went bankrupt and made billions; the story depends on what facts you put in the picture.

In other words:

“While reality itself does partly determine the meaning we assign to it, it doesn’t insist on any one specific meaning. So, while we all live in the same reality, we interpret it differently. Most of the time, the differences are negligible: at the day-to-day level, we agree sufficiently about most things. But some differences are radical. And that’s what politics is about.

Politics is a colossal magnification of the differences in how we perceive the world around us. And an election is a simplified, brief magnification of that. In an election, time stops, and a complex, gradually evolving jumble of differences of opinion is frozen in a single statistical figure.” Rob Wijnberg via The Correspondent

Practice: “All I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor.” Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

Remember: “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.” ~ Tim Burton

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Elements of Storytelling 12: Ethics

Storytelling is the essence of communication. The elements of storytelling are like letters of the alphabet. When you know how to use them, you can tell your best story.

Element 12: Ethics

Great storytellers hook their audience with a clear ethos, worldview, or proposition.

Case study: Kat Lister

kat-lister

What it is:

Freelance journalist Kat Lister has carved a successful career writing for publications including Marie Clare, The Telegraph, Huff Post, InStyle, Vice, and Broadly by championing the ever-contentious cause of women’s equality.

Why it matters:

Journalists have flirted with starvation since at least 1891 (the year George Gissing published New Grub Street*). Modern multimedia journalism is unapologetically fuelled by celebrity and sensation. To survive journalists must be inimitable. Lister nails it. Everything she writes, from investigative pieces on Syria, to reportage on young Muslims, to think pieces on Brexit, “glass cliffs” and IVF is examined through lens of her feminism. Lister’s cohesive, provocative ethical stance, plus ferociously good writing, whets editors’ appetites, and has prompted 40K shares and 140K Facebook Likes (and counting).

In her own words:

I write about women and culture

Read more / Follow @Madame_George on Twitter

Practice: “Put yourself at the center [of your stories], you and what you believe to be true or right. The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.” ~ Anne Lamott

Remember: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ― Elie Wiesel

*Free on Kindle: Amazon.com  and Amazon.co.uk

Elements of Storytelling 2: Urgency

Storytelling is the essence of communication. Whether you are a writer, entrepreneur or politician your story is how you connect with people.

The elements of storytelling are like the letters of the alphabet. Once you know them, you can put them together to tell your story in the best way possible.

Element 2: Urgency

Great stories say things that matter. They aren’t just entertainment, they have an urgent message.

Case study: CALMZine

calmzine

What it is: CalmZINE is a by-men/for-men magazine published by the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). CALM is a British charity that works to prevent male suicide (in 2014 men accounted for 76% of UK suicides and it is the leading cause of death in men under 45).

Brash as the captain of a five-a-side team after six pints, CALMZine hums with the urgent message: You’re not alone. In another context its laddishness, #Mandictionary, its jocular tone, would be gratingly juvenile. But it works because it is fuelled by urgency. Life and death. Every article whether news, interviews, fashion features, sport or entertainment, is twined with the message: It’s okay to struggle. You’re not alone. We’re here to listen.

 

Why it matters: Nothing comes close to being as awful as suicide. I’ve seen friends, family, shattered by it and there is nothing to say. Not a single word of comfort. No, “everything will be all right,” no “it was for the best,” no “at least he didn’t suffer,” no no no. None of the platitudes we salve ourselves with in the face of ordinary death. You can always find mercy if you look hard enough. But not in the vortex of suicide. You can stare into that pit all day, until your eyes burn at the blackness. You can cry enough tears to fill the ocean and that hole stays dry and dead as a slice of outer space.

The hopelessness of words after the fact gives utmost urgency to every word spoken or written to prevent it. There are no second chances. Any comfort or stumbling block, anything that helps one person make the choice to live, matters more than art.

Their story:

CALM works to prevent male suicide by:-

  • Offering support to men in the UK, of any age, who are down or in crisis via our helpline and website.
  • Pushing for changes in policy and practice so that suicide is better prevented via partnerships such as The Alliance of Suicide Prevention Charities (TASC), the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA). CALM also hosts the Suicide Bereavement Support Partnership (SBSP), which aims to ensure that everyone bereaved or affected by suicide is offered and receives timely and appropriate support.

Read the rest of the CALM story here

Practice: “Rather than daydreaming about what you’d like to write, sit down for fifteen minutes, keep your hand moving, begin with “I want to write about,” and go. Stay specific and concrete. Not ‘I want to write about truth, democracy, honesty,’ but ‘I want to write about the time my father lied right to my face and I could taste it all through dinner. It tasted like hot gasoline.’ ~Natalia Goldberg (Wild Mind)

Remember: “The one I felt pulsing in my chest [was] like a second heart… the story I couldn’t live without telling.” ― Cheryl Strayed

 

Why the New Website?

IMG_20140215_194542911For reasons known only to the gods of the internet my trusty site cilawarncke.com disappeared. The former digital diary of my professional accomplishments is now white space. It’s a 21st century Ozymandias thing.

Rather than snuffle over spilt milk or, indeed, try to grasp the whims of the www I decided to start afresh. New year, blank slate etc. Thankfully there is minimal competition for domain names including Warncke.

I’ll be piecing this site together gradually, highlighting the various things I write and do, plus posting the odd blog.

Thanks for stopping by. If you need some words written, or just want to chew the fat, email cilawarncke@gmail.com.