Tell a Compelling Story, Dammit

Colin Lee for Medium:

I have learned that people decide what they think based upon narratives. A good story always has better results than merely listing out facts. Every good narrative has both characters and a plot.

Edward Snowden has been releasing shreds of a story without characters while his opponents have created a complete narrative about his personal ambitions. All that government officials must do is to blunt his message is to weaken his credibility.

I was six years old and excitedly dumping out my orange jack-o’-lantern-shaped bucket — nearly overflowing with candy — onto the beige carpet of our living room floor. It had been a successful night of trick-or-treating and I greedily counted the candy with my eyes. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Baby Ruths played the part of crisp $100 and $50 bills and my lowly pocket change consisted of Smarties, Necco Waffers, and the single travel-sized tube of Crest toothpaste.

My mother sat next to me, also eyeing the candy carefully but with very different thoughts running through her mind. One by one, she slowly ran her fingers across each fun-sized piece of candy. She eyed the left and right ends inspected the seam that ran along the side. She was looking for a sign; searching for a piece of evidence to show that things might not be exactly as they seem.

Unbeknownst to the younger me, a story had made its way through the elementary school, running rampant from parent to parent like a wildfire. It was transmitted through whispers and tangled corded wall phones while we played within viewing distance but just out of ear’s reach. The child of a friend of a friend spent last Halloween in the emergency room, mouth and throat cut to shreds by a razor blade hidden inside an innocent fun-sized Snickers bar.

My mom continued examining my stockpile in our brightly lit living room, thoughts of razors and other sharp objects on her mind while I waited patiently to choose my allotted two pieces — three if I asked nicely — before changing out of my Ninja Turtle costume and into my pajamas. My mom had always said to never take candy from a stranger but there was something different this year. The lesson stuck differently.

There’s a reason why Edward Snowden currently appears to be on a journey plucked straight out of a Robert Ludlum novel. It’s the same reason that John McAfee was able to escape the authorities by publishing carefully calculated posts on his blog. It’s why the organization Wikileaks and the person Julian Assange are practically interchangeable. It takes a compelling story to get people to care. It takes a story to get people to remember.

It’s not enough to leak a document. It’s all about the story. Telling a good story is not about manipulation, it’s about releasing something into the world that’s in the proper format. It’s about submitting your resume as a PDF rather than a plain text file.


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