The Monday Morning Memo: The Storyteller's Art

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1by Roy H. Williams

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

Memo-050514-The-StorytellerI borrowed that sentence from Charles Johnson, a storyteller who begins his tale, Middle Passage, with that line. I chose not to enclose it in quotation marks because I didn’t want to alert you to the fact that misdirection was about to slap your cheek.

Quotation marks do that, you know. They are animated bookends that wave like semaphore flags, shouting, “These words are special.”

Misdirection is half the storyteller’s art.

“Justice? — You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” -- William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (1994)

The other half is resolution: We are surprised to learn that women are a disaster. But after a moment’s reflection, we are not. We are surprised to learn the law is not just. But after a moment’s reflection, we are not.

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” -- Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

We are surprised to learn that a woman can turn into the wrong person. But after a moment’s reflection, we are not.

Every magician depends on misdirection and resolution.

The comedian is a magician of laughter. The greater his misdirection, the greater the orgasm of laughter at the punch line, that moment of resolution when it all comes together.

The storyteller is a magician whose stage is the page. Words are the top hat from which he extracts his rabbits and the endless handkerchief he pulls from his sleeve. They are the handsaw he uses to cut the pretty girl in half and the wheels he uses to roll those halves together again.

A great communicator says things plainly and brings clarity to the mind. This is difficult. But it is not magic.

A storyteller turns the heart this way and that, showing it things it has never seen, things that have not yet happened, things that never will, using misdirection and resolution over and over, touching you in places you didn’t even know were there.

Every business, every person, has a story to tell. You know this, of course.

But now you face a difficult choice: Will you speak clearly and win the mind? Or will you speak magically and win the heart?

Roy H. Williams is the author of The Wizard Of Ads, Secret Formulas of The Wizard of Ads, Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads, Free the Beagle, and Accidental Magic, and is the Head Wizard at Roy. H. Williams Marketing. He welcomes your comments at An archive of previous Monday Morning Memos can be found at

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