As World Storytelling Day approaches, Editing Edge’s Lesley Hussell shares with us her thoughts and experience of storytelling during her career as a journalist and copywriter. Lesley provides some very helpful insights into the power of great storytelling and also how storytelling plays a crucial role to showcase her clients’ businesses.
Hi Lesley. Can you tell us about your personal thoughts on storytelling?
Storytelling was fundamental when I worked as a journalist and remains so in my copywriting for clients. Storytelling is about exciting the reader, pulling them into the topic and keeping them captivated as they read on. Successful storytelling needs a great intro to draw people in, then a logical structure with all the important bits at the top so your reader can bail out at any stage and still retain the key message.
What role has storytelling played in your career as a journalist?
As a journalist I worked on some straightforward stories (who won at the Oscars) and some that were extremely complex. I remember writing a splash for the Daily Mail about a surrogacy case in France where the mum was also the grandmother as well as the sister of the child she was bearing. Can that be right? It seems unlikely but I’m sure that was the nub of the story!
I also remember foreign editing on the night that Russia decided to invade Georgia as the world’s attention was distracted by the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. That was certainly a complicated story to put together, all the more so as with newspaper deadlines I only had about an hour to get it done.
What role has storytelling played in your career as a copywriter?
As a copywriter I’m always looking for the story, the angle, what makes the client stand out, what do they do differently or better than anyone else? Then it’s a case of conjuring up the words to tell the story concisely, keeping it as human as possible and, crucially, keeping to the point. When I do TV interviews about my Honours List work with Awards Intelligence, I use plenty of human examples: the OBE for the scientist who got out of her lab and spent two years touring schools to excite children about science; the single mum rewarded with an MBE for spending hours and hours unpaid on diversity campaigns on top of her really demanding paid job; the doctor with a new treatment for prostate cancer; the mountaineer raising millions for charity.
Why do you love stories?
Everyone loves a good story, whether that means sitting down with a book that’s a real page-turner or hearing someone recount a brilliant tale in the pub.
My own reading is very varied. My bookshelves are groaning under real-life accounts of political skullduggery, scandal and disaster; I loved reading my children Lemony Snicket’s surreal masterpieces; I think Shakespeare is a total genius; Robert Harris and Anthony Horowitz are consummate storytellers, Agatha Christie is much maligned, and I’ve just finished incredibly clever thrillers by Janice Hallet (The Twyford Code) and Gillian McAllister (Wrong Place, Wrong Time); L’Etranger and La Porte Etroite still move me, years after I first read them; and my niece is about to marry Julia Armfield, author of the wonderful Our Wives Under the Sea, so I’ll give that a plug, too!
In fact, it’s no coincide that the French word for story – histoire – is the same as the word for history. History is humankind’s very best story.