Lessons in storytelling

Once upon a time there were three bears, and one day, after they had made porridge for their breakfast, they walked out into the woods while the porridge was cooling…

We know what comes next. A home invasion by an entitled little girl who eats the porridge, smashes the furniture, and then, exhausted from her acts of vandalism, passes out in the youngest bear’s bed.

This well-known children’s story has many layers and variations. It’s a cautionary tale about the consequences of bad behavior, as Goldilocks was “not at all a well-brought-up little girl.” The cyclical repetition of trying out the porridge (too hot, too cold, just right), the chairs (too hard, too soft, just right), and the beds (too big, too soft, just right) makes the story memorable and repeatable for small children.

But the real power of the story is the tension… the bears will soon come back from their walk, and what will happen next? This promise of the bears’ return looms over the story, raising the stakes for Goldilocks as she makes herself at home in their cottage.

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov asserted that writers “must never place a loaded rifle on a stage that isn’t going to go off.” Even though the audience might temporarily forget that detail, the threat lurks in the background, and subconsciously viewers are waiting for that resolution.

Similarly, every James Bond film features new gadgets presented to the spy at the beginning of a mission, to be concealed and almost forgotten until the cyanide cigarette, laser beam Rolex, or deadly fountain pen allows Bond to survive another close call.

At Hook Point, we call the visceral sense of tension as new plot elements are introduced the “Jenga Effect.” Like the game that involves building a tower higher and higher, ratcheting up the suspense until the inevitable collapse, content creators who use this effect retain viewers who are compelled to keep watching to see the outcome.

Effective storytelling is one of the strongest performance drivers in content that goes viral on social media. And the Jenga Effect is a powerful technique to introduce tension and layer story elements to keep viewers engaged. The Hook Point Viral Trends Mastermind deconstructs viral content to analyze how successful content creators use the Jenga Effect and other essential performance drivers to stand out on social media.

“Somebody has been lying in my bed… and here she is still!” cries Baby Bear. And the “naughty, frightened little Goldilocks jumped,” delivering the anticipated payoff for the audience. You can apply the same storytelling techniques to your social media content and get results that are “just right.”

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