You all probably know by now that I overthink and philosophize about things. Some weeks ago I was in the car feeling bored, and I started thinking about a few examples of good storytelling that are all around us, even though we don’t recognize them as such. And I can tell you, it was an interesting list- such that I had to write a post.
Here we go: three examples of good storytelling that no one even thinks about.
The Geico Fast-Forward Ads
If you have ever watched a video on YouTube, you may have seen one of these. For example:
Uh-huh. Now you have to click on that link and find out what happened, don’t you? This is the genius of Geico. If they had played the whole ad (which, let’s face it, is pretty stupid), you would just be annoyed that Geico would dare to come between you and your Blimey Cow. But, by fast-forwarding to a bewildering end shot, Geico reels you in. What happened in between? You have to know, so you watch the full ad (and hopefully switch to save 15% on insurance).
Likewise, writers only have six different plots or so, and we need to give readers a reason to care about a “predictable” story. People know that the young farm boy will save the princess from the dark lord, or that the band will slay the dragon and get the gold, or that the hero will make a huge sacrifice to defeat the villain. What they don’t know is what happens to the characters along the way. That’s where we come in: we make people curious about the whole journey, not just the happy (or tragic) ending.
What If Cartoons Got Saved? by Chris Rice
Chris Rice as a songwriter is a genius. Each one of his songs captures a facet of the Christian life in beautiful color and mind-blowing perspectives. Seriously, even secular songwriters can learn from his music: for example, his moving Christmas song and “Go Light Your World.”
ages a few years ago, Chris Rice wrote a lively song with a comical premise: what if cartoon characters became Christians?
Now that we’ve had our chuckle for the day… what can we learn from Chris Rice? In each of his songs, particularly this one, he chooses a counter-intuitive way to make his point. He uses a downright strange idea to teach a good lesson: it’s our job to praise God, and there’s a good reason for that. Worship is a theme which songwriters have emphasized for centuries, from the Doxology to “Oh Praise Him,” but Chris Rice engaged an old audience in a new way, making them laugh even as they look at worship from a different angle.
Likewise, writers need to use their crazy ideas. Let’s face it… our brains are not normal, and our imaginations are frighteningly overactive. Most of what we invent is insanity that never makes it to the page. But why not use some of that insanity? Look for the potential in even the craziest of ideas, and who knows? You might end up using Smurfs to bring glory to God.
Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes has been popular with our family lately, even more so than The Peanuts, and it’s easy to see why. Meet Calvin, a six-year-old INTP with a curious perspective on the world, and his tiger-friend Hobbes (did you get the reference?). They invent transmogrifiers and build monstrous snowmen just to mess with Dad’s head. Through the antics of these two companions, Watterson blurts out realities of life, asks tough questions, gets people to be honest about their doubts, and even pokes fun at Marxist philosophy.
The thing writers can learn from Calvin and Watterson alike is to look at the world through a child’s eyes. Isn’t this the very essence of storytelling? It’s our job to tell things as they are, but with a spin or some new lesson that makes readers think differently about the world we live in. Rarely do people ever stop and ask, “Why is this the way it is? What if it was different?” Asking the important questions is not only the job of the child or the genius, but also the writer. So let’s do our job.