best practices

Keep your story from being a kitchen sink

What’s the saying…even bad pizza is good? Like publicity? What if I told you about a pizza that had, instead of a boring traditional cornicione (can you believe I learned the word for the rim around a pizza on the very day I was writing this?!), a “crown” of hamburgers. The commercial aired in the Middle East, selling the unbridled awesomeness of capitalism and heart plaque. It bummed me out about America.

Keep the point in mind the whole time.
I remembered this pizzatrocity while reflecting on a project I wish I’d handled better. A client let me write a story script as the introduction to an annual meeting. The story was meant to be say something simple: “We’ve made some mistakes and now we’re going to fix things together.” The story was an allegory in a neutral setting. The point was easy to understand. The first draft was well received. But then everyone on the team started to add their “essential” points to it.

More isn’t better. 
Every member of the client team had a pet project and fought to have airtime in the story. So the simple story grew longer. Metaphors were convoluted.  The point was crowded out. The final product lost its charm and impact. Whoops.

Maybe I shoulda, woulda, coulda pushed back harder.  Here’s what you can do to prevent this kind of hodgepodge.

Start with a tiny sink. 
Be clear with your team that the story is meant to project ONE message. There is not enough room to catch everything. The more they clutter the story, the harder it’ll be to keep the audience engaged, which means everyone loses. Protect the intent of the story at all costs.

Use the story as an intro, not education.
If you’re writing for the professional setting, you’re probably using the story as an introduction to your more complex work. Let the detailed information that follows the story do the heavy lifting and use the story to set the tone for how they should receive it.

Set limits.
If all else fails, declare a word or time limit. And remember it is easier to start with a blank slate and add to it than pick the good parts out of the sink. When it gets ugly, start fresh. If you don’t, this kind of insanity happens and people get hurt.

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