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Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)


This e-booklet is adapted from a talk I gave to travel bloggers at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in
Asissi, Italy in April 2012. But its not just for travel bloggers.
Heres a short list of people who should care about storytelling.
Everyone who has a product they hope will capture the publics imagination.
Everyone who wants to brand themselves in a way that makes them stand out from the
crowd, as in have a compelling story.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

3 stories that inspired, raised & infuriated millions. 3
Meet Casey Neistat. 4
Meet Tim Schafer 7
Meet the Titanic.. 12
The Agonising embarrassment of, um, story ... 15
Storytelling in the Modern World.. 17
What Is A Story? ... 21
What Are Stories For? 24
Meet Odysseus 25
Meet Jodi Ettenberg.. 29
Meet Me.. 31
Lessons For Travel Writers.. 33
Skip To The End.... 34
Be A Sadist..... 39
Help Others But Please Yourself.... 43
Write It How You Live It..... 46
Love Ordinary Things.... 51
Summary. 57
Further Reading 59

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

The best way to start talking about stories is, of course, to start telling them.
Here are three stories that have, respectively
reached millions of people
made millions of dollars, and
brought millions of heads into contact with millions of desks.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Casey Neistat
Hes a New York filmmaker, and if you spend any time online, youll
have seen his work (for example, his response to getting a ticket for
not riding in the bike lane). Just recently, Nike gave him a bucketload
of money to make a commercial. Instead of sitting down and making
it, he packed a bag, grabbed his friend and took off round the world,
using Nikes money to pay for the trip.
And he blew the lot.
Upon returning home (having spent some of his own money at this
point because he so completely ran out of Nikes money) he spliced
together all the footage hed taken en route and turned it into a video
which he released online. It went viral at the time of writing its
racked up 7 million views on YouTube, arguably way more than any
conventional advertising campaign.
As far as we know, Nike arent hitting him for breach of contract.
How did he get away with this?

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Simple - he told a story.
Look through the video for a moment. Its beautifully made, features stunning scenery, guys backflipping off
things they probably shouldnt backflip off, sprinting past famous landmarks and cavorting with scantily-clad
women on a beach. In short, its a male round-the-world backpackers wet dream.
But this isnt what made it go viral. The real hook was:
Neistat was allegedly taking Nike for a ride (or more accurately they were taking him for a ride without
being aware of it), and
he was also following orders from Nike in a sneaky, slyly literal way.
The campaign was for Nikes FuelBand a wrist-worn activity monitor that tells you how energetic (or
sluggardly) youre being. And the FuelBands slogan?
make it count
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

So the first thing Casey Neistat thought was OK - how far could I get round the world if I hoofed it with their
money? This is the first thing everyone thinks when theyre given a sizeable lump of money to do something.
(Dont deny it).
What makes Neistat deeply unusual is that he found himself blessed with the right combination of superhuman
chutzpah and reckless semi-irresponsibility to actually do it. So, off he went.
Its this tale of apparent brazen self-interest that propelled his video to viral status, and why it was featured on
Cond Nast Traveler, Fast Company, CNN and pretty much everywhere else within just a few days of
Its also something of a fib. As Neistat has said in interview, the story has been carefully sensationalized
Nike were told what was going on halfway through the editing process - but that story, and the sheer ballsiness
of what he did, is what made everyone care. (Does that translate into sales of FuelBands? Good question.
Nike, feel free to write in).
Crafting a story of apparently foolish, seemingly selfish bravery is how Casey Neistat got the world to care
about what he was being paid to do.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Tim Shafer
He makes video-games - smart, snarky, gnarly ones,
brimming with story. Hes spent the last couple of
decades telling stories in games, main in the genre
dubbed pointnclick adventures. For any gaming
nerds reading, he designed Full Throttle, Grim
Fandango and Psychonauts, and co-designed The Secret
of Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle. According
to the average games publisher, nobody will buy these
types of games anymore (just hardcore geeks which
for some people in games publishing equates to nobody).
Tim Shafer heads a game development company based in San Francisco called Double Fine Productions,
founded in 2000. The men and women of Double Fine make games with stories that people fall in love with.
They sell in decent (but not earth-shattering) numbers, and Double Fine regularly pick up awards, and rightly
so because theyre geniuses. (Warning: I may be editorialising).
But they dont make pointnclick adventures.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

