Introducing the timeline

Stories For Business Use, #3

Hi ,

I was telling you last time about my habit of writing outlines to exam answers at university.

I have not always employed the same diligence when writing marketing emails.

For many years I just used to wing it, and rely on natural 'writing flair'.

I got reasonably good at winging it over the years. Given enough information I'll normally produce a decent story at the first swing of the bat.

Yes, my stories were good. I knew instinctively what I was doing. But I hadn't really identified the essential parts. And I certainly couldn't teach what I was doing to someone else. I thought storytelling was too much of a 'dark art' to distill down to a process.

This all changed in December 2015, when I attended Sean D'Souza's story telling workshop. Within ten minutes it became glaringly obvious that Sean did indeed have a process. Not only that, he was also able to teach it to the group.

The most important thing I took from Sean's workshop was the importance of mapping your story on a timeline.

Do you remember the story I sent about my presentation at the marketing meeting? The outline for that story looked like this:


Every story has an ebb and a flow. Positive and negative things happen throughout the story, and the timeline is a visual way to see the 'ups' and 'downs'.

Without the timeline, the danger is you won't include enough ups and downs, making the story boring. Or you might end up with all ups or all downs, making it monotonous.

In this case I've started with a 'C', which means context. As we move through the timeline the first negative change in the story happens when I gave my website presentation.

After that there is a positive change where I talk about the website changes I had been making.

Every good story constricts and expands on different levels, and the timeline is a tool to visualise the flow of the story.

As a contrast, consider any typical television advert. Most television commercials are dull because they only contain super-smiley positive things. The timeline would contain only 'ups', making the story desperately boring.

The S stands for suspense. 'I could hear the knives being sharpened' adds suspense because we can feel that something is about to happen.

I finish the story with two 'downs', Owen telling me the website wasn't 'zassy' enough, and Colin's interjection.

The one idea I wanted to communicate was 'meaningful information', and this forms the bridge between the story and the content. The last line of the story talks about 'meaningful information', as does the first line of the content.

The timeline should be drawn before you attempt to draft your story. The timeline acts as a blueprint or framework for your writing. The timeline will save you from waffling and keep you on track.


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