“What makes a story different from other forms of writing?” the young marketer asked me after one of my talks.

“Change,” I said, before telling the following story.

My family stores our dry goods on a shelf in the garage. One day last summer, while my wife was putting something onto that shelf, she ran into something that had interrupted her normal routine…

 

Every_Story_Needs_A_Rattlesnake_2

 

…a three-foot rattlesnake.

There’s nothing like coming face-to-face with a deadly being. The experience elicits a primal response that’s involuntary and automatic. Adrenaline courses through your veins, your heart rate elevates and your attention becomes laser-like. It’s a suspended moment in time, where nothing else matters until the threat is removed.

A rattlesnake is a perfect metaphor for the beginning of any story because it signals a break from routine. Without the snake, my wife would have placed the item on the shelf without notice as she had hundreds of times before. But with the snake, she needed to adjust her priorities quickly.

Change is the catalyst of the human condition. When it’s absent, we feel safe. But when a familiar pattern is broken, like the lights go out, quarterly sales drop, or we run into a three-foot rattlesnake, our brains go into hyper-drive, focussing our complete attention on the task at hand and evaluating it for risk.

In other words, without a change, there is no story.

Kenn Adams‘ Story Spine demonstrates the concept brilliantly.

Once upon a time
Every day…
Then one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since then…

“Then one days” separate stories from other narrative forms. They represent the “uh-oh” moments that compel our meaning-seeking brains to assess the situation for risk and danger. Without “then one days,” we have no story. Rather, we have a rhetorical collection of facts.

Every story needs a rattlesnake–the “then one day” that transforms a humdrum routine into a troublesome scene. Therefore, the next time you want to deliver a message through a story, start by finding your rattlesnake.

 

 

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