According to game publishers, pointnclick adventures wouldnt sell, so those publishers wont buy them
and if Double Fine made games that publishers didnt buy, they wouldnt be around for very long. The
industry has spoken. Move on, people.
So Double Fine said, You know what? Lets find out for ourselves.
So they went to Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website that allows people to support projects they care about.
It works like this: you announce a project, you ask for a certain amount of funding, and the public donates
money in return for cool stuff (including the finished product). If the project gets the amount of funding its
seeking before the end of the funding cycle, its a success, and you get really drunk and weep a lot, probably
on video. If not, its a bust and no money is collected. (For a recently successful example, look here).
For contributors, its low to zero risk.
For entrepreneurs, it can be life-changing.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Double Fine decided to make an uncommercial pointnclick while documenting the whole process for both
diehard fans and anyone interested to see how that sort of game gets made. They asked for $200,000 for
making the game, and $200,000 to document the process.
Sounds like a lot. Hell, it is a lot. Nearly half a million dollars for a game that only exists in someones head
right now? Double Fine, you cray-cray. But lets put this figure into perspective. Compared to the typical
big-budget videogame, this is a piddling sum. (For example, the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 cost
an estimated $50 million to develop and market). But its still a whopping amount to accumulate when
Kickstarter donations start at $5. People would really have to care about this game.
Early February, 2012 - day 1 of 33: they launch the project.
And they reach $400,000 in donations before the first 24 hours is up.
And by the time the Kickstarter ends on March 13

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Not too shabby, really.
Heres Tim Schafer, trying to be diplomatic.
The thing is, Double Fine is all about coming up with new, unproven and really creative
ideas. Its a constant battle to get those ideas to go through the system, that long spanking
machine of people who have to sign off on your idea. Theyre not evil, theyre just trying to
protect themselves. - Eurogamer
In this case, the new, unproven and really creative idea their publisher wasnt
ready for?
Pointnclick adventures are little more than rattling yarns enhanced with multimedia artistic flair. The story
supports everything as opposed to the many games with stories tacked on as an apparent after-thought.
So, a lot of people want games with stories, and theyre willing to donate their cash up front for an unseen
product that puts storytelling first. Thats fascinating but it has far wider implications.
What starts in gaming culture tends to percolate out into the wider digital world (take Pokmons slogan gotta
catch em all & then take a look at the badge system on your favourite location-based social networking app).
If the primacy of storytelling in video-gaming is due for a revival, forward-thinking Web developers would be
smart to pay close attention.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

But forget that for a second. Lets pull back to Double Fine and their Kickstarter. Look at how the project got
Why did so many people get engaged in the first place?
Because its a form of one of the oldest stories in existence: David vs. Goliath.
Support Tim Schafer hes stickin it to the man!

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet the Titanic
You may have heard of it.
If you havent, its a large, not-terribly-well-designed ship that
smacked into an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage
around 100 years ago.
Its also a 1997 film by James Cameron.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

On the left you can see some people on Twitter who think that Titanic is only
a 1997 film by James Cameron.
In terms of storytelling, there are two fascinating things going on here.
Firstly - somehow, in the minds of a disturbing number of young people, one
of the most famous events in 20th Century history has been replaced by a
film starring Leonardo de Caprio during his annoying, floppy-haired phase.
Fascinating and horrifying.
But the other story at work here is an old one, a story all grown-ups tell
themselves, and its this: its a sign that the world is ending. Young people
are getting stupider, schools obviously arent working, and the human race
has jumped the shark. Back into the sea, everyone - its all gone wrong.
And lets face it, the modern world loves that story.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

The story of the Titanic is, arguably, one of the great viral
successes of the 20th century. From centurial retrospectives
to the story of the iceberg that sank it, Titanic has an
unshakeable hold on the modern imagination and has inspires
endless column inches and reams of film (and their digital
equivalents) every year since.
Its the story that just wont quit.
Unsinkable, you might say.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

The Agonising Embarrassment Of Using The
Word, umStory
So she said, The thing I liked about your talk is, you know, youre a
storyteller, so I think what Ill do is just call you a storyteller.
And of course the academic, insecure part of me was like, youre going to
call me a what?
And she said, Im going to call you a storyteller, and I was like, why
not magic pixie?

