Tag Archives: narrative

Addicted to story

Hi. I’m Jon.

[hi Jon]

I wish I knew exactly when it started. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been looking at words. I have a memory, as a child, of sitting on the ground, next to the hedge where I was supposed to be cleaning out leaves and papers and stuff. I was reading a fragment of something that had blown across the yard.

I sat at the table reading cereal boxes. I read books, constantly. I read in the car. I read in the bathroom. I read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping.

One summer, I borrowed a whole stack of original brown Hardy Boys books from an aunt. It was wonderful.

My parents wanted me to be helpful, to play, to be normal. I read.

In high school, it got worse. My sophomore year, I discovered Tolkien. I started easy, with The Hobbit. Pretty soon, I was deep into The Lord of the Rings. I was lost. I’ve read all four books ten, maybe fifteen, maybe more times.

[be honest, please]

Okay, more. And Dorothy Sayers detective novels and C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and parts of the Bible and on and on. But it isn’t just books and it isn’t all books. I struggle with philosophy books, but I can read the story of a year on the NASCAR circuit without a second thought. I read serious books, but I jump from example to metaphor, skipping the theory, slurping up the story.

And media.

I will actually listen to commercials, following the story. If I can hear the television while working, the dialogue draws me in. I listen to stories I don’t care about from people I don’t know. I skim through my RSS reader, skipping the headlines, seizing on the story line. I don’t waste time watching movies. I can read the plot summary and see the whole thing. Why waste time on the theatrical experience, just give me the next story?

I used to think it wasn’t a problem, that my obsession with stories didn’t hurt anyone else.

Now I see I was wrong. The hundreds of times my mother said, “are you okay in there?” The hours of other people’s time wasted when they asked a simple question and I answered with, “that reminds me of the time…” The days spent in a bleary-eyed fog after a long night of “just one more chapter.”

Here’s the problem. Being addicted to story is like being addicted to air. It is what we live on. Without it we die.

But I’m getting some help.

I’m starting meta-narrative therapy. Rather than grabbing every story I can find indiscriminately, I’m looking for how they link together, how they have threads running through. I’m starting to see that maybe the dreary text between the examples might lead to a larger level of understanding. I’m thinking that maybe, with white noise to block the dialog sometimes, I might be able to spend more time deeper.

I try to read the Bible. I’m wondering what would happen if I looked at it, not as a book of lists or rules or strange names, but as a collection of letters to a beloved.

What if God really exists and really cares about people like a groom cares about a bride? And what if the groom is a King and the bride is an abused slave girl? What if that groom wrote a bunch of letters to that bride, in the middle of her slavery, telling her that he loved her, saying what life in the court is like, telling her how to live in the courts of the King. What if he explained what happens to the people who are holding her in slavery? What if he told the stories of what love means. What if he wrote about his own love for her which caused him to give up his royal position and live in exile and die for her.

Would that slave girl look at those letters as rules or as expressions of love? Would she see a life more restrictive or a hope of freedom. Would she look in them for ways to restrict, or would she be reading them and saying to other slaves, “the prince is coming, he really does love me, he somehow smuggled food to me, he wants me.”

And what would a community that was built around love letters from the king look like?

I’m sorry. I’ve gone on too long. It’s that story thing again.

[It’s okay. You see the problem. That’s the starting point.]

You know, I wonder, sometimes, if I’ve missed the narrative for the stories.


5 questions with C.C. Chapman

C.C. Chapman loves his family. Although he does lots of social media stuff, he regularly mentions his family. That’s what got my attention a couple years ago or so when I first noticed him. That matters to me.

He also can explain social media well. I was driving through the mountains two years ago and sent him this text:

listened to the first half of your podcamp nyc managing hte gray podcast while driving through the mountains of tenneesse. thanks. battery dagerously low. hit send now.


In spite of that typo-ridden message, he replied and we’ve noticed each other since.  I loved asking him 5 questions, particularly because the questions … and his wonderful answers…helped me think more broadly about story.

(Funny. I never thought to ask what C.C. stands for.)

