Why Context Is Important In Storytelling

Why Context is Important in Storytelling

Photo Source: Columbia Pictures

Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should, but I will give some of the story away here.

The other night my 18 year old son and I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, premised on the simple notion of what would have happened if the murderous Mansion Family had not ended up at the Polanski/Tate house but instead at their neighbour’s.

My son, Matti, had already seen the movie and liked it enough to watch it again with pops.
He was born in 2001. He has heard the name Charles Manson but doesn’t know who he was or the horror that his family of crazies wreaked in Los Angeles back in August 1969. The first time he watched this movie he thought it was an enjoyable buddy movie with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. As we watched, I realized that he had no idea what the movie was really about – the Manson Family.

As the movie unfolded, I told him what really happened that night over 50 years ago: multiple mass bloody murders, starting with the very pregnant Sharon Tate. The true story gave the movie an entirely different meaning than when he first saw it. The “oh wow” from him was palpable when the final scenes unfolded. He commented on how much better it was when he understood the context: it was a twist on a real moment in history.

It showed me again the importance of setting context before telling a story. Tarantino chose not to. In doing so, he made two movies: one for those of us who understood, and one for those who didn’t. Very different end result. In business storytelling there is no room for contextual mishaps. Set context clearly upfront so your audience is never left wondering “where is this going?” or making a wrong conclusion.

You can do this like a newspaper or magazine would, with a short headline
“How several small interactions could have changed history”.

You can use a quotation:
The great singer songwriter Joni Mitchell once said  “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance”. This is how a moment in history might have unfolded differently under different circumstances.

You can ask a question:
Ever wonder what would have happened if the Manson’s had chosen a different house?”

You can make a comparison:
John Lennon and Paul McCartney met at a church social. Had they not, there would have been no Beatles. Many moments in history could have had a different outcome were the circumstances changed. This is one…

We all know how often we hear politicians or celebrities say “It was taken out of context” regarding a damaging quote they have made. When it comes to business story, make sure your context is clear.

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