What We Could All Learn From Fifth-Grade Playwrights

One thing you hear a lot of when you work in storytelling is that there are only “X” number of stories in the world, and we are just rehashing them over and over and over. I don’t know what that number is (seven?), and I don’t know what those plot lines consist of, but when someone reminds us of this, oftentimes the implication is “Why bother? Why even attempt to create anything new? We’ve heard it all before.”

Last September, I started teaching playwriting to fifth graders, and, thankfully, they’ve never heard such rot. A bunch of my students are basically writing the same story: an unpopular character seeks popularity, realizing along the way that being true to oneself is always more important. This is familiar ground, of course, when distilled down to a one-sentence summary. But one sentence does not a story make. One of these plays follows a chatty butterfly who tries to emulate the much-respected Wise Butterfly. Another follows a glue stick who is just too damn clingy. Still another follows a goth ballerina who finally says screw it. They’re the same story, perhaps, but entirely different plays, all of them interesting.

There may be a limited number of stories to tell, but there are boundless ways to tell them. In brand messaging, there are even fewer stories. Actually, there is really only one: “We are your best option.” We hear it on every commercial and we read it in every advertisement: “We, the product/company, are your, the consumer’s, best option.” And because of that, in order for that story to land, in order for people to pay attention, you’ve got to tell it in a really, really compelling way.

That the story is familiar ground should not deter you; I can assure you that it does not deter us, your friendly neighborhood creative agency. Rather, it pushes us to outdo ourselves. Just like my fifth graders, we seek out variation and uniqueness in the “because.” “We are your best option, because . . . ” In every story, that is the seed of expansion. The butterfly learns to be herself, because… The goth ballerina says screw it, because… It is in the exploration of “the why” that creativity thrives and stories are told in surprising ways. We really haven’t seen it all before, and, thankfully, we never will. Every day offers us opportunity to create something new.

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