Friday 27 February 2015

Reflections on Story

I spent three days last week involved in media training as part of the Cardiff Futures programme. Our media experts, Karen and Kevin from Mosaic were excellent, as ever. They started by pointing out the time and attention constraints that mean that in a media story, you have to present your key messages as early and as concisely as you can. In fact I was reminded of what Andrew Derrington has been drumming into me about Assert-Justify in my writing.

My natural style is to use more of a narrative approach: crafting a tale with a start that intrigues, a middle that develops ideas and escalates the tension, and then a satisfying ending that, I hope, delivers a memorable message with some impact. This is closer to the approach of the novelist than the journalist. The difference is clear if one considers how The Times and John le Carré would tell the same story: one would use the name of the traitor in the headline, the other only reveal it in the final chapter.

Both approaches have their place, of course. But what I was reflecting on is that the use of the word story seems to obscure the differences. And that led me to think about the other way in which I use the word story, particularly in the book I am writing. In that context, I use it to refer to the understandings we construct from our experience to make sense of the world.

I use the word story very deliberately, to emphasise that these understandings are a construct, an interpretation, and thus are malleable. But that is not the only link. Every now and then, the story we have created in this manner is so good that we feel we have to share it, and we do so in one of the two styles mentioned above: either in brief headlines, as it were, or as a well-crafted narrative. It is these stories that fuel the organisational grapevine, and their tenacity is a tribute to the power of story as a way of communicating.

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