Now that you know what makes a good story, how do you know which stories to tell?
When it comes to framing political issues, the best storyteller wins. If we personally don’t have experience with an issue, personal stories from people who do frame that issue in a way that statistics simply can’t, by tapping into time-tested narratives that humans are hard-wired to believe. In his book, Tales of a New America, UC-Berkeley professor and former Secretary of Labor for President Clinton Robert Reich contends that American culture is made up of competing stories of hope versus fear. Whether you see immigration as a “Mob at the Gates” narrative or a “Rot at the Top” story depends largely on your personal experience with immigration and, beyond that (or barring it), is shaped by the stories you read, watch and listen to. Likewise, your views on income inequality are likely related to whether the success stories you experience are seen through a “Triumphant Individual” lens or a “Benevolent Community” filter.
We have identified five different storytelling methods designed to help you identify the stories that work best for your cause.
Heroes’ Handbook is a practical toolkit developed by the Heroes Narrative project to reframe public debate about immigration in Washington state to advance progressive values. The storytelling toolkit uses both narrative and messaging to reinforce our values of practical solutions, upholding our nation’s values, moving forward together, and the reminder that immigrants are already a part of us. For instance, the “Practical Solutions” narrative is invoked when we say, “We can’t deport 11 million people; we need to move toward solutions that are actually going to work.”
Paul VanDeCarr of Working Narratives will be one of the first people to tell you that good movements follow great stories. The author of the 2013 Storytelling & Social Change Guide for Grantmakers is currently updating the already popular how-to guide with practical tips and worksheets for every step of social-change storytelling. Inside the guide, you’ll find case studies of 10 projects and their funders, a look at the recent history of storytelling and social change, and reviews on the theories of change behind this work. Look for the revised edition in Winter 2014.
In addition to helping more than 15,000 people all around the world create their own digital stories, the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, California offers essential resources for organizations interested in digital storytelling. Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community and the Digital Storytelling Cookbook offer expert guidance in telling stories to advance progressive causes.
If you’re familiar with the “It Gets Better” Project on YouTube, you’ll understand the appeal of the Center for Story-based Strategy. They use culture, media, memes and narrative to amplify progressive causes and create social change, and they’ve developed Tools & Worksheets that you can use to make your own social change.
Some stories are harder to tell than others. As the nation’s premiere organization addressing the emotional health and wellbeing of women and men after abortion, Exhale is fully aware of this. Their pro-voice storytelling methods aim to empower people with first-hand experience to share their stories of abortion without judgement. They are developing a series of storytelling guides, starting with For Women: A Guide to Publicly Sharing Your Story and A Storysharing Guide for Ethical Advocates.
We hope you find these toolkits and guides helpful in finding and framing stories to advance your cause. And we hope you’ll join us next time when we discuss story collection tools you can use to encourage others to share their stories with you.
Photo courtesy of flickr user Don Kennedy
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Renee Alexander is a LightBox collaborator and freelance storyteller whose most recent article, “The Rewards of the Road,” was published in Saveur magazine.