How to make up a story, on the spot

Photo Credit: Gratisography

Photo Credit: Gratisography

A few weeks back we talked about how to build a business story.

This is a report from the trenches on putting this technique into action.

I'll show you how to apply it in the heat of the moment.

The more you practice, the easier this will get.

While my example isn't "business" it is a great example of how this stuff works. Plus you should be able to relate this story, either having been a parent or a child at some point in your life.

What about business? I'll share some specific business tips at the end.

It was Friday night. My wife and I were run ragged by the sugar-induced hyperactivity of four boys. We don't have four. We have two. We had friends over.

My eldest, who is eight years old, had been involved in a candy "procurement issue."

This was after already being fed a delicious dessert.

Our son had "procured" some candy that he hadn't been authorized to do.

The situation? Four little boys (2x five-year-olds, 2x eight-year-olds) pumped full of sugar, tearing around the house. This made winding down the evening rather challenging.

Our eight-year-old did a pretty good job deflecting responsibility. Somehow it turned out, according to him, that it was his five-year-old brother's idea. This "fact" provided our eight-year-old with the peace of mind to dodge responsibility.

Or so he thought.

We triaged the hyper kiddos, our friends left and ours went to bed.

When I was tucking our eight-year-old in and singing him songs the following thought went through my mind.

"I need him to take responsibility. Telling him to do so hasn't been having the desired effect. "I need to use a story."

I paused and thought through the story building tips we've shared with you previously.

Here are the steps I took, that you can follow.

  1. First, pause and take a deep breath. Get settled and focused. Get out of your own head and into storyland.
  2. Then ask yourself: what is the assertion I'm trying to make? Begin with the end in mind. For me it was simple: I need you to take responsibility.
  3. Get ready to invent a story. You'll need three things:
    1. Your main character
    2. You main character must want something
    3. Get ready to fill in the cast with some supporting characters.
  4. Say "Once upon a time…" or "So there was this person and…."
  5. Tell the story and keep focused on #3 above - it's your guide on this journey

Here's what happened when I followed these steps:

We joined a boy called Alan and his three friends William, Chris, and Sammy. They lived in a castle built atop an oasis in a desert. Alan yearned for adventure but his father, the King, forbade him from leaving the oasis and going out into the desert. It was dangerous. Alan ignores his father. He really wants adventure. He proceeds to encourage his friends to fantasize about adventure, encouraging them to think about adventures in the desert. Then pushes them to pursue their amazing ideas. But when they do tragedy strikes. On their first attempt, they are hit by a sandstorm and William is badly injured, bedridden. When the King chastises the boys Alan has an excuse. William really wanted to walk on the dunes. It was Williams idea. Alan doesn't learn from his mistake and history repeats itself. This time a snake bites Chris and he dies. There are more excuses. Then Sammy gets swallowed whole by quicksand. Again, Alan has excuses. By the end, Alan has been responsible for horrible things happening to all his friends. At last, the King refuses to take any more excuses and explains to Alan that even if his friends had been the inspiration behind these misadventures that Alan had the power to be responsible and stop them from being put harm's way.

"I never want to hear you blame your brother like that again." I said to our eight year old when I finished the story.

He gave me a sheepish look as he realized what had just happened. A story had made a point. He had found himself agreeing with the King regarding Alan's behavior.

"You have the power to act with responsibility as a big brother and stop something happening, or… if you are tempted to do it yourself, then you can be responsible and chose not to do the thing you know you shouldn't."

My eight year old nodded through his sheepish expression. We ended up having a great weekend. He was a very helpful, and a responsible member of the family.

Like I said, practice makes perfect. Practice with your kids. Practice with your friends. Practice with your spouse.

Fiction can be tricky in business. Here are some tips. Note: I'm not saying "don't use fiction." If you can, do. It's powerful. That being said, here are some other sources to consider.

  1. Draw on personal experience. Authentic stories are very powerful.
  2. Explore customers stories. Why did they need your product? What did they do with it?
  3. Consider fellow travelers or leaders in your field. Do you know their stories? Learn them.

To add fuel to the fire of these three tips - get practicing. Spend time thinking, writing and telling stories that fit into these buckets. Create a simple story bank to save them. Then your storytelling muscle will be better prepared when you need to flex it in the real world.

If you are trying to build a business story and want to reflect on your story building efforts feel free to book a complimentary consultation. You can grab 30 min on my calendar over here at

Here are some great additional resources to consider further on this topic.

First up: How fiction can get people to imagine a different life. Should be obvious how you can apply this after reading this post.

Second: More TED videos on the power of fiction than you can shake a stick at. Have a nice watch after all this reading.

Finally: Venture capitalist Anthony Tjan shares his thoughts on why storytelling is important to "connect the essence of a message with both logic and emotion." And you are trying to get your message to connect, right?

Go Narrative is a marketing consultancy that assists business leaders in technology firms to build and implement advanced marketing strategies. Our secret sauce is storytelling for business growth and transformation. We can help you cut through the noise and improve your reputation. We love helping business leaders understand, use and apply storytelling in business via writing, presentations, video, strategy and actionable plans. | Sign up for storytelling tips to your inbox.

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Matthew Woodget