About the author.
My name is Ashraf Ramzy, Narratologist, Business Story Consultant, Coach, Author, Speaker, Founder and CEO of MasterStory®. Some 30 years ago I attained a master’s degree in Narratology, the science and study of Story. Since then I have been quietly putting the power of Story to work for visionary brands, organizations and leaders. And, with great success. During those 30 years, a systematic and effective methodology emerged. One that ensured the successful development of a business narrative with impact. Be it a campaign story, a customer story, a target audience story, a brand story, an organizational story, a corporate story or a masterstory. Building further on that methodology I developed StoryMeter®, a diagnostic tool that measures the power of story and its impact on business. In addition I have developed the StoryMaster® program, a 3 day workshop to equip and license you to use the MasterStory® methodology and diagnostic tool. In the weeks, months and years ahead I will post (infrequent) updates on my work, my methodology and my own journey. So make sure to check this page every once in a while. Or subscribe to our newsletter.
Does your Story work? Part 4: How Character and Plot Drive Story
This is episode 4 in the technical series “Does your Story work?”. It is intended for professionals who are interested in story and want the know-how and tools to lead a storytelling project: to inspire story development, evaluate story concepts, direct story execution, and objectively measure and monitor the impact of story.
In the previous episode we explored the functions of the two drivers of Story; “Character”, which drives Identification, and “Plot”, which drives Participation. Together this results in Audience Engagement. And this enables us to measure the impact of your story and answer the question: does your story work? In this episode we’ll dig deeper into the dynamics of “Character” and “Plot” and see how they form and shape story. This will help us better understand the StoryMeter® results. And it will help us develop better strategies and better stories.
How Character and Plot work
Story, at its core, is the selection and organization of information, transforming it into meaning. Story has two drivers to select and organize very specific information: “Character” and “Plot”.
- “Character”, as organizing principle, governs roles and relationships and the embodiment of role appropriate values, qualities and traits. In other words, “Character” applies to the realm of (Corporate/Brand) Identity/Personality.
- “Plot, as organizing principle, determines the course and result of actions and governs the transformation of fate, the reversal of fortune and its necessary arrangement of situations, actions and events. As such, “Plot” applies to the realm of (Corporate/Brand) Purpose/Promise.
“Character ensures that Story is more than a parade of colorful figures. A good story determines and connects the pivotal figures and juxtaposes them within a narrative constellation. That is why every good story has a Hero, a Villain, a Victim, or Beneficiary, depending on who wins the battle for the Holy Grail. This schematic gives birth to Power Brands, Inspiring Organizations and Visionary Leaders.
Ask yourself: if you are the Hero in your very own success story, then who or what are the other players in the story? And, take it one step further, if not you, but your audience is the Hero in their very own success story, who are the other actors in their story? And where do you fit in? As an ally, an aid, an advocate, an attribute or an adversary?
“Plot”, as organizing principle, ensures that story is more than a chronology of events. It is said that a good story has a beginning, middle and an end. But, a beginning, middle and end of what? Well, of a Crisis. Plot reconstructs the phases and stages of a deep and critical transformation from one state to its opposite. This seemingly simple schematic gives birth to successful strategy, transformation and innovation. And, it is a veritable roadmap for a successful change initiative. The V shape is characteristic for a particular type of story with a happy ending. This is what I call the success story.
Ask yourself: does your change initiative only cover the middle bit: the intervention, or does it embed the intervention within the larger plot? Does it motivate, justify and explain the cause and effect, the intent and purpose, the cost and the rewards of the intervention? What is the overriding sense of urgency that prompts us to leave our comfort zone and what is the reward at the end of the journey? What is the prize that makes all the suffering worthwhile?
Your Character and Plot drive the Story you tell, you enact and inhabit
Whenever I consult with clients on their Story, I listen for information related to “Identity”, such as “Culture”, “Brand”, “Personality”, “and Positioning” and view them through the lens of what I know about “Character”. I do the same when I listen for information related to “Vision”, “Mission”, “Strategy”, “Purpose”, and “Big Why”. I look at these through the lens of what I know about a good “Plot”. All to say, be aware of your “Character” and “Plot”: they are the drivers of the story you tell, and more importantly, of the story you enact and inhabit.
Everybody wants to be a Hero in their very own Success Story
In life as in business we can occupy all these roles. We can get it right, do the right thing and help someone. Or we can get it wrong, mess up and hurt someone. Sometimes we benefit when someone helps us. And other times, we are not so lucky and someone hurts us. But, in life and in business everybody, well almost everybody, wants to be a Hero in their very own success story.
In the next episode we will take a closer look at the Hero. We will describe and define that role. And get a true understanding of what makes a Hero.