Dr Bren Brown, TED.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Yeah. Story.
That kid in a school of wizardry. Those dudes trying to throw that Ring away. That ridiculous Da Vinci thing.
50 Shades of whatever. Dickens, Chaucer, Grisham, SteinbeckMeyer.
Make-believe entertainment designed to be picked up when you have a spare moment
away from doing important things.
The term story is a problem because it has become popularly associated with a very narrow aspect of its
actual dictionary definition. For many people, it means a bit of harmless, meaningless fun.
In fact, stories underpin everything important in the modern world.
Its just that theyre not called stories.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Negotiations: Persuading with a story.
Law Courts: A war of stories, where the most convincing story determines the nature
of justice.
Psychological Therapy: Drawing stories out of patients (which may or may not be true, due to
the infinite capacity of the human mind for fooling itself, unwittingly
reworking fact as fiction and acting upon it). An extension of this is the
therapist replacing the patients crippled self-narrative with a healthier
Military Training: Fictionalised events and settings preparing soldiers for real theatres of
war. Traditionally mocked up from real-world props; now more
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

commonly set in digital arenas developed (sometimes directly) from
Politics: Obama is ruining America vs. Romney will ruin America. Democrats
vs. Republicans. Liberal vs. Conservative. Unforgivably Stupid vs. The
Right Thing For Us All.
Sports: Half-time pep talks from the coach. The trajectory of a beloved team,
coming up from the ranks or falling off the wagon. Management getting
a team to accept new ownership, or a radical new strategy, or the firing
of a coach or major player. The way the media talks about it all.
Cultural Heritage: Who might have worn this brooch?, What were the Ancient Greeks
really like?. The search for authentic experience.
Online Business: The customer as storyteller, building their own narrative with a new app
or social media web service. (Just look at Facebook, a platform that is
now so desperate for its users to tell their stories that its forcing them to
do it with the zero-opt-out Timeline feature). Startups with stories
compelling enough to get them splashed over the pages of TechCrunch,
Mashable and the like.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Business, period. Anyone selling anything. Anyone branding anything. Anyone providing
a service that relies on a degree of trust on the part of the customer.
Marketing. Retention. Team briefs. Project planning. Crazy-assed
brainstorming. Financial projections. Making money.
Self-Confidence: We think whats the worst that can happen? and run through all
possible scenarios, almost all of which will never come true - , ie. they
remain fiction. Meaningless? Not if youve ever worried about anything.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Storytelling isnt just confined to fiction, its not just for fun, and its far from a dying art. In fact, it underpins
just about every modern commercial human activity.
And a curious thing about stories is that everyone knows one when they see one. They can feel when
something is a good story. Thats why you understood the previous list of modern examples of storytelling,
even though we havent clearly defined what a story is.
But lets do that now.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Heres a definition thats as good any:
An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or
Free Dictionary
And storytelling?
The conveying of events in words, images and sounds.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

The word to focus on here is conveying. Thats all storytelling is a way to deliver stories from one place to
another. And when we say place, we usually mean person.
And stories? Theyre just information, structured in a way our brains find incredibly easy to handle. We seem
better wired to accept and retain the information held in stories than with any other technique for memorising
data. (We even think using stories).
Lets use an anaology.
Know what Search Engine Optimization is?
Just as SEO is a process of improving the ability of websites to convey useful information to search engines,
storytelling is the process of enhancing our ability to convey useful information to other people.
Or putting it even more simply
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

