Let’s try writing the beginning of a story.

It had been a long day. Sandy couldn’t wait to get home, change into comfortable clothes, and relax in front of the television. She pulled into her driveway and noticed the darkened front steps. ”That’s odd,” she thought. “Did that porch light burn out again?”

She fumbled with the lock in the darkness, but the door swung open before she could insert the key. She wondered whether she’d closed the door earlier that morning. Rather that thinking too much about it, Sandy entered the house and locked the door behind her.

Got it? So, what’s going on here? Is everything okay with Sandy? Do you have any concerns for her safety? If so, why? The bare facts don’t explicitly tell us that she’s in any danger. She might be walking into a safe empty home, a dangerous ambush, or a surprise party organized by her best friend.

Red flags are special story statements. They’re odd little facts that just don’t seem right. Did you wonder why the porch light was out or the front door was ajar? Storytellers evoke those questions using red flags. Red flags force listeners to anticipate uncertain future events and the listener’s mind will not rest until they’re answered.

Red flags draw audiences into the story. They help listeners care about the characters and have been known to make people in darkened movie theaters scream out, “Don’t go in there!” or “Don’t do it!”

Yet, it’s curious that few marketers ever use them–especially in success stories. Success stories are vehicles that marketers can use to help prospects get a feel for products and services. For example, here are some potential opening lines:

  • Jered had estimated that his cell phone battery had at least an hour left on it.
  • Monica wondered why the assets on the balance sheet were significantly lower than last week’s.
  • Scott’s hard drive had been making an annoying clicking sound for the past two days.

Each line contains a red flag, something that the audience can relate with and the storyteller can build upon.

Are you wondering how to start a success story? Consider using a red flag.



Photo Credit: Rothstein, Arthur, photographer. Sneaking under the circus tent. Roswell, New Mexico. Chaves County New Mexico Rosewell, 1936. Apr. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa1998018640/PP/