What A Story Is Not

It was a quiet Tuesday morning in my hometown on the edge of the prairie.

The sun had just begun to peek over the tops of the trees.

The birds were just beginning their morning serenade.


It was a quiet and serene morning in my little world.

I had just sat down for a leisurely perusal of morning newsfeeds, posts, and emails.

That’s when I saw it.

It was hiding there, disguised as an innocent little article.

I saw it. I skimmed it. I went back and read it again. I went berserk. Enraged.


In fact, I was so upset I might have lost consciousness there for a minute.

I’m told I was screaming, “Idiots!!” at the top of my lungs.

That’s when my wife ran into the room to revive me from my angry stupor. And remind me that Shlomi Ron’s article was not the end of the world.

Just the beginning of the end

My response was to read aloud to her (make that shout aloud) the misguided words that were staring back at me.

Do you know the difference between a story and a narrative?

People often confuse the two and I figured it’s about time to clarify the important meanings those two words carry in storytelling. Simply put, your brand narrative is like a necklace where the beads are the supporting stories.

So when you’re telling those mini-stories about your customers, vendors, or partners they all should support your larger brand narrative of why your business exists and what purpose it serves.

Shlomi Ron

That is not only confusing, it’s totally wrong.

Stories are narratives

Let me repeat that. Real stories are narratives.

In fact, for something to qualify as a real story, it has to be in narrative form.

In other words, every narrative is not a story, but every real story is a narrative.

That is every real story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s filled with heroes, antagonists, and mentors, conflict and resolution and a moral.

Look, here’s just such a story now

It shows how only a real story could make fries interesting.

I ‘m really not angry with Mr. Ron.

What upsets me is that we’ve fuzzied up the definition of a story so much it has lost its true meaning.

Fuzziness reigns

A story has become whatever we want to call a story. Whether it’s a real story or not.

It’s gotten so bad that the people we call storytellers don’t really tell real stories.

Problem is stories got hot

This perversion of the language around stories began when stories became hot.

When companies and marketers suddenly discovered that stories are powerful.

So the corporate world snuggled up to storytelling like a starving calf to its mother’s utter. And as a result, they sucked all the meaning out of the word.

For example

Fortune 500 companies hire “chief storytelling officers.”

Retailers and store designers describe their establishments as “story experiences.”

Nonprofits pepper their ranks with people who claim to be tellers of stories.

Keep on sucking

Every organization, TV spot, video game, theme park, and outlet mall now claims to tell a story.

Storytelling has become a meaningless buzzword. Everybody does it. Everyone now fancies himself or herself to be a “storyteller.”

Unfortunately, most of those “storytellers” don’t know what a story really is.

Or how it works. Or how to tell one.

They mostly know and do what a story is not.

What a story is not

Lets’ be clear.

  • Your speech at the conference is not a story.
  • Your mission statement is not a story.
  • Your elevator pitch is not a story.
  • Your ugly infographic is not a story.
  • Your brilliant graph-filled PowerPoint presentation is not a story.
  • Your beloved spreadsheet that “says it all” is a not story.
  • If you start with, “Our vision is to do four things this decade . . .” or even, “These six attributes define our mission. . .” then whatever you’re doing is not storytelling.
  • As a matter of fact, those aren’t stories at all. They’re lists. And hey, yours might be a great list, but don’t kid yourself. It is not a story. No matter how smoothly it rolls off your tongue.
  • A news report is not a story. Even though a lot of newspaper people lump pretty much everything they write into the term.
  • A press release with a fact sheet about your organization is not a story.
  • Your carefully formatted problem / solution case study is not a story.
  • Even your beloved brand narrative is not a story.

These things do not do what a real story does. They do not make the emotional connections that a real story does. They don’t draw people in like real stories do.

Behold, a real storyteller

Check it out.

Take a look at the difference between the work of someone who doesn’t tell a real story and one who does.

The difference is involvement, imagination, and emotion versus a PowerPoint presentation of facts, data, and strategies.

The difference is everything.

So what is a real story?

  • A real story is a narrative.
  • A real story is aimed at a specific tribe.
  • A real story has characters – a hero and a mentor at the very least.
  • A real story has intention, obstacle and resolution.
  • A real story contains change.
  • A real story has a moral.

If you’d like a little more detail than that, check out How To Shape A Story

May the story be with you

Those kinds of real stories are powerful. They connect with something deep within us.

They help us make sense of the world and our place in it.

The kinds of stories that motivate tribes and ignite movements define the cause. They illuminate our ideas and actions and make them memorable.

Real stories rule

When done well, they transcend mere messaging.

They engage the tribe’s emotions and senses. Powerful stories reflect their hopes, dreams, and desires.

They take them on a journey of discovery and self-reflection.

Just like Galileo V.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take?