I should have known I was heading for disappointment the moment the writer began talking about Cars as if it was a good movie...
A Happy Accident
I was doing research for another project when I stumbled upon a piece on storytelling for business. While these types of articles are a dime-a-dozen on the internet, this piece was interesting because it was written by an animator and writer from Pixar, Matthew Luhn. Matthew Luhn, like many of his peers, had attended the prestigious CalArts (the mecca for aspiring animators) and landed a job on The Simpsons at the ripe old age of 19, before he’d even graduated.
For someone with an intense passion for film, but who works as a copywriter, who better to turn to for advice on how to improve my craft? Not to mention that the book he'd written had gotten solid reviews, even if there weren’t many of them.
Sadly, The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I’ll start off by saying this book isn’t dreadful. Far from it. But here are my thoughts on what Luhn delivers on, and what I felt was lacking.
First, The Good
He establishes a good connection early on
Clearly Luhn practices what he preaches, and begins the book with an engaging story about his family, and their connection to their chain of toy stores. He also explores how his father gave up on his dream career to help run the stores, but how he passed his passion for animation and film on to Matthew. As he advocates for later in the book, Luhn gives you something personal and authentic that’s easy for most people (particularly creative types) to connect with.
He understands the power of story
In my case, Luhn was preaching to the choir on the importance of story in the lives of people. For anyone who didn’t know how core storytelling is to our identities and how truly powerful it is, he provides research and examples of extremely successful individuals who’ve used stories to connect with customers from across the world.
He clearly unpacks how to craft a good story (in terms of film and animation)
His experience at Pixar is evident, with Luhn demonstrating a strong understanding of what an engaging story consists of. He discusses a variety of topics, including how to hook an audience, why character development is vital, and how to structure your story. Again, he related each point on storytelling back to realistic examples, either from his time at the toy store or at Pixar.
He does offer some good practical advice for writers
Luhn teaches some valuable lessons that writers will be able to apply across all aspects of their writing. For example, he unpacks the importance of the elevator pitch, how writing to create empathy will help your audience connect with your story, and how a layered story can prevent an audience from getting bored. He also discusses a number of good writing habits you can add to your toolkit.
Only novices and students need apply
As someone who has spent a significant part of his life studying writing and writing for cinema, there’s little in here that I haven’t seen before in other books on screenwriting and creativity, such as Save the Cat and The Artist’s Way.
The “business” side of this book feels a bit shallow
I came into this book expecting a fairly substantial breakdown on how to weave storytelling into your business, and more importantly, your writing for business. What I got instead was a book that spent most of its page count exploring the art of storytelling, with the occasional link to how it is applicable in business. He does dedicate two chapters later in the book to inspiring creativity in the workplace: Chapter 8: Inspiring Creativity in the Workplace, and Chapter 9: Writing Tips and Techniques. These chapters offer reasonable advice for nurturing your employees more creative side, while the chapter on writing tips and techniques touches lightly on getting the creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, Chapter 9 for the most part feels like it was tacked on at the last minute, and doesn’t offer any substantial advice on how to improve your writing in a way that hasn’t been covered in numerous other popular books on the subject.
An interesting book on storytelling, but not for serious business and marketing writers
To sum up, this book will undoubtedly add value to anyone who is interested in storytelling but who hasn’t read many other books on the process. If you’re an experienced and well read writer who is looking for advice on how to improve your craft outside of the business space, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
This review was brought to you by MPULL
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