WWN1: Why Storytelling?

Evading dragons and enlivening dull days

I guess this is the inaugural “Write Way” in the new and improved setup.

The pressure is on to deliver…

And I’ve circled about trying to decide what to write on until the decision was made for me.


Well, the sponsor of the Write Way this week is…


It’s me. I’m the sponsor. (HT Chris Orzy and Taylor Swift.)

Tomorrow I’m hosting David Garfinkel on X-Twitter Spaces to talk about, you guessed it, story.

So why not dive deep into it over the next few weeks on the Write Way?

Today we’re going to talk about why we tell stories and touch on the different types and purpose of story (next week’s issue will go deeper on that).

But first, a word from our sponsor, me.

Tomorrow I’m hosting David Garfinkel on X-Twitter Spaces to talk to you about storytelling and sales.

David is a direct response marketing strategist and story specialist. He's the bestselling author of "Breakthrough Copywriting", and the author of "The Persuasion Story Code".

Plus, he’s a former SF bureau chief, for McGraw-Hill World News and someone who has spent years studying stories in multiple forms.

And he's coming to talk to you about storytelling for sales.

This Thursday, over on X-Twitter, 7 PM GMT/3 PM EDT. 

Be there.

End advertisement, and now on with the content (also by me).

Why We Need Stories

Today, I’m going to talk about why. Why do we tell stories? Why do we need stories? Why do stories matter?

Well, there are many reasons. But let’s just touch on a few.

First though, an important point.

Stories are for every day.

Storytelling is not some refined art that only special “storytellers” get to do. It’s a natural human instinct. We all do it, all the time.

Whether it’s the kid making up a story about their toy doll…

…the wife telling a story about the kids…

…the husband telling a story about work…

…the salesman telling a story about the previous owner…

…the teacher telling a story about Einstein…

…the writer telling a story about dragons…

…the politician telling a story about how that money got into their account…

…it’s all storytelling.

Some of it is fact (some true, some lies), some of it is fiction (and some of that is true and some is lies). Some stories are aiming to persuade and move, others to entertain, others to teach and inspire.

But it’s all storytelling.

Even the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories about who we are. Where we’re going. Why we ate that cookie or skipped that workout or why we will be at the gym or did eat healthy or whatever it is.

Stories shape us more than we know.

But most people only think of storytelling as what happens in the cinema or in a book, and I want to broaden your mind before we go deep.

Stories are everywhere and for everyone.

And they fulfil an important purpose.

Stories evade the dragons

I make no apologies for the fact that we will return to this quote a few times this month…

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

C. S. Lewis, Letters

Every human being has in built defenses against change and experience.

We have to. The world is full of change and most of it can kill you. So we resist it. We resist novel experiences, radical changes, mindset shifts and more. Because it only takes one bad novel experience to put an end to all novelty.

Stories bypass all that.

They provide a sandbox we can play in. We can try different things, put on different mindsets, take a belief for a spin.

And if the storyteller has studied long enough and sweated hard enough, that experience can be more real to us than the world we live in. We can truly experience what it means to be someone or something else.

And that’s powerful.

And dangerous.

After all, liars and evil men can tell stories too. And though those stories never have the full power of true stories, they can still persuade and move people to act.

Hitler told a story about German decline, and the causes of it. We know how that ended.

Karl Marx told a story about economics and millions upon millions died.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden each told a story and most people would agree that one of them was a disaster for America (even if not which one).

Jesus, Muhammed and the Buddha told stories about man’s greatest need and the hope of salvation.

Not all stories are true. And some stories are dangerously false. When your watchful dragons are off guard, all sorts can slip in behind them.

So be careful as a reader of stories. And be even more careful as a storyteller.

You are being given great power, and with it comes the attendant responsibility to use it well.

But stories can do more than make the strange seem safe and familiar. They can also make the familiar seem strange…

Stories enliven the dull

The flip side of the last point is that certain truths can get passé. We become so familiar with it that we overlook how amazing it is, we forget to wonder. We forget to be amazed.

How often have you looked outside and seen a bird, or a blade of grass?

I mean, really seen it?

Really seen the beauty of it? The wonder? The sheer incredible nature of, well, nature.

Lewis again:

“In our world,” says Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son,” says Ramandu,”that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Or Chesterton:

This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

And again:

These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The point those venerable gentlemen most excellently make is that stories recapture the wonder of the world as it truly is.

A magical place where the grass is green, the sky is blue, and where a flaming ball of incandescent gas lights up that sky and beams radiant energy into plants, which turn it into leaves which are eaten by strange ruminant herbivores and turned into muscle.

That steak in your hands at the grocery store was once a sunbeam.

And we shrug and throw it in the shopping cart.

Stories take the familiar and make it strange again. They take the mundane and make it magical.

Because it is.

But more…

Stories exalt the divine

Stories take what is true and they make it real.

And yes.

I’m using divine as a synonym for truth. It is. Deal with it.

We are forgetful, you and I. And often blind. The familiarity of the wonder of the world, the scariness of the new, it all prevents us seeing truth when it’s right in front of us.

And that is one of the great powers of story, and good storytelling.

To make the truth come alive. To exalt it. To make it so striking and beautiful that it sticks in our mind.

Stories shape how we live and what we think. Evil is real, whether there is or isn’t someone coming to save you, hope, religion, all of it is shaped by stories.

Likewise in copywriting and sales. Stories help to make the product feel real. To take the truth about what you’re selling and make it tangible.

And that ties into our other points. The story can make a humdrum solution that actually works (like writing faster so you can get more done) feel more exciting. Or it can take a brand new, revolutionary product, and make it feel tangible and safe to try.

We’ll dive a lot deeper into the different types of story (and why storytelling for sales is so different) next week.

But that’s it for now…

So why tell stories?

To evade dragons, enliven dullness and exalt the divine.

Because stories make the new safe, the old they make new, and the true they cause to stick.

And hey, because it’s much more fun, too.

May your pipe puff as merrily as the great storytellers Lewis and Tolkien, and your pen flow with stories as good as theirs,


James Carran, Craftsman Writer


One of the great myths of storytelling is that the “hero’s journey” we see in Hollywood is the right approach for copy and sales stories.

But that’s a lie.

Storytelling in sales is wildly different. And trying to cram one type of storytelling onto another is a recipe for disaster.

So you need to learn the difference, and we’ll talk more about it next week. But did I mention that Tomorrow I’m hosting David Garfinkel on X-Twitter Spaces to talk to you about storytelling and sales?

I think I mentioned that.

But just in case.

Tomorrow I’m hosting David Garfinkel on X-Twitter Spaces to talk to you about storytelling and sales.

I hope I’ll see you there, live, and armed with questions galore.

Find out more and set your reminders here:


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