SEO for Human
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

What are stories for?
We dont know why we are so susceptible to stories, or such relentless, obsessive story-makers in everything
we do. It could be a survival trait a kind of cognitive battle simulator mechanism that has got a little too
big for its boots. It could be something much less useful. Good, smart theories abound, but we just dont know.
(A good primer on this subject is Jonathan Gottschalls The Storytelling Animal).
But what are stories for? Thats a much easier question to answer.
For starters, they are for teaching.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Odysseus
Odysseus is a bloke who probably didnt live around 3,000 years ago - and
even if he did, he probably didnt look anything like Sean Bean (left). Hes
the hero of the bestselling book The Odyssey, written by Homer, who wasnt
a balding, dim-witted man with a donut fixation (damn you, popular culture).
Homer wrote two stories. Vast, epic stories, with casts of hundreds.
And those stories werent just entertainment. They were education.
The Odyssey and The Iliad (the latter most recently adapted as the Wolfgang
Petersen film Troy) were designed to instil and reinforce a sense of Greek
identity - the tradition of heroes, the influence of the petty, untrustworthy
Gods and the deep ties of loyalty to family, state and fellow brothers-in-arms.
These stories formed a manual for Greekness a kind of Being Greek For
Dummies while also laying the foundation for Western narrative
traditions. Pretty impressive. (Just think if Homer had written a trilogy!)
Thats one use for stories. Lets look at a few more.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Stories Can Persuade
Stories have enormous persuasive power. This makes them perfect for propaganda, for shovelling dirt on an
opponent and for sowing misinformation. Modern political campaigns are so rife with unreliable storytelling
that its become a struggle knowing who to believe when everyone sounds so convincing. (Roy Peter Clark at
Poynter believes the situation calls for a Narrative Watcher someone who knows how to reveal how
political parties and others seeking power use verifiable facts, half-truths and misinformation to tell stories
designed to promote their own interests.)
If you want to change the way that people think and behave, tell them a story designed to do just that - and if
youre really, really clever about it, they wont even be aware their behaviour is changing.
We have a modern word for this: Advertising.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Stories Can Inform
But lets say your storyteller is simply concerned with informing the reader?. Current affairs. News.
Journalism. What happens when were dealing with fact, not fiction?
Welcome to the exciting new field of literary journalism (also known as creative nonfiction). Its
journalistic reporting that uses storytelling techniques lifted from literature. Why would non-fiction journalists
choose to do this? Because its a really effective way to get a long, complicated piece of writing into a
strangers head. Because people really, truly read literary journalism, thanks in part to the many quality
longform curation websites that collate and promote this kind of writing (see page 60).
Many non-fiction writers now regard the techniques of fictional storytelling as the best toolkit they can use to
craft non-fiction stories. (Sometimes this can lead them astray: take the notorious fictionalising - note the
pejorative word there - of James Freys A Million Little Pieces and his subsequent exposure as a fraud).
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Stories Can Brand
Since stories are a great way to get information into the heads of other people, theyre also the way you can get
yourself in there.
For anyone crafting a stand-out identity for themselves in the modern world, especially online, they need a
compelling story. It doesnt have to be a rags-to-riches tale of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds,
although that would certainly help. It doesnt have to be loud, outlandish and aggressively in-your-face.
But it does have to be a story.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Jodi Ettenberg
Jodi became a lawyer because someone bet her she couldnt (more
specifically, that she couldnt get into the prestigious McGill University in
Montreal studying law). After graduating, she went to New York and worked
in a law firm to save up enough money to go round the world. Then she quit
being a lawyer and went round the world, and along the way, she found she
couldnt stop.
Since then shes been eating street food, chasing small primates, dodging
bird-crap and trekking fearlessly through every country you can think of.
Shes passionate about SE Asian cuisine, politics, astronomy, tarsiers and
olives. Youll currently find her travelling the world, working for companies
she cares about including G Adventures and Longreads, and running a
enormously successful travel blog called Legal Nomads. Shes a regular at
Chris Guillebeaus yearly World Domination Summit in Portland, and shes
been profiled in the New York Times.
Hows that for a story?

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

What Jodi has done really well is tell this story consistently. Everywhere she speaks about her journey to the
present, she repeats the same elements again and again. The bet that she couldnt go to law school. Her
fascination with food. Her blogs bird crap counter.
Her compelling story isnt just unusually compelling in its own right - its compellingly told.
If you want to stand out in a crowd lets say, as a travel blogger - you have a challenge ahead of you. At the
last count there are 4.67 bazillion travel blogs currently operating in the world. To command a serious
audience, it is not enough to be planning your round the world trip, going to the right social media gatherings
and writing & photographing as you circle the globe. These are components of becoming a successful travel
blogger, but they wont make you a stand-out one.
You have to craft a story for yourself that hooks your readers, that wows potential sponsors and that virtually
compels people to follow you to see what happens next.
You need a story that gets into their heads in a way only good stories can.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Me
Hi. Im the author. ((My contact details are on page 64). My names Mike, and Im a
travelling disaster.
Once I was an Archaeology student a profession I picked because I figured Id better
have a stable career before becoming a writer. In Archaeology I found perhaps the only
profession less stable than creative writing. In travel writing, Ive found a job that rewards
my natural ability to attract catastrophe and interesting times read: interesting stories.
Ive slept rough in Orkney because I couldnt find a room for the night. Ive trudged
through a rainstorm on top of the North York Moors for 8 hours becausewell, Im still
working that one out. Ive been robbed in Dusseldorf, Ive missed important
history of mishaps is long, colourful and appalling.
When things go wrong, its often because Ive done something enormously stupid and
since I continue to do enormously stupid things, my regular readers want to know what
my next stupid move will be. Thats my hook. Ive shamelessly used it to get followers for my blog, Ive
exploited it to get into the San Francisco Chronicle, and I get people complimenting me on my Twitter bio,
which is Mistakes are medals - Im highly decorated.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

