Tuesday 13th September would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday. It seemed like an ideal time to think about the power that stories have to forge connections. Dahl’s fiction seems to possess a timeless ability to entertain and engage. We can take some truly scrumdiddlyumptious practical tips from him, that still stand true, for making copy sparkle and content connect when in narrative storytelling form. That’s because writing (and reading) are effective mediums for building relationships.
For instance, stories can strengthen the parent–child relationship. My dad would read The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me and The Enormous Crocodile to my brother and me. We would listen, captivated, as he read a book for the third or fourth time and we’d think it was the best thing ever, especially as he did the voices.
I remember feeling an affinity with Roald Dahl when reading his books as a kid. I felt as though the narrator and, by extension, the author, was a likeable person. Forbes explains why this might be:
Great stories make people feel something, and those emotions create powerful connections between the audience, the characters within the stories and the storyteller.
When you are lost for words, reach for a story
We have recently been working on a content-driven collaboration for Aptaclub UK in conjunction with award-winning children’s author, Viviane Schwarz. Together, we have produced a series of personalised ‘Small Stories’, which parents can read to their bumps. This has been both a social media giveaway and also a clever bit of website functionality.
— Viviane Schwarz (@vivschwarz) 13 September 2016
Bonding with bump
Reading to an unborn child helps them attune to your voice, and establish recognition when they’re born. This can help to develop the bond between parent and baby early on.
Talking to your bump can make you feel silly (this roundtable discussion with mums shares how to overcome the awkwardness). To make it easier, with ‘Small Stories’ we are using storytelling to create stories for mums, their partner, or their sibling to read to their bump. Go ahead and personalise your own stories now to understand the power of bonding through stories as a stimulus material.
Reading to children not only reinforces relationships, but it also educates. It’s been suggested that communicating with your unborn baby can help with their language development. Although they can’t understand what’s being said, a foetus can hear sounds while in the womb. This exposure to sound patterns is thought to help your baby get a head-start on learning.
And, to come back to Dahl, the benefits of reading even when the comprehension isn’t there are alluded to in his ‘book about books’ Matilda, as a librarian advises the young protagonist: ‘Don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.’
5 reasons why Roald Dahl’s writing is so compelling
In Matilda, books give the heroine ‘a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.’ She identifies with the authors, she learns from them, and it feels like they are speaking directly to her. This ability to relate to the text and the voice behind the text is key to forging a connection. In her article ‘The Roald Dahl guide to persuasive copywriting’, Belinda Weaver lists the five key pointers we can take from Dahl’s writing to ensure we connect with our audience:
- Be readable, but not patronising. A lot of long words make people sound pompous and superior. The opposite indicates an assumption that the reader isn’t intelligent. It feels like Dahl is on your level.
- Be realistic, not idealistic. The books depict some very morally corrupt people. This lack of idealism makes you trust him more, as he doesn’t gloss over the harsh realities of the world.
- Be relevant to your audience. Children are central to the tales, and his audience would mainly be children. He speaks in their language, which builds rapport.
- Adopt a friendly, informal tone. This draws the reader in and makes the narrator sound like a real person.
- Empower your readers. Kids generally triumph over adults in his books. This wish fulfilment, and the fact that the child reader can identify with the child protagonist, imparts a sense of power.
Making a connection with the audience is key to the success of an agency’s narrative-driven content whereby the intended end result is to establish or evolve a relationship with the end user. We are, in our own way, storytellers, and it’s critical that our content strikes the right chords, is compelling, relevant and inspires trust. And if there is one thing we should cherish and learn from Dahl – beyond the Gobblefunk – it’s his understanding of who the reader is and their role in the unfolding story.