The Write Stuff
By Alan Crawford
A Useful Story Hack, Courtesy of South Park
We’re told — ad infinitum — that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is true of newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts and opinion pieces on Substack as well as works of fiction.
Unfortunately, this information, while correct, isn’t especially helpful. It is true by definition. The same could be said for a road trip to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Knowing that the trip has a beginning, a middle and an end doesn’t make it any easier for the driver.
But along comes Allison Carter of PR Daily with a “story hack” that really might help. Her source is Douglass Hatcher of Communicate4IMPACT, who says he got the idea, in turn, from the creators of South Park.
Matt Stone, one of those creators, told a group at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts how his team imagines the scenes for South Park, which they refer to as the “beats” of any storyline. One thing happens and then another thing follows. What occurs between those things — those beats — might be “pretty boring.”
There’s a way to fix that. “What should happen between those beats.” Stone says, “is either the word BUT or THEREFORE.” Thinking in terms of BUT and THEREFORE “gives you the causation between each beat — and that’s a story.” (You might even say that the causation — the chain of events — IS the story.)
Carter calls this the ABT, for AND, BUT and THEREFORE framework. “You can also think of it as a story structured around the concepts of agreement, contradiction, and consequence or set up, problem, and solution,” she writes.
And this ABT framework can be readily applied to everyday comms work. Imagine, Carter says, you’re to write about engaging hybrid workers during the holidays: “The world has changed since the pandemic set in and half of your employees likely won’t make the holiday party.” That’s your AND.
BUT: “But there are still ways to leverage your remote digital tools and your remote digital stack to engage your employees.”
THEREFORE: “So, we’ve brought together a list of the top three tools to help you create engagement among your staff during the holiday season.”
The ABT format can be used “within your various bullet points for a story-within-a-story structure that keeps readers moving through your piece.”
Put differently, you (A) lay out a situation, (B) state a problem or conflict, then (T) resolve it with a solution. And everybody’s happy, not least the writer.
You’re welcome. Now go easy on the eggnog.
ANNOYING WORD OF THE MONTH: Superpower. Everybody has one, right? They have their own superpower — some hitherto undisclosed ability that can take them and the organization they work for to another, astronomical level. It’s just like they have a passion that is there, even though no one else can see it — some driving force, deep down, that propels them, rocketlike, through their magnificent and trailblazing career. Alicia Keyes and Stephen Curry have published kids’ books telling their young readers that each of them has a superpower, and I just learned last night how the Kardashians have their own superpower, It’s their “family.” Well, why not? Superpowers can take many forms, according to my favorite unimpeachable source (Wikipedia). These include, but are not limited to, “flight, enhanced strength, invulnerability, or enhanced speed.” Access to advanced technology or proficiency with weapons of mass destruction also helps. So, unless you can leap tall buildings at a single bound, you might think twice about referring to your superpower or anybody else’s in a business setting, lest someone demand a demonstration.
Alan Crawford is a published author and journalist who, in his books and articles, has written on the period of the United States’ founding and the American tradition.
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