Halloween and the Future of Storytelling

I’m always looking for new ways to tell stories. Lately, I’ve been thinking about writing and questioning if the written word is as powerful as I think it is. Especially in e-mail marketing. Have we made it too easy for people to read our words? Does that impact their perceived value?

It started when I began working in instructional design. This is usually the part where you ask, “I’ve never heard of that. Is that a thing?” I light up and start talking about why I enjoy instructional design and how it’s more than writing. It’s about designing an experience, but I lean heavily on writing skills to do it. Some people politely change the subject here. But the bottom line is paragraphs are rarely the best way for me to tell the story.

This Halloween two different experiences argued for and against words as a tool of choice for storytelling.

Photoshop Offers A Halloween Story Without Words (Partial Spoiler)
I love mysteries and I love games. So, naturally, I hate most mystery games. They somehow ruin each other. (I feel the same way about peanut butter and chocolate. I know, I’m a freak).

The problem with most mystery games is they’re not mysteries. There are no characters, no plots and no sense of foreboding. Many are digital versions of I-Spy. A picture of the victim’s home reveals her life as a hoarder. The biggest challenge is identifying a murder weapon from a sea of benign clutter. Not fun. I want to discover what’s happened, not locate stuff.

When Adobe launched a mystery with clues hidden in a Photoshop document, I found a blend of game and mystery I could dive into. First of all, this isn’t a game so much as a tutorial. Adobe is smart. It’s a game, but one that involves, at the very least, practice using their product.

Following the Crumbs (Partial Spoiler)
As I opened the first Photoshop document, I didn’t know the victim, nor did I know the suspects or their motives. The first thing I did was label of the 45 layers in the first PSD. After figuring out how to change the perspective on clues to read them, I collected fingerprints and found a hidden image. The image contained one word, but not the answer to the obvious question.


That is infinitely more intriguing than offering the answer. My opinion of this tutorial went up. And it inspired me to think more about how I tell stories. When I found a link buried in one of the graphics, it took me here.


Although I was late to the party, I solved the mystery. Doling out pieces of information a little at a time, in very few words, led to hours of entertainment. I also looked into features of Photoshop I hadn’t fully explored. Compare this to a tutorial with step-by-step instructions to recreate something another person has already created. Instead of giving me a whole plate full of story, it led me crumb by crumb to the answer.

I’ve been reading an excellent book, The Talent Code. The author explains why our brains remember things better if we have to work to figure them out. This has very exciting implications for instructional design, but is more difficult for email marketing.

The Vote for Words
After discovering the tutorial and labeling the layers, my husband and I took my in-laws to Hannibal, Missouri. The hometown of Mark Twain.

Even mentioning Mark Twain was enough to cause me chase all my sentences. Witt-ling, rearranging and second-guessing. In the end, I deleted them, questioning if I should be bringing attention to the fact that I’m not Mark Twain. Silly, I know. Irrational. But if you’re a writer, completely understandable. It seems like the kind of compulsion Mark Twain would have a quote for. But as I’ve just pointed out, I’m not Mark Twain.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I don’t idolize writers and any connection I feel to Mark Twain has its roots in humor, rather than geography. Honestly, I don’t remember when I last read Tom Sawyer. But Mark Twain had the ability to cut straight to the heart of human nature and offer it up in a tidy collection of sentences. He flavored it with humor. Not to mention, some of the best advice for writing comes from Mark Twain: “If you see an adverb, kill it!”

When I hear the phrase, “a way with words,” I think of Mark Twain. In addition to writing well, he recognized a story with the power of attraction. He had good instincts. That’s where it gets hard for marketing. You might have the best strategy and award-winning copywriters, but how compelling is your story, really? Be honest with yourself as you answer. We all love what we have to offer the world. But do we have something so gripping the whole world will notice? That’s where brand story has a profound impact on how good the writing can be.

Moving forward from Halloween, I’ve found an exciting but impossibly high standard to reach for: Mark Twain writing and storytelling with Adobe interactivity.

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