“Don’t panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested.”
That’s the punch line for one of the most successful urban legends in the last fifteen years.
What makes it so successful? It’s hypnotic: understandable, memorable and effective in changing thought and behavior.
How do you create stories that are hypnotic? These six principles found in the book Made to Stick will help.
Think Staggeringly Simple
Find the core of your idea. Shave it down to a proverb. Hollywood script writers create the high concept pitch [Pretty Woman meets Die Hard on a cruise ship]. Journalists ask, “What’s the lead?”
Surprise your readers. Create mystery and intrigue in your opening lines. Ask provocative questions. Seduce your readers by using the erotic potential of premeditated restraint and the human imagination.
In other words, tease.
Help People Understand and Remember
Make abstractions concrete. Employ nouns that engage your senses. Abstract equals freedom, love, revolution. Concrete equals spoon, velvet, blaring.
Insert hooks into your idea. Begin with a simile or a metaphor. A question. A definition. A quotation. A dilemma. A scene. Or an anecdote.
Put people into the story. Talk about people and not statistics.
Help People Believe
Use authority and testimonies. Insert convincing details. Make statistics come alive: “weighs less than a marshmallow and sails the length of a football field.”
And by all means, get naked.
Make People Care
People donate more to one little girl than to a huge swath of Africa.
Appeal to self-interest—and not just base self interest. Why does it matter to them? Her son might fail fourth grade. He might get into the school he wants.
Appeal to identity: Texans don’t litter and Americans fight evil.
Use stories to show people how to act. And use stories for inspiration. The best kinds of stories to tell are those where the hero overcomes what seems like an insurmountable problem. Think mother against tobacco giant.