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Writing A Business Drama

The power of effective storytelling can never be adequately emphasised

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Storytelling is an extremely important skill for our species. As numerous studies and books (e.g. Sapiens) have written about, stories have the power to capture the human imagination and can be attributed as one of the main reasons for domination of the human species! 

From the perspective of a corporate career, storytelling has far reaching consequences in bringing a workforce together through a common organisational vision or in developing impactful material to communicate to your consumers via mass media or in person. This article elaborates the techniques used by real storytellers; creative writers of movies and business sitcoms. As the next few paragraphs elaborate, the tools developed by cinematic scriptwriters can be heavily leveraged upon by corporate professionals! 

Understand your end reader! 

Modern day scriptwriting pivots around understanding the end reader. As part of this process, the end reader is carefully defined demographically in terms of age, gender, type of residence, economic affluence and proficiency in a language. In addition, behavioural patterns are carefully defined like place of reading or watching the movie or sitcom (a flight or a weekend or in the morning on way to office), time taken to read or watch (at one go, in breaks, in groups or alone), preferred length of the book (less than 300 pages, 500 plus pages), process of buying (online, book store, borrow from a library), preferred format of reading (diary style, parallel story lines, end first story line). While it is difficult to accurately develop all of the above, a good visual thought of the end reader often results in a script that is powerfully aligned to the end reader’s lifestyle! 

In business parlance, the above exercise is called consumer segmentation and is the cornerstone of any marketing team worth its salt! 

Construct kingly content! 

Contrary to common perception, writing an actual business drama is more an analytical process than a creative one . The principal element of any story is the conflict; for romantic stories it resolves around boy meets girl - boy likes girl - boy loses girl while for dramas it revolves around an ageing business legend losing his wealth and looking to make a comeback (The Dark Knight Rises) or a charismatic lawyer trying to precede over innumerable odds to win a case for his client (Harvey Spector in Suits). 

Any manuscript is divided into three acts; act one constitutes about 20-25% of the manuscript focusing on introducing the key conflict, act 2 constitutes about 45 - 50% of the manuscript focusing on building the conflict while act 3 focuses on resolving the conflict. A key element in any business drama revolves around developing the protagonist. A quick study of successful protagonists of hit drama sitcoms (Suits, House, Mentalist, House of Cards, House of Lies) enlists some common character traits; male, brilliant, charismatic, powerful orator, anti-establishment, emotionally challenged, romantically unsuccessful, unresolved issues from childhood. Most successful leads are constructed in the above way to build an adequate story around resolution of hidden inner conflict (Gregory House saving every patient, Harvey Spectre saving every legal case, Patrick Jane finding every murderer, Walter White often taking the morally correct route despite being a drug dealer). 

There are certain tricks that are employed to make a story gripping. As part of building the conflict in act 2, there are often 3 incidents of failures of the lead protagonist extensively referred to. At each of the three incidents of failures, it seems that progress is being made but the lead protagonist fails miserably and at the end of the third failure, it seems all is lost (In change management parlance, this phase is also called ‘depths of despair’). In case of the The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale loses to his adversary a couple of times despite gaining his physical strength and all seems lost at the third interaction when he is pushed down a deep deep well. In case of House, there are three sets of treatments which he prescribes but they all fail after showing initial improvements and the patient is on the verge of complete collapse at the end of the third failure. In such a scenario, the writer often resorts to a ‘trivial element’ to leapfrog the protagonist back into the race. House often saves his patients by remembering a water-cooler conversation with his best friend while Christian Bale is told of an anecdote of a young boy who climbed out a deep deep well. 

The oft repeated trick in a drama story is to introduce a few twists at the end. In Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis realises he is not alive through the whole sequence while most of Leonardo De Caprio’s movies over the last few years revolve around his mental health and associated twists with it. 

Tighten it and pack a punch! 

Once the draft manuscript of a business drama is ready, it becomes necessary to pack a punch and make the script as fast paced as possible. To achieve this objective, the principle of minimalism is heavily leveraged. As part of this principle, each line of the manuscript is deleted and an evaluation is made on whether the resulting script stands on its own or falls flat. In case the script stands, the line is deleted as it seems redundant and in case the script falls, the line is retained as it is absolutely necessary. Such a rigorous exercise conducted on every line of the manuscript results in a fast paced, water tight script. 

In a business environment, a similar exercise can be employed to tighten and pack a punch in communication with customers! 

In conclusion, the power of effective storytelling can never be adequately emphasised. Given our species has outmanoeuvred all other species on the basis of this powerful paradigm; it is only imperative that this philosophy is consciously ingrained in a corporate professional. So the next time you watch an episode of ‘Suits’ or ‘Billions’ or a business movie; do watch it proudly rather than with an inherent sense of guilt! 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sandeep Das

The author, Sandeep Das, is an MBA from IIM Bangalore, a management consultant, the author of “Yours Sarcastically” and a columnist.

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