“Who do you draw inspiration from?”
The question came at the end of a Rotary presentation I gave on Storytelling in Business. I wondered what I could say to earn points for professionalism and intelligence.
I was momentarily stumped then blurted out, “Erle Stanley Gardner.”
Blank stares predominated. “He wrote about 5,000 words a day, the equivalent of a novel per week… He was listed in the Guinness book of world records as the world’s best selling author… He created Perry Mason.” FINALLY – nods of recognition in the audience, but I could tell I still needed to earn those points.
Stories in business aren’t much different than the stories we learned as children – the good ones contain similar elements. And Gardner, who authored about 800 works, has a lot to teach us about successful storytelling:
Compelling Characters: Gardner believed in realistic characters, warts and all. The Perry Mason of his novels was a bit edgier than the character portrayed by Raymond Burr, but both had the ability to make the audience care.
Challenges to Overcome: Good stories have gaps that demand filling, triggering a very human desire to make things right. Gardner’s early writing was pulp at its pulpiest: He started his stories with riddles and kept the action rolling.
Internal Alignment: Stories don’t need to make sense to the real world, but they need to make sense to themselves. In other words, the elements of a story should fit together, with characters acting true to their nature. Perry Mason novels aren’t classical literature, but the characters, setting and plot fit together snugly – and thus “click” with their intended audience.
Gardner’s storytelling techniques are analyzed in a book by Francis L. Fugate. Used copies of “Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer” run $50 on Amazon.