Principle #2 – The Power of Storytelling
I am speed. I eat losers for breakfast.
Do you remember who was introduced by these lines?
Hey, I’m Diana, and this is Story Artist.
These lines introduce the main character in Disney’s Cars: Lightning McQueen. And in this extended opening of Cars, we learn everything we need to know about the main character – his skills, his disdain for the pit crew, his strength, his weaknesses, and also his goal or his desire to win the Piston Cup.
And today I want to talk to you about the second very important principle in the Power of Storytelling, and this principle will show you how to instantly impress readers.
This principle is called: the Characteristic Moment.
We always make snap judgments. In a book called Blink, the author actually proved that in the blink of an eye, we make judgments about people. Your readers will also make snap judgments about your main characters, your marketing, yourself, your website, everything. About you or your books. So in order to influence this snap judgment and make sure that this judgment is a positive one, to impress the reader instantly, you need to achieve a great characteristic moment.
In her great blog helping writers become authors, K. M. Weiland says that “a failed characteristic moment can actually mean a failed story”. So it’s really important.
Let’s see what a characteristic moment has to achieve.
#1 Make the protagonist appealing to the reader
in fiction, it’s actually a quite simple equation. You have to introduce something that makes the main character instantly appealing to the reader – can be a cute flaw, it can be something that we can identify with.
And the two things that work the best are: Humor– so if your protagonist has humor or has some funny quirks – and helpfulness. If he’s sacrificing for others if he or she is ready to actually help others.
Now let’s look at nonfiction and marketing. With this, it’s a bit more tricky because you first have to identify the protagonist. In this case, the protagonist can be threefold:
- it can be the product you’re trying to sell
- it can be the reader, he can be the protagonist of your story
- or it can be you, yourself as the author.
And here the two points of humor and helpfulness are really working as well. So humor will always gain your reader’s heart. Even when you do marketing, when you write sales pages, when you read emails, try to be a bit more humorous, a bit more light with your text. Don’t be too serious and earnest, especially in the beginning, because humor and humorous stories win over the reader’s heart.
And also try to be helpful. Show instantly why this is good for a reader, how you can be helpful or how your product can be helpful or how your reader can help others. The helpfulness aspect is really, really important as well as the humorous aspect.
#2 Introducing both strengths and weaknesses.
In Cars with Lightning McQueen we already saw his strength and his weaknesses. So he has great driving skills, but he has poor people skills.
Why is it important to introduce both? Why is it not enough to just show how great the main character is?
Because this way, he’s not relatable. The more we know about him, the more we know also, his weaknesses and his strengths. We feel like he’s a real human being, we feel like he’s relatable and we feel like we can sympathize with the person. Imagine the scenario when you are trying to get to know someone. And, in the beginning, we try to impress, impress people by telling how great we are, what we have achieved. But this isn’t really impressive because we feel like it’s fake. The moment a person opens up and tells us his fear or his weakness, this is when we start to sympathize because we think: okay, this person is like me. He also has weaknesses and stress and fears, and he’s afraid of something. And this way we start to identify and to sympathize with a person, and the same way it works with the main character.
Now let’s look at nonfiction and marketing. With the product, there’s actually a great strategy you can do. So first, introduce a weakness of another product, which means, for example: Sales copy has always been done this and this and this way, but it doesn’t work because of this and this. But my product– and now here comes the strength – my product does it this way. This is my particular strength and this is why it works.
This is actually a great technique introduced by ARM champion Andrew Chaperone and he’s great. Go check out his website: tinylittlebusinesses.com. I’m not an affiliate, just saying it’s great. This is a great technique for selling a product with the Characteristic Moment. You can also introduce your own weaknesses. If you are the hero of the story you’re telling, like, when you say, I had this and this weakness, I had this and this fear, I had this doubt, I couldn’t do this. And then you say: but I had this asset, I had this strength, and this is how I made it work for me. So that people can identify. Or you go straight to the reader and you say: okay, this might be a weakness, but on the other hand, you have the strength, so why don’t you use it?
You see what I mean? So this way, the reader understands: okay, the author gets me, I’m the main protagonist and I have this weakness.
The main point of all of this is for the reader to go: yes, yes, it’s true, t’s true. It’s to nod and nod, and agree with you throughout the text, saying and seeing that you actually get them.
#3 Introduce the goal.
In cars, lightning McQueen wants to win the piston cup, and this goal is a very tangible goal. It’s clear, it’s something you can touch, something that you can measure. And this is really important for a goal.
Being loved or having more love or forgiveness or self-esteem – it’s not a good goal for a story or a protagonist. It can be an underlying goal of the inner conflict, but the character has to have a tangible, clear and measurable goal, like winning the Piston Cup or getting to a destination or getting somewhere. Like his daughter was kidnapped, he wants to get her out of the kidnappers’ hands and so on.
So it has to be a clear, tangible goal, and you have to introduce this ideally in the very beginning of your story, in the Characteristic Moment. If you can’t, you still have to kind of at least hint to the goal.
The same goes for nonfiction and marketing. It has to be a tangible goal. The reader has to know: What will I get from this product? What will I achieve when I do this?
For example, my mini-course, The 15-Minute-Writer, is aimed at those people who don’t have enough time to write but want to finish a book. I could have said: okay, this is the course for you to finish a book. But what it did is create The 15-Minute-Writer because I said: I will help you write 650 words per day in 15 minutes, which means with 15 minutes per day, you have a book ready or first draft of a book ready in four months. And this is a very tangible goal that you can touch, that you can achieve, that you can measure. And this is really helpful for readers.
The same for nonfiction books. The reader, when he reads this in the very beginning, he has to go: okay, what will this book help me achieve? Where will it get me? What will the result be of what I want to go?
You have to know what your reader wants. You have to know what your reader wants to achieve this way. You have to know your audience. You have to know your reader in order to introduce a goal that is tangible and achievable for them.
On the other hand, like in fiction, the goal can not be something really simple. Winning the Piston Cup is a huge deal. If it was something that he could do just like that, it wouldn’t be interesting. The same goes for marketing. The reader has to go like: What? Can I really write 15 minutes per day only and finish a book in four months? Sounds incredible. And this way they’re like: okay, how can I do this?The same with fiction. The reader wonders, okay, he has this go, how will he achieve this, will even achieve this? And this is the same question you want the reader to be asking for nonfiction and marketing and everything in this realm, in this area.
How the heck can I achieve this? And this is how you will make them go on reading.
So these are the three aspects of how to make your characteristic moment powerful. And I hope this was helpful to you.
Don’t forget: first I have to find out who your hero is. Then you have to write the hook, the principle number one. If you haven’t seen this video, go back and look at it or listen to the podcast episode.
And then number three, write a great Characteristic Moment.
In the next video, I will show you principle number four, how to make your story powerful. I see you next time.