Inspire Envisioning

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Three Gifts of Storytelling

The holiday season is approaching, and with it a focus on gifts. It’s important to many of us to find just the right thing for our loved ones. But this is also a fruitful time for us to reflect on our inner gifts, and the gifts we can bring to ourselves.    

One of our greatest inner gifts lies in story, both the stories we have lived and those we imagine. Your stories belong to you and express your unique voice; no one else could tell the same one the same way. When you choose to write these stories down, you share this gift with readers. For some, it may be exactly the gift they need. And it’s a gift that works in two directions: your stories can reveal new insights and perspectives to yourself as well as to others.

The art of storytelling also has inherent gifts that you can invoke deliberately to bring out your writing’s meaning and coherence. When you write, it helps to keep in mind the following three gifts of storytelling, inspired by the Enneagram’s conflict resolution styles, as tools for revealing your story’s wisdom.

Gifts of Context

No narrative exists in a vacuum. All stories have greater meaning beyond their own existence. They have something to say about being human and existing in this world (even if they are set in a different one). What is your own story saying? Here are a few questions to keep in mind when considering the context of what you’re writing.  

  • What will this story give the reader?

Reader experience is important to think about. Are you speaking to a specific group of people, with a directed message? What do you aim to give through your story, and what will readers receive? Here’s where feedback helps to see if your intentions are conveyed effectively.

  • What possibilities does this open up?

Most stories engage with questions and options. There are multiple ways to tell a story and multiple decisions to be made as you go along. First person or third person? Reality or fantasy? Car chase or romance scene? What about both? Don’t be afraid to follow tangents as you’re writing and let inspiration lead you.

  • What themes are you engaging with?

Sometimes this question is a starting point and sometimes it isn’t clear until the end. This is your “I want to write about ___.” Why is this theme important to you? Chances are that your personal connection to theme will yield powerful material. What have others already written on this theme, and how can you engage with this wider dialogue?

Gifts of Logic and Structure

Writing isn’t just about context. It is also a structured art. Thinking ahead and strategically will help you create something coherent and polished, as will revising and rewriting once you’ve finished a draft. The following questions touch on important structural and logical points to keep in mind as you write.

  • What rules and constraints will you follow?

Most writing has a genre (or multiple ones) and structure. Some people prefer to lay out structure and logic from the beginning, creating outlines and defining parameters for their writing projects. Others “discovery write” and build in structure later, revising as needed. Giving some thought to the rules and traditions you will work in will help grant your project a strong shape.   

  • What is the “high concept” or interesting part of your writing?

The most successful narratives have an attention-grabbing hook. In your case, there must be something driving you to write your story in the first place. Follow your inspiration to its source to find this aspect, and let it guide your writing. Keeping your own interest in mind will keep your story lively for readers, too.

  • What knowledge and research do you need?

Often, our stories require knowledge we don’t already have. Cue reading, Google, and asking primary sources. Experts in a field often have the most informed and targeted answers. Some experts might even be willing to read your story and give suggestions. Decide what you need to know and start learning.

Gifts of Emotion

Consider the emotional undercurrents that shape your story. How does the project make you feel, and what feelings do you want it to evoke in the reader? Just as it’s useful to read in your genre, it’s helpful to look at sources that reflect a similar emotional landscape for inspiration. The primary source of your own experience is invaluable, too.

  • What elements of internal life are you portraying?

Keep this question in mind as you build characters and narrative voice. The same plot event can be told multiple ways to evoke different emotions. Just as your story is a journey of sorts, its emotional arc takes your reader on an inner journey, with different landscapes and realizations.

  • How do reactions drive the story?

When plot events occur, they impact both outer and inner worlds. Dive into their consequences by having your characters react, and allowing their reactions to drive events. Show the internal impact the events have, as well as the consequences of your characters’ decisions.

  • What goals drive the story?

This question shapes structure, but is also at the core of your narrative’s emotional landscape. Something needs to happen, and this “something” is never neutral. It presents high stakes for narrative and character(s) alike. How does the character feel about the goal, and about plot events in relation to it? How do you feel about these?

With these questions in mind, explore the gifts that your story brings. What is new and unique, resonant and true about it? What aspects will stay with the reader long after they put it down?

 


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Book Excerpt: Solving Problems at Work

Our new book, The Modern Enneagram, just got published. It’s an introduction to the system and its practical applications, with a storytelling style and modern updates. We’re pleased to share an excerpt about ways to use the Enneagram for workplace problem solving with you.

