The Anticipation Plot - Chapter 4: Conflict Resolution
I started up in 2009, and I exited my company in 2020. In a 6 part series I recollect stories and reflect upon my journey. This is the fourth chapter - Conflict Resolution.
“Storytelling” is one of those words that can generously take a variety of meanings. Based on the context, it might refer to a performance storytelling, a blogpost, a book, a movie, a marketing campaign, a podcast, a narrative…
I started seriously thinking about storytelling only in 2011. The BLPS pilot had just concluded - we’d managed to get 4 in 5 middle school children to read storybooks voluntarily via the creative use of classroom storytelling. This number is usually one in six.
Did storytelling cause 5x impact?
I went into research mode - I read books, attended workshops, and spent hours discussing the topic with … everyone. What is this magic tool that seems to have such an outsized impact? I also learnt by practice - telling stories to children - in schools and elsewhere, and to adults - in offices
I learnt that the most popular model of a story is The Hero’s Journey1 - a villain appears, takes something away, a hero has to respond to a call for adventure, assemble an army … and so on. There are a hundred variations of this template. The villain may be an animal, or alien, or a natural disaster, or society, or an internal weakness. The hero may be reluctant, or an anti-hero, or a group. Ramayana, Sholay, Star Wars, Hunger Games, Harry Potter ...
The Hero’s Journey, or a more generic conflict-resolution model lends itself very easily to a marketing context. Are you suffering from problem X? Look we’ve solved it, here’s solution Y. This is the Reason to Believe (R2B) us. Now please respond to this Call to Action (C2A).
Or a PR context. There was a big problem, a hero-entrepreneur arose, fought incredible obstacles, and solved it.
The Exploration Plot
Consider what happens when there is no villain, no conflict. Is there no “story?”
In the world of children’s books, for the first time, I found a conflict-less plot. It’s everywhere, but let’s consider the famous Goodnight Moon2. In it, the author explores every part of a child’s room and wishes each of them “good night.” More examples - You Are My, I Love You3, A Giraffe and a Half4. I could go on.
But this is not a kids’ only plot. Consider TED. Do we watch TED to see the good guy slay the bad guy, or do we watch it to learn something new? Sebastian Wernicke summarises 1000s of TED talks in his hilarious TEDx talk5 in 6 words - “Why the worry? I'd rather wonder.” My friend Q’s TED talk6 worked because of the sense of wonder and the possibility it evoked.
There is also the anticipation-of-conflict plot. In Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea9, Sophie is having tea with her mother when a tiger rings the bell. He is hungry, and proceeds to drink all the tea and eat all the food in the house. There is a sense that something will go wrong, but nothing does. The tiger simply leaves.
In many ways, my life has been an anticipation plot. There’s always a sense of something big around the corner. In a way, that’s what keeps my story going. A resolution would have simply ended the story.
The most powerful plot, though, is the transformation plot. This is the plot where the protagonist transforms within. The Before | After story.
The Next Chapter:
Clearly, I’m biased towards Before Sunset. Applying the Goldilocks framework - Before Sunrise is too dreamy, Before Midnight is too realistic, Before Sunset is just right.