In my last post, we tossed around the idea that storytelling techniques might be applicable to personal branding, and we looked at one — characterization — that’s obviously key to a personal brand. This time, we’re talking plot.
What is Plot?
The plot is the course your story takes — the events that happen within it. Last time, I suggested that every day is a new adventure in your life. I know: you thought that was corny. But if you think of your life as a story, then each day is a new adventure. So each day may form the next section in your plot.
You may want to communicate multiple plotlines through your personal brand — one of the friends I mentioned last time is a freelance designer, a dad and a band member, so he has a lot of story arcs happening at once. We all do. Depending on how you’ve decided to build yourself as a character through personal branding, you might choose to focus on particular plotlines and leave others out. But let’s start at the start: what is plot in our daily lives?
Your Plot is Your News
In a personal branding story, plot is news and events. If each day is an adventure in the story of your life, then each event has the potential to form part of the plot.
Storytellers leave certain aspects out of plot (no one uses the bathroom in a movie, for example, unless something crucial to the storyline happens in there). They do this because some events are irrelevant to the story they’re telling. Those events waste time and distract the audience from the critical pieces of the story.
So for you as an individual trying to build a personal brand, your plotline is your news: what happens every day, and what it means to you. If you have multiple plotlines (reflecting different facets of your life), those events may have a range of impacts on your life. Which parts you choose to communicate, and the ways in which you communicate them, is up to you as the storyteller.
Characters and plot interact. One other thing that every storyteller knows is that their character and plot have to coincide — they have to justify one another. Sure, amazing things can happen in your plotline, but for the character to fit believably into those scenes, they have to be presented as someone who the audience could see responding to plot twists in the way they do. So the character’s reactions to the plot twists must be appropriate — authentic — to that character.
This becomes even more important when we realize that often, a character’s response to a plot event alters the course of the plot, or sets off a given chain of events. For those trying to build their personal brand, being able to identify plot twists that matter (and may matter in future) is important. Appropriately communicating your responses to those twists takes skill and practice, and, again, will depend on the channels you use and the kind of character you’re building.
A final key element of plot is suspense. I have a contact on Twitter who’s a freelance journalist and frequently asks his followers for help with articles: requesting contact from anyone within a certain industry, for example, or asking for suggestions of cultural nuances that we think fit a certain mold. He tags these requests with “#foranarticle,” which achieves two goals.
Firstly, it inspires you to try to respond, since article-writing is his livelihood. But more than that, it creates curiosity. The “#foranarticle” tag is like a preview of next week’s show — it’s a flag that tells you to keep your eyes out for the results of this event. In short, it creates suspense. The kind of suspense that keeps my eyes on this journalist’s Twitter feed and online folio of work, as well as the publications he writes for, so I can see just what became of my responses to his comments. That really seals the deal in terms of audience involvement: I’m following this journalist’s work because, in part, it’s a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure novel: I’m impacting on his storyline. I’m shaping his plot in some way. I’m an audience member, but I have some stake in the story itself.
Once you’ve identified an important plot twist, it’s important to follow up with the denouement, so that your audience has a sense that the plot has been carried through, that they’ve been satisfied, and that you deliver as a storyteller.
We see people communicating plot all the time through social networks: they’ll invite us to a party through Facebook and post the photos a few days later, perhaps pulling them in from a Flickr feed that presents photos from other story arcs (their daughter’s third birthday; their last art show opening, etc.).
Perhaps you’ll go further: you’ll preempt the event by sending invitations through a social network (or email), and communicate your anticipation through your status updates and in calls and emails with friends. On the day, you might provide real-time updates, including photos or videos. Later, you might refer to the event, mention how you felt about it on reflection, and publish all 75 of your event photos to the web.
One friend of mine is very good at communicating plot through Twitter: I know where he is every Friday night (thanks to Foursquare), who he’s with (he links photos to his tweets), and if it’s a big night, what time he gets home. Usually, I also have some idea of how hung over he is the next day. All in all, it makes for very entertaining reading — another wacky adventure in The Life of My Friend.
Stay tuned — tomorrow, we’ll look at the final piece of the puzzle: Narrative.
How do you communicate plot through your personal branding activities?