Have you ever closed the last page of a book and felt satisfied? How about feeling angry as the credits rolled on the latest blockbuster film? Have you held yourself back from crying at the end of a piece of music?
A great story can move its audience to feel emotions that they never expected to feel.
A great story, however, doesn’t stop there. Let’s take a moment to unpack three big words. These words sit in the space between the end of one story and the beginning of the next.
Influence, Inspire, and Impact.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines influence as the capacity to have an effect on an individual’s character or emotion. When we look at some of the greatest stories told throughout history, we often see the story having an influence on society.
For example, the Wizard of Oz created a cultural phenomena when it brought colorful motion picture to the masses, bringing thousands to the theater to experience it. And Bruce Springsteen knew that the story his music told could reach the working class of the USA through his experience-rich lyrics.
Influence is built upon emotion — every brick of emotional detail that a story lays creates a greater level of influence around that story’s idea. As emotional creatures, we experience a vast array of feelings as we interact with a great story.
An effective story will create room for these emotions to linger. As the audience continues in this story — whether a theatrical production, a piece of music, or a brand story — they become filled with a spectrum of emotions that drive them to a decision. This decision is inspiration.
Picture a chemical reaction. We have taken a variety of emotions and combined them into one chemical solution. If this solution is influence, inspiration is the match that sets these chemical emotions on fire.
In Star Wars, we see Luke Skywalker ridden with grief from the loss of his family. He is confronted with new and unfamiliar feelings as he meets a mentor. There is a specific “tipping point” for Luke, where the influence of his pain leads him to commit to the famous journey we get to watch unfold on screen.
Inspiration is the charge that takes influence and creates an individual transformation in the audience’s life. The internal response to emotion becomes an outward-facing action. A great story sets the audience up for a chance to light the fuse — to put their feelings into motion.
A great story, however, would not be complete without the audience impacting the world surrounding them. At this point, the story has influenced its audience to feel emotion, and caused them to act on their emotions in a moment of inspiration. With the right inspiration, impact is inevitable — it is simply a matter of time.
An inspired audience will always have a desire to make a mark on the world around them. A great story ensures that this mark will remain for ages to come.
This mark is what takes a story from good to great — creating a cultural movement. Every person that is influenced, inspired, and makes an impact has the opportunity to bring those around them into the story. This network effect exponentially increases the impact the story has on the world.
As human beings, we are built to tell stories. Whether we are telling our personal story, or that of something or someone else, we must not let the story end at the last page.
The liminal space between the last page of our story and the first page of our audience’s is a magical space. As storytellers, we need to capitalize on this gap — it is the difference between the mediocre and the magnificent.
As we look to influence, inspire and impact the world, can we as storytellers be more intentional about the space between stories?