In a traditional marketing sense, this looks like business suicide. Deliberately constructing an air of crippling
vulnerability and incompetence? Parading your flaws in front of your intended audience and hoping that
publishers will like your style? Youd have to be as stupid as you claim to be if you think itd succeed - surely?
Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is
perhaps the most outstanding.
Thats a quote from Bill Bryson.
You may have heard of him.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Storytelling Tips For Travel Bloggers
As already mentioned, this booklet is adapted from a talk I gave to travel bloggers at the Travel Bloggers Unite
conference in Umbria, Italy in April 2012.
And I thought it would be useful to give them some specific tips.
I did this partly to show that storytelling is a deeply practical toolkit that can be applied to anything fictional
and non-fictional alike. I also did this to point them towards some of storytellings finest thinkers and some of
travel bloggings finest storytellers.
But mainly, I did it because they would have given me hell if I hadnt given them any specific tips (theyre
very practical, travel bloggers), and I was having a drink with many of them later.
Here are 5 useful storytelling techniques to make a travel story more engaging.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Skip To The End
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Meet Kurt Vonnegut
He wrote stories. Hes most famous for writing about his first-hand
experience of the fire-bombing of Dresden during the Second World War,
in the form of a satirical and wildly unconventional science fiction novel
called Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut struggled for decades to find the
right way to tell his story and its telling that he chose to do it in the
form of fiction. That book is now regarded as one of the greatest books
not only about Dresden, but of 20th century literature.

Vonnegut told stories all his life (he died in 2007), and like many famous
writers he passed along everything hed learned about the creative process
like the way stories can fit onto graphs. And he made writing tips.
Check out his 8 tips for writing a short story, summarised at Brain
Pickings. Well start with the fifth:
Start as close to the end as possible.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

You may have heard this as start in the middle, but I like Vonneguts version better because it raises the
stakes. If you start at a point that is almost at the end of the chase, with the end in sight but not guaranteed, you
instantly supply your reader with a reason to read to the end. If youre writing a narrative (say, a holiday
in danger of going disastrously wrong in some way), you can take the moment of maximum tension in your
travel story and put it in your first couple of paragraphs. That way, the first thing your reader gets is the most
exciting part of your story but they get it in the form of a question without an answer. At the very least, they
have to read both the beginning and the end and in most cases, that will include the middle. You have them.
Theyre yours.
But weve already established stories arent just fiction - so how does this translate over to non-fiction?
Simple. You merely take the revelation that people are reading your post to discover, and you put enough of it
into your first paragraph that it hooks them without giving them the full answer. In short, you tease them
mercilessly. Lets see this in action
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

How to travel the world on 7 dollars and 11 cents a
When I first heard about this incredibly simple trick for zero-budget travel, I thought it was a joke. I think back to all
the $thousands Ive spent on planes, trains, automobiles, rickshaws, Pedalos, recumbants and Space Hoppers, and it just
blows my mind.
The tools you need to do this are literally at your fingertips (youre reading this on a computer, right?). Youll need an
Internet browser, you need Skype, youll need a calculator to hand, and youll also need to steel yourself. Youre going
to have to be really cocky here. But trust me in 10 minutes, you could travel round the world on a weekly budget of
less than the price of a cheeseburger.
I showed this to Nomadic Matt & he immediately changed his name to Staycation Matt. Thats how powerful it is.
Ready? OK, people - lets travel the world on a cheeseburger.
(etc. etc.).
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

