The unfair world of storytelling

A few years ago, during a presentation, I show a cat video.

Not just any cat video, but arguably one of the cutest ever filmed.

The point that I’m making during the talk — or at least, trying to make — is that we as storytellers must be as entertaining as the many distractions that steal the audience’s attention. I mean, I’m trying to express this to a live group while this furball onscreen behind me is eliciting gasps and shrieks of joy from attendees.


I make a similar point when asked by an editor last week about how much to tweet. Tweet all you want, and let followers decide to stick around or mute or unfollow. But make those tweets good. Like “The Walking Dead” good.

Another editor says that’s a loaded comparison, stories on refinancing vs. heart-pounding tales of lone survivors against legions of undead predators.


The Walking Dead

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes (standing) and Ethan Embry as Carter in a scene from “The Walking Dead.”

I bet the producers of “The Walking Dead” also have their own struggles. They’re storytellers, too, but they also face long odds on cable television.

• Is it fair they face comparisons to a comic book (the basis for the series) that’s been around for 13 years and 154 issues, with no constraints on the number of characters, locations or fantastical twists?

• Is it fair they’ve won only one Emmy (in a technical category for makeup) just because this top-rated show deals in horror?

• Is it fair they compete against an ever-increasing number of scripted TV shows, a world where Netflix (formerly movie rentals) and Amazon (formerly book sales) churn out new series each month? Even Spotify(!) (formerly music streaming) is set to debut a dozen new series.

• Is it fair they battle against so many zombie-themed shows, movies and games? They include “World War Z,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” “iZombie,” “Plants vs. Zombies,” “Resident Evil,” “Halo,” “Ash vs. Evil Dead” and its own spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead.”

• Is it fair they have to produce 16 hourlong episodes a season when HBO’s “Game of Thrones” only has to do 10 and Netflix’s “Daredevil” only 13 (and without commercial interruption)?

So unfair.

Sorry, storytellers. Every story worth telling has already been told, by someone with more time, money and talent than you. The best you can hope for is a half-hearted shrug from your followers before they move on to binge-watch zombies and kitties.

Give up now. Because with each passing day, even more stories flood the market, and your creativity and your determination can’t possible hope to compete with the examples above. In fact, I should tell Mizuha (the cat’s owner) and Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (the creators of “The Walking Dead” comic book) to knock it off.

When you try to reach your audience with relevant, entertaining and helpful stories, you will always face unfair odds. But you also possess an unfair advantage: You know your story and your audience better than anyone else. You know the best way to express it and to share it.

You are the best storyteller for that particular story, and if you don’t create it, the world is a lesser place for it.

Don’t focus on the unfair. Focus on your audience and how to connect them to your story through emotion and engagement.

Invest that skill and dedication in your stories, your videos, your tweets and your photos. Make your storytelling matter, and someday, other storytellers may look upon your work as completely, irrevocably unfair.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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