The Story about “The Blueberry Story”
Our kids begged, “Dad, can you tell us ‘The Blueberry Story’?” Jay used to spin a bedtime tale about picking blueberries in the north woods of Wisconsin. It was loosely based on an episode that occurred when his uncle, as a young boy, had fallen asleep in the woods when his family was picking blueberries. He embellished the plot and changed the characters based on who he was putting to bed. This bedtime story evolved into a fictional narrative with different family members inserted into the roles.
The story started when Abby was the only child in our family and the other characters were older cousins. She was always the heroine who found the sleeping cousin. The story always ended at a pancake breakfast with Great-Grandpa Bill.
As our family grew, he cleverly wove our other kids into the plot, varying the story from night to night. But when the characters and plot shifted too much, they would complain, “Dad, you changed the story!” Sometimes, they’d accuse him of falling asleep (parents get drowsy at during story time, too!). When they were unhappy with their assigned character’s role, they’d say, “I don’t want to be the one to do that!” The story took on a life of its own as storyteller and story listeners interacted in how it unfolded—in every telling. Sometime the struggle over roles resulted in squabbling―not great for bedtime.
When Abby was about eight years old, she pulled Jay aside and announced that Eleanor (her younger sister) could be the one to find Andy. After that, Eleanor really enjoyed this story about her heroism in the concocted plot.
After hearing the story over and over, one day Eleanor asked, “Dad, do you think that we could get the movie version of the ‘Blueberry Story’?”
Plot: The Backbone of a Story
How you structure your story can increase—or decrease—its impact. Many novice (and natural) storytellers meander into irrelevant details during the setup and rising tension. This causes audiences to get lost, get distracted, or lose interest. In business settings, you need to grab their attention, get to the point, and tell your tale in a couple minutes. Distilling a story to its essence is key.
As you balance brevity with emotional impact and clarity, it can be helpful to visualize the storyline. The Plot Your Story tool in Once Upon an Innovation provides a framework to sketch out the story structure. This “outline” constrains you to only a few plot points to set up the story and build tension. It also helps you clearly identify the pivotal moment in the story where the tension stops building and starts to resolve (ah ha). When you get this much of your story right, you’re over half way. Wrap up the story with clarifying insights and land it by answering the question, “So what?” In other words, what’s the point of the story, or what has changed?
When developing a story for business communications, you can use the area under the arc to record your thoughts about the story’s deeper meaning and how that might be applied to a work situation.
To illustrate how to use the tool, I’ve diagramed both stories in this post. Next time you are crafting a story, try to sketch out your plot using this tool. For more tools and techniques on storytelling for innovation and creative problem solving, check out Once Upon an Innovation. You can find it on Amazon and ItascaBooks.