Have We Run Out Of Stories?

Posted on July 23, 2013
Have we run out of stories

Have we run out of new stories?

Vulture recently posted an article about the demise of the blockbuster. In it, Gilbert Cruz itemizes all that’s wrong with Hollywood’s blockbuster system from a lack of imagination to the high cost of production.  It seems our preoccupation with rehashing old stories in a spectacularly expensive way is beginning to wear thin. The article prompted me to ask the question, have we run out of stories? I wondered because I regularly watch movies and television with half an eye and yet follow the story line with no challenge. It may be because I’m an avid reader but it’s more likely that the same stories are often retold. It makes you wonder if Christopher Booker didn’t have it right when he proposed there were only seven stories in the world and they were continuously being retold.

Cover of "Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell ...

Cover of Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

If you are not familiar with his perspective, in his book, “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories” he suggests that there are only seven stories and they are:

  • overcoming the monster;
  • rags to riches;
  • the quest;
  • voyage and return;
  • comedy;
  • tragedy and
  • rebirth.

He falls into some interesting traps based on his own paradigm and at times seems to counter his own argument, but that aside, if his basic theory is correct, it poses a conundrum for communicators. The business of communications is the telling of stories.  We capture the attention of our audiences by telling them well. Whether we take them by surprise, intrigue or mystify them, we need to be clever and original. That becomes increasingly challenging if we believe we have to choose from a limited number of options. While Booker’s ideas are interesting and Hollywood’s challenges perplexing, I don’t think there are a limited number of stories. That would be the same as saying there are limits on our imagination.

I am reinforced in my belief through my work. As I go about the business of my job, I encounter an endless array of stories. In fact, I have encountered so many good stories during my career that my biggest challenge is finding the time to tell them.  When I worked with pharmacists, I was constantly amazed at the stories that would emerge when they were relaxed and reflective. They told amazing stores, funny, sad, bizarre and poignant ones. The one about the pharmacist who leaves her shop in the middle of the day because one of her clients needs to get home from the hospital and she’s the only one who can pick her up.  Then there was the pharmacist who made house calls out to the country and regularly got chased by an unfriendly turkey. In my current job, it’s the Meals on Wheels volunteer who doesn’t just leave the food at the door when no one answers, but investigates and saves the life of a client in the midst of a medical emergency.

Imagine how the conversation went the next time the meals on wheels program coordinator had to explain that the program was an important security check for seniors and shut-ins, not just a necessary food service.  Imagine what that story did to increase the number of volunteers the program receives. What do you think I might have said when an interest group leader suggested that pharmacists just counted pills? Stories provide us with powerful ammunition. They allow us to illustrate the complex in accessible ways and they allow us to inspire others to action.

The stories I hear are endless and I don’t think that it’s a reflection of the health sector, I think all sectors have great stories to tell, but someone has to choose to tell them. We haven’t run out of good tales, we just stopped looking in the right places for them and listening when we do find them. One of the best parts of my job is to hear those stories. I sometimes joke that it’s a good week if I cry once, a great week if I cry more than once.  That’s the power of a good story. It moves you and makes you think about the world in a different way.

As communicators, we all need to look for the story that illustrates our objectives, our brand and our aspirations. Clever tag lines, corporate colors and advertising dollars are worthless without the stories.

Have you ever used a story to make a point?  Has a story moved you when you thought you were resolved?