Assortment 9: Women’s Equality Day!August 23, 2019
Preview of our Conversational Storytelling Workshop at Digital Book WorldSeptember 3, 2019
How do you write a compelling story for a voice app centered around chocolatiers and their chocolate shops? For that matter, how do you craft any compelling story that’s designed to be heard, not read? That’s what we’ll explore in this post.
But first!!… If you haven’t yet read our Author Tips page, we recommend you start by reading through those tips before you continue.
In this lengthy post we’ll discuss one approach to writing a compelling story for our “My Box of Chocolates” voice app. While there are many ways to craft a story, we’ll focus on techniques described by Matthew Dicks, a serial winner of the Moth StorySLAM, in his book Storyworthy.
If you don’t have this book, we recommend you purchase a copy. Dicks’ tips are geared to the stand-up performing storyteller, but they’re equally valuable for writers of stories designed to be told via a smart speaker or any voice assistant.
A Transformational Experience
According to Matthew Dicks, the key ingredient of a great story is transformation. To be truly compelling, the story’s narrator needs to experience a 5-second transformational moment, and convey that moment to the audience. Listeners relate most to a story if they sense the person telling it experienced something truly profound.
Note: We don’t expect every mini chocolate box story to include a profound transformational moment. But it doesn’t hurt to keep the general concept in mind and experiment with the possibilities.
Start with the “Elephant”
Matthew Dicks advocates showing the audience right away what your story “is about.” He calls this big central theme the story’s elephant. Since the story is going to be about a pivotal moment where the character confronts the elephant, the beginning should give the listener a sense of what the elephant is.
For example, if the character is going to progress through the story towards a 5-second moment where she realizes she’s been incredibly selfish all her life, the story might start with a scene showcasing the character’s lack of self-awareness.
End with the Opposite of the “Elephant”
By the time we reach the end of the story, the character will have had his or her revelation. End the story by showing the character in a situation that is the opposite of how they started out.
For example, if the character had the realization that they’ve been incredibly selfish, end the story with the character doing something selfish and enjoying it tremendously.
Story Idea: Reluctant Trick-or-Treater
Let’s give it a try! Our upcoming box will have a Halloween theme, so we’ll keep that in mind as we design our story concept.
We’ll start with a character who has appeared in previous boxes. Janice showed up in the Summer Romance box (Assortment 7) in Opal’s chocolate shop. Janice is a woman of a certain age, who tends to be a bit curmudgeonly, and we can extend her backstory to make her single and childless. For our story, we’ll have her start out as someone who doesn’t like children and dreads trick-or-treaters. Over the course of the story, something will happen that completely changes her view.
This story arc sounds like it might take more than 250 words to develop. In that case, we’ll break the story up into two “chocolates.” How should we start? If we take the advice of Matthew Dicks, the start of our story will be the opposite of the ending. Since Janice is going to end by feeling a sense of love for a child, the story needs to start with her being really annoyed by one.
Possible Story Opener….
The opening action can easily take place inside Opal’s chocolate shop. Janice can be in the shop to relax and enjoy a cappuccino and chocolate, only to be disturbed by the outburst of a cranky child.
Story Leading Up to the Transformational Moment (Part 1)
Janice’s transformational moment should probably take place outside of the chocolate shop. While there are many ways her transformation could unfold, here’s one path.
Possible Story “Middle” Up to Cliffhanger….
Janice is looking forward to a quiet evening at home with a good book, and with her porch light off to discourage trick-or-treaters. As she’s settling in with her book, the doorbell rings and Janice opens it to find a neighbor with her 6-year-old costumed daughter in tow. Before Janice can explain that she hasn’t stocked any candy, the neighbor asks if Janice would be willing to take her daughter around the block trick-or-treating. The neighbor has come down with some sort of ailment, but the little girl wants very badly to go trick-or-treating.
Adding a Conversational Element
As we see Janice standing at the door, wondering how to respond to her neighbor, we’re presented with a good spot to end the first half of the story. We’ve got a cliffhanger, even if it’s an admittedly small cliff.
Because Janice is facing a decision, we can ask the listener a variety of questions to engage them more deeply with the story. We’ve defined three basic flavors of conversational questions: Anticipate, Relate, Judge.
Here’s an example of each flavor for our current story. Note that all questions can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Do you think Janice is going to take the little girl trick-or-treating?
Note that just by asking the question, we nudge the listener to think a bit more about what’s happening in the story and what might occur next, thereby heightening the anticipation.
Are you the kind of person who turns the porch light off on Halloween, hoping you won’t get trick-or-treaters?
This question nudges the listener to think about how they relate to Janice and the situation she’s in.
I’m curious. Do you think poorly of people who hide from trick-or-treaters?
This question has the listener think about how they might judge someone who acts the way Janice does.
Story Including the Transformational Moment and End (Part 2)
In the second part of the story, Janice experiences something that changes her view of children. The transformational scene most likely happens outside of the chocolate shop. But Janice will tell her story to Opal inside the shop, so that Opal is able to retell it from her own perspective.
Possible Story Ending….
Janice at first declines her neighbor’s request, but then feels guilty. She eventually agrees to accompany her neighbor’s daughter around the block to pick up treats. When they’ve finished making their rounds, the little girl takes Janice by the hand, sits her down on her front steps, and carefully divides all the candy in her basket between herself and Janice. She even offers to give Janice all the “really yummy” candies, since Janice has been so nice.
Janice comes into the chocolate shop after Halloween and tells Opal what happened. Opal can retell the story and make some sort of closing comment to finish it off.
Adding a Closing Conversational Element
Now that the story is over and we’ve experienced Janice’s transformation, we can pose a question to the listener to help them think more deeply about what Janice has learned.
Here are several examples of each question flavor. Note that in this case, listeners can respond by saying yes or no, or by answering with “option 1” or “option 2” if the question gives them those two choices.
What do you think Janice will do next Halloween?
Option 1 – Leave her porch light on
Option 2 – Turn her porch light off
When you think back to some of the Halloweens you’ve experienced, can you recall times when you really bonded with children?
Who do you think got the most out of their trick-or-treating adventure?
Option 1 – The neighbor’s daughter
Option 2 – Janice
In this post we’ve offered an extensive overview of one strategy for crafting a compelling chocolate box story, including adding conversational elements. We leveraged a few of the techniques described by Matthew Dicks in his book Storyworthy. (Note that Dicks offers a lot of additional and really valuable techniques in the book that we didn’t touch on here, so get the book!).
The current post focused on using the idea of a transformational experience to craft your story. Not every chocolate story is going to be based on a character having a 5-second eureka moment. This is just one strategy. But it hopefully starts you thinking about how to craft a story that listeners want to hear.