(Please dont write in, asking me how you can travel the world on a shoestring. I have no idea. Go bug, say,
Nomadic Matt).
In fiction this is called non-linearity. Youre taking the whole timeline of whatever youre writing about, and
youre chopping it up and shuffling it around in a way that ensures that the beginning and the end are two
halves of the same puzzle.
Put a little of your end in your beginning, and you make the introduction as valuable as the payoff. Why is this
smart? Because the introduction is actually far more valuable. Its where people give you a chance to prove
yourself, and the best way you can do that is instantly give them something of value - namely, part of the
answer they seek.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

2. Be A Sadist
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading
characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the
reader may see what they are made of. Kurt Vonnegut
Its important to make your main character suffer as much as possible.
If the main character is yourselfoh, bad luck.
Misery sells. So does humiliation, self-recrimination, doubt, guilt, self-loathing...all that lovely Puritanical
goodness. If youre in search of that all-important human face on your travel stories, looking vulnerable in
front of your readers is the way to do it. It brings you out from behind your professional mask, and it allows
people to emotionally invest in your welfare. They want to know that your story turns out ok and yet they get
a voyeuristic thrill of knowing youre struggling. (People are so twisted).
Everyone loves to watch someone get themself out of a hole.
So make sure you appear to spend a good amount of your public-facing career in a hole.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

But what about business-related professionalism? If you want to work with clients and sponsors, surely you
need to look infallible and super-competent? Yes to the second but no to the first. People want to work with
people they trust and its extremely hard to form a bond of trust with someone who wont allow themselves
to appear humanly fallible. Trust is born of honest vulnerability. Want someone to admire your style and
consider you one of their people? Be human in front of them.
If youre hunting for an audience be extra human. Get things wrong, and be the first have a really good laugh
at yourself. Say things like it could be that the purpose of my life is to serve as a warning to others while
struggling heroically onwards, occasionally falling flat on your face.
Wallow a little.
Self-deprecation is a tricky thing to handle effectively, but if you can do it and some travel bloggers are
experts its a fabulously powerful way of making people care about what youre doing.
This is how Sally of Unbrave Girl won a Bloggie in 2012. This is why Wes of Johnny Vagabond is so highly
regarded as a spinner of yarns - because he is a merciless self-critic with a wry turn of phrase. Christine Gilbert
has a blog title that speaks of imperfection - Almost Fearless. Pam Mandel is unflinchingly honest. And so on.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

If you expose yourself in public, you will get more readers.
Or arrested.
(Oh come on - weve all been there).
This is fiction storytelling 101 stuff. Expert storytellers know how to make their characters suffer when the tale
would benefit most from them doing so. Many popular authors kill their favourite characters off. Look at
HBOs Game Of Thrones, adapted from the novels by George RR Martin. Its a bloodbath. But its a
bloodbath with a message, namely - every single character in the books is at risk, without exception, because
this is a cruel world that is rarely fair. What does this do? It draws the audience further in (peeking at the
screen through their fingers).
Raise the stakes by embracing a little misery.
Itll work wonders.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

3. Help Others, Please
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love
to the world, your story will get pneumonia. Kurt Vonnegut

In essence, Vonnegut is suggesting this: primarily write for yourself.
Storytellers dont write for everyone. When theyre lost in the thrill of writing their story, they dont care
about anyone else - theyre just writing something they want to write, about a topic they want to read. They
also believe (from preliminary research) that other people will want to read too, and thats why they chose to
write it but when they are writing it, its for them alone. This is how originality happens. Its also how
storytellers find their voice - by doing their own thing, in a form that they themselves would be interested in
reading if they werent the ones writing it.
Sadly, since story writers of all kinds are great at pulling ideas apart, theyre also good at pulling their own
work apart as they go, leading to writers block, substance dependencies and careers in anything but writing.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Whatever field you write for, youve probably been advised to find a niche. This is a good moveespecially if
you love writing about the topic in question (the alternative is making money doing something you hate, a.k.a.
having a job). Ideally? Your niche is your obsession. You think it, you sleep it, you fight to keep yourself
from driving loved ones away with your clingy, clingy love for it. And this is how you make it your niche by
championing it in smart ways that intersect with the needs of others. If you approach it with the necessary
enthusiasm, the marketing skills, gutsiness, creativity, business research, passion and good-willed
determination to absolutely not stop for anyone, you can nail that sucker in a way nobody else can.
But ask yourself this: do you care enough?
Would you do even if nobody was reading, even if you knew, knew it was just going to be a hobby for the rest
of your life? Youd better say yes - because sometimes, when things arent going as planned, youre going to
feel exactly that way. Your story will feel like it only has one reader in the whole world. So youd better make
sure that reader really cares.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