1. With The Advance Guard, you’ve been helping organizations tell stories using more than one medium. Some of us use stories to make a point in a post. Jesus told stories as the point. What you are doing is saying “You know that story you want to tell? That really big one about a clothing line or a social issue?  Use three posts and a face-to-face and a video and a treasure hunt.”  Am I understanding what you do correctly?

I never thought I’d hear a description of what my company does and what Jesus did in the same paragraph before, but when you boil it all down I could make a lot of comparisons between the two. As you know The Advance Guard recently was acquired by Campfire so now I may be working under a different banner but the goal is still the same.

Our clients want to engage a community and get them involved in telling the story about the movie, car, product or clothing line. At the end of the day it does not matter what you are selling. If you can get people excited and passionate about what you want them to be then your job is being done right. Companies bring in us to develop a compelling marketing campaign that will get people talking. This isn’t just about buzz, even though that is a big part of it, but rather about having a great story that people will want to tell others or better yet be part of. That is how I like to thank about what we are doing.

2. Are you trying to help us understand story differently or are you helping us understand that our lives are stories, lived in multimedia?C.C. Chapman and Chris Brogan

Wow man, that is a DEEP question that should be discussed at length in big leather chairs away from the world, but since you are asking me here I’ll take a stab at it.

I think it is a combination of the two. Many people hear the word “story” and think of picture books and novels. But, for me it is much more then that. When I get to know someone I want to know their personal story. Every day when they tweet, write, share and interact with me it is adding to that story.

I want people to realize that they have a story to tell and that they can be part of a brands story as well. This could be as simple as sharing their thoughts about it with a friend or as crazy as taking part in a live event that is part of a larger narrative. The Internet and all the great tools people are building to interact with it allow for complete strangers anywhere in the world to become part of the story and that is what excites me because we are just starting to cut into the edges of what can be done and honestly the sky is the limit pushing forward. It will constantly be a challenge for people like us to outdo ourselves.

3. I’ve heard that millennials are seeking experiences. It sounds like you are working to satisfy that need on behalf of organizations.

I pray that it isn’t just the millennials who are thinking this way. To say that others are not interested would be like everyone going to the theme park and no one riding the roller coasters. *grin*

But, yes we are working on trying to satisfy this thirst for something more than just the status quo. But, while people might think this only works with big entertainment properties or other things of that ilk we have also done it for other properties such as the Verizon FiOS  My Home 2.0 project where we had a home make over show that was complimented by offline neighborhood block parties and online DIY videos targeted to various verticals. Finding the mix is key.

4. So, I’m a church or a non-profit. I’m, in the words of Peter Drucker, trying to change the world. What does your understanding of story and experience and multiple-media experiences tell me about how to bring about that change? And how can we afford that?

I’d be lying if I said having a bigger budget doesn’t make things easier, but talk to any filmmaker and they will tell you that sometimes not having the budget is good because it forces you to be more creative. That is what it boils down to; you’ve got to get extra creative. I also think it is key to be surrounded by people who are equally passionate about changing the world with you. When you don’t have money, you need passion more then ever.

I’m a huge music fan and I have watched numerous indie artists think way outside of the box and figure out ways to get their music heard, make money and find new fans all with almost no budget. Yes, it takes good old-fashioned sweat equity to change the world when you don’t have a pile of cash.

How to answer this question? It isn’t an easy one for sure. I think you need to set goals. Set little ones and big lofty ones. Work on accomplishing the little ones while always thinking “how can I reach that brass ring that is so far away?” That will keep you and your team motivated. Use every tool and every opportunity to let people know you are changing the world and NEVER be afraid to ask for help from each person you meet. That is the best advice I can give you now.

5. How cool is it to watch your daughter make movies that make guys in Indiana try new ice cream products?

I can’t even begin to tell you how big of a smile this gives me. (www.emilyexplainsit.com) I’m very proud of Emily’s creativity and unbridled “let’s do it” attitude. I have a feeling as she grows over that will turn a little bit scary, but I want her to be a strong willed woman and I have no doubt she will be. I’m a very blessed man to have two awesome kids who are growing up way too fast.


This is one in a series of 5 Questions conversations. For more information, go to my 5 Questions page.

Photo of CC Chapman and Chris Brogan taken by CC Chapman