Digging for the Story
What do preschoolers and shoppers have in common?
They adore a good story. (I would have also accepted “They want what they want when they want it,” “They get bored easily” and “They are always up for snack time.”)
As retail marketers, we must share narratives that resonate with and engage shoppers. But before we share them, we must create them. With our imagination. And that is easier said than done.
What if the idea well has gone dry? What if it seems like there are no new stories to tell? How does an idea become a satisfying story anyway?
Idea generation is a personal process that relies on the subconscious mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to harness the imagination. It’s simply a matter of discovering techniques that excavate the concepts that live just below the surface. Here are five to explore right away (with appropriate thanks to the Gotham Writer’s Workshop for planting the seeds):
Subvert a Clichéd Story with Imagination
Pick a typical story or theme that’s been played out, and create a parody or subversion to reframe it. Are you tired of finding yet another story about a knight that rescues a princess from a dragon to win her hand in marriage? In your story, perhaps the knight shows up at the dragon’s lair, sword drawn, only to find the princess happily drinking tea with the scaly fire-breather. The knight gives his challenge, and the princess is horrified that anyone would want to kill such a noble creature.
Keep a Dream Journal
Dreams unspool free of normal thought patterns, and that can provide great creative fuel. Keep a notebook or tablet by the bedside to record dreams before they fade from memory. Record all of the details of each dream, and then make a separate list of any aspects you found especially intriguing. What themes, characters or situations are worth preserving? Why did they resonate? Distill them; what is the visual?
Name a Problem
Many of us have intriguing ideas but hit a wall when it’s time to weave them into a story. Stories require conflict. So start there. Begin with a problem.
It can be any problem, from “I’ve nothing to wear to the holiday party” to “This morning I woke up in the wilderness and I don’t know how to get home” to “Every continent is sinking into the ocean.” Create a character who must solve this problem. Why does this person care? Put her in a position where she can make a difference.
Do Free Writing
Open the mind and turn off the ego; the brain can do wondrous things. Schedule a regular time to sit quietly and let ideas flow. Experiment with writing prompts. If not a prompt, begin with a question, name, image, or other internal conversation pieces. Or start with “once upon a time” and see where that goes. Don’t censor yourself; capture all thoughts, even if they may seem foolish. Then review and pick out the intriguing parts.
Alter the Status Quo
Ask “What if?” What if everyone had wings? What if pets ruled the world? What if Iceland had conquered the world a century ago? Then examine the repercussions of those scenarios. If everyone had wings, would we still use cars for transportation? If pets were our masters, would they make us do tricks for their entertainment? If Iceland controlled the world, how would that change the economy and culture of India, Brazil or Russia? Discover what’s fascinating about your new world, and drop a character into the thick of it.
Next time, five more techniques to help unearth the story!