Storytelling is as much about asking the right questions as it is about telling an actual story.
Ask anyone who tells stories for a living — journalists, novelists, screenwriters, public relations professionals — what separates the greats from the mediocre, and they’ll tell you it’s the individuals who ask the best questions.
After all, telling an interesting story is more than just asking “What’s next?”
The great storytellers think beyond the next logical step in the story to earn the interest of the audience.
When a character goes to the store, it’s not the act of going there that draws in your reader; it’s the reason for going to the store that is of most interest. This simple act can provide enough information for a dramatic pivot.
If you learn early on that the main character went to a department store to buy a wig and a dark pair of sunglasses, there is obviously something deeper at play that you yearn to find out about. Your readers will stick around to find out the reason for buying a disguise. There are so many questions that must be answered that stem from that simple act.
It’s up the storyteller to ask those questions of their character and put together a compelling narrative.
If you’re writing for business, you need to capture that same idea.
You don’t need to lend an air of mystery to your company’s story. But you need to keep them coming back for more, and the way to do that is to make sure your story is open-ended.
Maybe you are announcing a new product or service. The announcement, whether it’s a press release or blog post on your site, should hint at something greater happening than just something new for your customers to try.
And that “sneak peak” comes from asking the right questions of your subject matter experts.
I can’t tell you how many times a germ of a story showed itself because I asked the experts the right questions. Or, I just asked questions.
You would be surprised how often PR professionals fail to listen and ask questions. This belief that we should know everything often forces us to refrain from asking questions, lest we look like we don’t understand the material.
But there is nothing wrong with asking questions. It’s the quickest way to understanding the stories we need to tell, and they often lead to the best stories.
So the next time you set out to write a press release or a blog post, make a list of the questions you need to ask, then let the other questions come organically.
You’ll be surprised what you learn, and your audience will benefit.