4. Write It How You Live It
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Ever been hopelessly lost in a story?
How did that feel? Did the language convey a sense of really being there, until you felt like a camera roaming
over the action, or like you were looking through someone elses eyes? Did you lose all awareness of your
real-life surroundings? Were you startled to realise youd been sat reading for hours something you thought
you werent capable of anymore, thanks to the ADD-inducing effects of browsing the Internet?

Welcome to a world of sensual abandon. Matador Network calls this Ground Level Writing:
the concrete reality of a certain place at a certain moment in
David Miller
In storytelling, its a branch of modern realism, conveying primarily what your senses pick up not an all-
knowing authorial presence gifted with 20:20 hindsight, but someone collecting the raw data.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

If you write a diary and you write it quickly, youre writing a snapshot in time. Its subjective - thats what
diaries are for (subject: you, then) so your first impressions can bewide of the mark. Kinda off. Maybe
even outrageous.
Its worth lifting that approach out of your private journals and experimenting a little. Try being that honest.
Try conveying to your reader what its like to be you, right then, in that place.
And its time to find out why thats a really good idea.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

In the New York Times article This Is Your Brain On Fiction, Annie Murphy Paul looked at the findings of
a number of neurological studies concerned with the brains of people immersed in stories. A 2006 Spanish
study found that reading fiction didnt just trigger the parts of the brain associated with language - it also
triggered the parts associated with the senses. (For example, the words lavender, cinnamon and soap
trigger the part of the brain associated with smell, while the word key didnt).

The real kicker here is this:
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between
reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each
case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.
Annie Murphy Paul
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

When someone is reading your story, whether its fiction or otherwise, and theyre really immersed in what
youre writing, they arent just reading it passively, theyre actively living it, inside their heads. Theyre there,
on your shoulder. Your words are giving their brains something approaching the same neurological payoff as a
real-life experience.
Thats the power your story has.
This is why well-crafted Ground Level Writing is so powerful because its not just entertainment, its a
convincing (and psychologically manipulative) simulation of reality. Want to invoke an emotional response in
a reader? Want them to feel awe, or longing, or the urge to follow your advice or in your footsteps? This is
how. This is how to craft a story that will deliberately trigger an experience, lived vicariously but with almost
the same emotional impact as the real thing
An unforgettable experience.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

5. Love Ordinary Things
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Literary journalists are fascinated by ordinary people.
They want to know about the lives of Greeks living in Greece in a time of catastrophic economic crisis, of
Americans trying to pay their bills, the real impact of the Olympics on the lives of the average Londoner (if
theres such a thing).
Seasoned journalists know that if something appears ordinary (humdrum average unworthy of
special interest) its because they havent looked hard enough at it. Pick a seemingly unremarkable subject
and delve deeply enough into it, and you will find enough to write about not just for one article, but for a
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

The point of literary journalists long immersions is to comprehend subjects
at a level Henry James termed felt life the frank, unidealized level that
includes individual difference, frailty, tenderness, nastiness, vanity,
generosity, pomposity, humility, all in proper proportion. It shoulders right
on past official or bureaucratic explanations for things. It leaves quirks and
self-deceptions, hypocrisies and graces intact and exposed; in fact, it uses
them to deepen understanding.
This is the level at which we think about our own everyday lives, when were
not fooling ourselves.
Mark Kramer Breakable Rules For Literary Journalists (Nieman Storyboard)
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Journalists of all kinds, writers and photographers, are drawn to everyday stories because theyre the stories of
99.9% of the human race and because the remaining 0.1% consists of ordinary people doing things a little
differently to everyone else.
Glossy lifestyle magazines, online and offline, operate using the tension between two conflicting stories:
celebrities are extraordinary and ZOMG celebrities are just like us!. If famous people were elevated to
truly superhuman status, we couldnt identify with them, we wouldnt feel we could follow in their footsteps
and wed only care about them in an abstract sense.
Contemporary fiction operates along similar lines. Its obsessed with surface ordinariness hiding remarkable
depths, the uncovering of inner lives and untapped potential. Its about an average day, an average person not
expecting anything to happen a day like any other.
(See Kurt Vonneguts second story-shape here).
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Its also the source of some very effectively written travel writing. Want to show people a world theyve never
seen before? Its easy to pick somewhere theyve never been, but if you really want to get their attention, show
them theyre already somewhere remarkable. Tell the story of their lives in a way they dont expect, and
watch them leap to their feet.
This is why innovation-driven home-grown entrepreneurship is so hot right now, and why people like Chris
Guillebeau and Jonathan Fields - showing people that all they need for a radical career change is a shift in
perspective - have gathered such a huge following.
They help their audiences tell new stories about themselves and their place in the world.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Seeing the world in an entirely new way is a supremely affecting experience.
Wouldnt it be cool if your writing could put this expression on the faces of your readers?