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The Enneagram is a popular way for businesses to help their teams understand each other and improve their performance and communication. It’s a useful tool for mediating disputes and resolving interpersonal conflicts on the job.

After learning about the nine types, Julia, an Enneagram Type Seven, started applying her new knowledge to her job of managing a team of graphic designers at a branding firm. She had her colleagues take an Enneagram type assessment, and they now have a common language to talk about each other’s personalities and viewpoints.

Let’s take a look at a scenario where the Enneagram helped solve a problem involving a diverse group of people in Julia’s workplace.

Bob is a repeat client of the firm where Julia works. He has contracted with the company to rebrand his business, including a new logo and marketing strategy. Exacting and critical, he has many specifications for the project. Having worked with Bob before, Julia believes him to be a Type One.

Kevin, a Type Four, is the designer in charge of visual branding for Bob’s company. He completed a logo and portfolio of visual material for the rebranding project, but Bob is dissatisfied with Kevin’s colorful, free-form designs. He wants the whole portfolio redesigned, and he has many specific changes that he would like Kevin to make. Being a One, he has high expectations and desires a brand identity that gets all the details right. He tells Julia that he wants the new portfolio within a set timeline, and says that if it isn’t up to his standards, he will not work with the company in the future. As a Seven, Julia wants to keep interactions optimistic—and she does not want to lose a valuable client. She assures Bob that Kevin will give him what he wants.

Kevin, however, says the timeline is unrealistic. It’s just too tight for him to redesign all the material required. Julia does not have a background in graphic design, and her knowledge of the field comes from working with designers rather than from firsthand experience. She doesn’t understand why a redesign can’t be done quickly.

Kevin explains that Bob’s expected timeline will not result in the powerful visual brand identity his company desires. At best, it will result in some slapdash materials that don’t reflect the quality the branding firm is known for. As a Four, Kevin takes the creative process seriously and values producing well-developed and eye-catching work. Kevin needs more time to come up with new concepts that will fit Bob’s precise specifications and still stand out in the market.

Lakesha, who heads the marketing department, is also advocating quick turnaround. She needs to have the visual branding finished in order for her department to complete the marketing strategy for Bob’s company and have it ready for an upcoming launch party. As a Three on the Enneagram, she wants the branding firm to put their best foot forward, and she sees satisfying the client as part of that.

Julia feels caught between Kevin’s request for more time, and Bob and Lakesha’s requests for more speed. She expresses her frustration to Lakesha—who has more design knowledge than Julia—and they decide to problem solve together. When she hears about the level of changes that Bob wants Kevin to make to the visual branding portfolio, Lakesha agrees that the timeline is unrealistic. Julia is resistant at first. After all, managing interactions with designers is her job, and she wants to make the customer happy. When Lakesha suggests negotiating a compromise with Bob, Julia realizes that she has some workable ideas (and strategies to deliver them) that will please both Bob and Kevin.

Julia contacts Bob and tells him that she respects the integrity of his vision for his company (a strong value for Bob as a One), and her branding firm is committed to representing this vision in the world. She uses her Type Seven strength of positivity to emphasize the advantages of Kevin’s design, and explains that, in order to get the new portfolio completed in time, Bob will need to compromise on some of the changes he wants. She speaks to the effort Kevin is putting in and the high standards of the firm’s design process. Bob is still grumpy, but Julia’s upbeat manner and understanding of his values assuage him somewhat. He is willing to compromise on certain aspects of the redesign, though not on the timeline.

Julia and Lakesha talk to Kevin together about the compromises Bob is willing to make. Kevin is relieved that, with a less intensive redesign, the timeline is closer to being workable. Lakesha proposes a structured plan for completing the project on time, and Julia expresses full confidence in his work. With Julia motivating him, Kevin is able to complete the redesigned logo and portfolio, and Lakesha’s team moves ahead with the marketing strategy.

Ultimately, Bob feels that his company’s rebrand is in good hands because Julia used honesty and integrity when dealing with him. Kevin feels like his creative process has been respected. Lakesha is happy to have achieved her client’s goal of a successful launch, and kept the firm’s good standing in Bob’s eyes. Julia is relieved that everyone involved with the redesign conflict is satisfied and on good terms. Thanks to the Enneagram, their needs and viewpoints have all been heard. They can move on to the next project harmoniously, without any lingering tension.

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The Modern Enneagram is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com at http://amzn.to/2jIWXtR and from Amazon.ca at https://is.gd/qZt89f.