The hero’s journey is trotted out regularly in discussions on storytelling (and, therefore, also on advertising, campaigning, fundraising, and so on). The protagonist goes on a journey to fulfil a desire or answer a call to action; overcomes the enemy; returns home a changed person. Even if we don’t know the theory, we’re all aware of the formula somewhere deep in our bones.
Into the Woods: How stories work and why we tell them, by former BBC/Channel 4 producer John Yorke, picks this formula apart, exploring each element and providing a few more clues to watch out for in any narrative. The three-act or five-act structure; the inciting incident, midpoint, crisis and climax; the central character who must face his or her opposite.
Some of it is almost gloomily formulaic: in a Bond or Hitchcock film, he writes, the crisis is nearly always a high-octane, 25-minute sequence at the end, set in a unique location, and almost always on territory that’s alien to our hero.
We recently recruited 14 young people from six countries for a reporting programme, and before they’d even met, the WhatsApp group was buzzing. When we did get them together for an intense five days in London, they seemed to form a tight-knit group within 24 hours. By departure day, the WhatsApp group was filling with heart-eyed emojis, group selfies and emotional farewells as they prepared to return to four different continents.
Apart from the emojis, it was similar to an experience I had 10 years ago, when 30 of us from different European countries got flown to Berlin for an EU-funded youth journalism scheme. That short trip led to some of us creating our own joint project the following year – planning it over multiple Skype calls from our respective countries – and a few lasting friendships. (Plus, apparently, at least one romantic encounter.)Continue reading “Group chat”→
If it’s easy to start blogging these days, it’s even easier to stop. Or at least to pause.
So many reasons: not enough time (I’ll do it when that deadline is over); other priorities (I need to focus my attention/writing brain on something else right now); perfectionism (there’s no point in posting something mediocre); lack of fresh ideas (there’s nothing exciting me to write at the moment); unconvinced of the payback (it won’t make any difference if I wait a bit longer). Continue reading “Blogger’s guilt”→
The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.
Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention caught attention far and wide— but what made it so good? Journalism training specialists Poynter have a useful analysis here.
Speeches are a valuable resource for learning effective writing: as Poynter’s author points out, because they’re meant to be heard, they use more rhetorical devices than stuff that’s written down. The sound and the flow and the language jumps out at you, even if you don’t know why that is.
There’s lots of good stuff in the post about choice of language and structure, but one lesson I particularly like is: express your best thought in a short sentence, preferably using simple words (“when they go low, we go high”). It’s an approach that applies to most forms of communication, and reminded me of another helpful (and helpfully brief) resource. Continue reading “Write better #1”→
It’s Responsible Business Week in the UK, which aims to get all sorts of enterprises to share what they’re doing, and all of us to demonstrate how we’re working together “for a fairer society and a more sustainable future.”
As blog editor at London’s newest Impact Hub in Brixton, I’ve persuaded three of our members doing business differently to take time out of changing the world to explain what goes on behind the scenes.
I’ve been doing some writing for the European Commission’s EURES website, which aims to encourage jobseekers to take up opportunities in other countries. The blog posts are for the (somewhat oddly-named) Drop’pin blog, which targets 16-30 year-olds in EU and neighbouring countries.
A fairly broad audience then – and, being based in the UK, the challenge is to tackle a topic in a way that’s useful not only to readers in this country.
Experience of living abroad makes you aware of things that are country-specific, though (e.g. appreciating that the charity sector isn’t necessarily as developed elsewhere). Working in international teams is perhaps the best training for writing in plain English – better leave out those dazzling turns of phrase or idioms. And language skills help too, of course – for example, getting speedy responses from a source in Berlin for a piece on accessing the creative industries.
I’m back in Uganda this month, and have just finished two weeks of training in the east of the country. In Busembatia, I worked with Women in Leadership (WIL) Uganda, training their four Ugandan volunteers in basic photography and computer use. WIL Uganda was started by a former lawyer from the UK, whose stint as a volunteer here last year convinced her that much more was needed to support women and girls. Cases of rape are all too frequent; many women have been abandoned by their husbands to raise children alone and without an income. Girls are often shy or reluctant to speak their minds.
One year on, and WIL Uganda’s volunteers now teach adult literacy and handcrafts to the women and lead career guidance and writing classes with the girls in one of the secondary schools. Continue reading “Back to school”→
Since the spring, a team of us at On Purpose have been working on a collaborative storytelling project. A few weeks ago, we finally unveiled Humans on Purpose.
It’s not the first rip-off of the simple yet captivating Humans of New York idea – but it may well be the first to share stories of social purpose. We’ve got a pretty wide range: from CEOs and young entrepreneurs to former priests and ex-offenders. They’ve talked to us about their mums and their children; about pivotal moments and long-enduring passions; about anger and playfulness. People really are prepared to talk honestly about why they do what they do.
It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a wide collaboration (we’ve had 50+ interviewers, 5 editors, and several people involved in the design and development of the site, plus numerous others organising the final event of the project). Here are some things I learned: Continue reading “Stories of purpose”→