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Storytelling is everywhere.
Stories are SEO for the human brain.
Stories persuade, inform and brand.
If you call yourself a storyteller, many people will think you
sound like an idiot.
We are hard-wired to be swayed by a good story.
Some people think Titanic is just a film. Were all doomed.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

A final point: here is something that storytelling isnt
Its not a gift.
Its not a super-power, a talent bestowed upon the anointed few.
Its not genetic, not something youre born with.
Storytelling is a skill
It can be learned.
It can always be improved.
Good storytellers arent born theyre trained. They arise from a complicated interweaving of environmental
influences combined with terrifying amounts of hard work. Stories are born of grit and sweat and tears and
stubborn bloody-mindedness. Yes, genius is that extra 1% - but without it, you can get 99% of the way there.
If youre prepared to work hard enough, you can tell great stories.
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Further Reading
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Storytelling 101
The Storytelling Animal - Jonathan Gottschall.
The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling - Annette
Your favourite author.
The teacher at school that most inspired you.
My upcoming website for my storytelling work (sign up here to be kept informed).
Storytelling In Literary Journalism
Nieman Storyboard
Curated literary journalism at:
o Longreads & Travelreads
o Byliner
o Longform
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Travel Storytelling
World Hum
Uncornered Market
Jodi Ettenberg
Pam Mandel
Christine Gilbert
Sally Thelen
Shannon ODonnell
Wes Nations
Helping People Change Their Stories
Maria Popova
Bren Brown
Jonathan Fields
Chris Guillebeau
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Images Credits
Casey Neistat markknofler / Wikimedia Commons
Titanic - Wikimedia Commons
Seagull Utopolis Group of Cinemas, via Ads Of The World
Brene Brown TEDxHouston
Sean Bean in Troy Fanpop
Kurt Vonnegut Rotten Tomatoes
Jodi Ettenberg Legal Nomads
Mike Sowden Kinzica Sorrenti
ZOMG cat Boulders Natural Animal + Hospital

Front / Back Cover Image Luis Argerich
Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

Important Legal Information
If youve read this far, you are now under obligation to pay for this free e-

No, Im messing. We both understand exactly the same definition of free here.

This book is also public domain material. Feel free to distribute it, host it on
your website, share it, perform it in interpretive dance or any creative variation
that I (perhaps mercifully) havent considered. Either way, its yours to do with as
you wish

as long as you attribute it back to me (please) and keep the contents of
this book in one piece. Nb. Quoting is fine. I just ran it past my ego and its
totally good with being quoted.

Storytelling (or, How To Make People Care About Anything)

About the Author
Mike Sowden is a freelance writer and (gnnn) storyteller
originally from England & currently of no clear fixed abode.
Hes written for some publications you might have heard of,
and a hell of a lot more you definitely havent. He also finds it
deeply annoying when people talk about themselves in the third
person, and hopes he will never do the same, although, well,
you never know.
Hes also a narrative consultant which is a fancy-schmancy
term for someone who loves stories and likes helping other
people tell them. (He also writes stories, he should probably
add hes not one of those kinds of consultants). Want to know
more? He has a new website on the way, and more besides
and if you sign up here, you can be kept in the loop. (Hed be
thrilled if you did that).
You can also find him at his blog Fevered Mutterings, on Twitter, on Facebook, or suffering from exposure on
some lonely hillside (aka. having fun).