Classic antihero George Costanza has taught us many valuable life lessons – chief among them that you can still find a parking spot in the city if you apply yourself. But for those of us in content creation fields, he’s given career tips, too. Let me explain what I mean, because George is clearly the gift that keeps on giving. By the way, Happy Festivus, everyone!
There’s a well-known scene in “The Ticket” episode where George and Jerry pitch their sitcom idea to NBC for a second time. Having been dismissed by the network the week before because of George’s insistence that the show be about nothing, the two friends return with the opposite tack – with George leading the way. “Story is the foundation of all entertainment,” he tells NBC executive Russell Dalrymple. “You must have a good story; otherwise, it's just masturbation.”
This is valuable wisdom that shouldn't be limited just to sitcom writing; it’s great advice for all content creators. How good is the story we’re telling our audience? Why should they care about what we have to say? The elements of a good story are universal – be they for a sitcom or marketing content for your company’s newest product. Here are a few of those key elements; leave it the self-described “Lord of the Idiots” to show us the way.
Russell: … And people really have to care about the characters.
George: Care? Forget about care. Love. They have to love the characters. Otherwise, why would they keep tuning in?
Jerry: Wouldn't tune in.
George: Would they tune in?
Jerry: No tune.
No doubt Ben Parr would agree with George here. The former Mashable editor wrote a great post last month contending, among other things, that characters matter. “People relate to recognizable names and interesting personalities,” Parr wrote, adding that stories are more interesting with prominent characters. Would the Penn State and Syracuse alleged sex abuse scandals be as scintillating as they are had they not been indirectly related to coaching legends Joe Paterno and Jim Boeheim? The more interesting the characters, the larger the audience that will tune in to your story.
Russell: We like to look at the show as if it were an EKG. You have your highs and your lows, and it goes up and down.
George: The show will be like a heart attack!
Jerry: Just a huge, massive coronary.
Plot, or conflict, is what makes all forms of content interesting, yet as David Meerman Scott will tell you, most marketing content contains none of it. I’ve read Scott’s foreword to Content Rules several times and he drives home this point perfectly.
"How interesting woulda book or movie be were it to have this plot:
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They get married.
At best, such a plot would be an insufferable bore. At worst, it becomes propaganda. In fact, it’s just the sort of propaganda most marketers and business writers construct every day."
Jerry’s viewers wouldn’t want to be bored with George’s original plot ideas: watching Jerry eat, go shopping, read, etc. Similarly, your audience doesn’t want to be bored by hearing how great your product is. What are the challenges facing your characters? How are they overcoming them? Your story doesn’t need to be a heart attack, but give it a pulse.
For George and Jerry, the most difficult part of sitcom writing was developing a premise. In the midst of a grueling brainstorm session, George stumbles into what will become the foundation of Jerry.
George: Hey, what about this? I'm in a car accident. The motorist is uninsured – you with me?
George: My car's totaled. It's all his fault and now, he has absolutely no money. There is no way that he can pay me. So the judge decrees that he becomes my butler.
Jerry: Your butler?
George: Right. He cooks my food, he cleans my house, he does all my shopping for me. And there you go, that's your program.
As George and Jerry established a premise for their sitcom, so must we establish a premise for the content we are creating. Why are we doing this? In Content Rules Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman discuss defining a purpose for creating a blog. Among the tips they provide:
It’s difficult to create a story without a premise, and remember the mantra: story is the foundation of all entertainment. Your audience wants to learn, it wants to be entertained, and it’s very possible to do both.
There you have it; with George’s help we’ve listed three key ingredients to creating content that people will eagerly consume.