In our everyday life and language, we use contrasts and opposites. This is when you ask an innocent question expecting to get a straightforward answer, but you get an answer with a paired contrast. A good example is asking someone how they are, and they say: “good and bad.”
When you look closely at your surroundings, everything is a contrast. We have night and day, good and bad, left and right, boy and girl, and many other examples. Contrast is an essential co-existing element in many situations, and makes our understanding of some events even better.
Telling a story using contrast stirs more emotions than telling it with only one side. When we involve conflicting sides the story stirs thought and feeling, which leads us to engage fully and involve ourselves. It matters how you frame a story, whether business or personal. This framing effect is what people react to, depending on how well you present your tale.
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Storytelling can also be very confusing, and everyone has their own definition of how a story should unfold and what storytelling entails. Some of the terms used do more to confuse than illuminate the real magic of creating a good story. We also tend to avoid pain more than we want to gain the benefit from a story. Heading straight into the benefits can turn everything upside down, and instead of getting positive reviews it can hurt the conversion rate. Therefore, every story you tell must create contrast.
The Power of Contrast
We come across so many contrasts every day that it is hard to select from the available large group. Many of the most successful ads we see use storytelling to contrast, or cover up failure or mediocre content with success stories. What they keep in mind is if you want your story content to lead with a negative, it is best to follow it up with a solution that is beneficial enough to contrast the negative. The beneficial contrast becomes more powerful in most cases, and that is what people take away from seeing it.
Professionals who analyse storytelling also believe that when there is a juxtaposition of contrasts, there is more likely going to be a better understanding of any narrative. Choose any example; a folktale, a legend or a myth and pick all the goodness in it. Make every bit of the story only about goodness. This kind of story will not receive great attention and resonance.
Now use the same story but add villains, heroes, evil, some strengths and weaknesses of characters, contrasting beliefs and values...and sit back to watch the reaction. When adding the contrasts, the story creates conflict. It becomes engaging, and piques interest.
So when you are telling your story, polarising alternatives give a better and more interesting illustration of your content. This is the best way to have people follow along. Paradox of choices is what storytelling is all about. When you tell a story, a legend, or a myth with paradox, you gain a better understanding of the true meaning of the story.
How has Contrast Storytelling helped?
Once writers and storytellers learn that contrast in storytelling is useful, there is no stopping them. Contrast storytelling is effective. But not every single story you come across has a paradox. The question is, must all the stories written have contrasts, opposites and conflicts? Do you have to force a contrast onto a story even if it does not require it to be engaging? Must there be tension in every movie script written?
Some instances do not require contrasts at all, especially in brand promotion, corporate stories and in some product tales. These do not need any conflict, or a hero to influence the people reading them. Narratives about organisations and products are nothing like Hollywood movies, so when writing this type of content, leave the heroes and villains out and concentrate on the quality of the product. Teach people what they need to know about the product. Putting contrasts in such stories would do more harm than good.
However, if you are telling a story about a motorcycle tour of India, you will need to include contrasts in order to sell it, and have the readers prepare for the journey. Put in a line like this: “Enjoy one of the most thrilling motorcycle tours in the world...but dress warmly, because the freezing mountain roads will make your journey a living hell.” This line offers contrasting and polarizing alternatives to give your story a more interesting twist of what to expect, which is thrills and chills.
Who do you want to become?
In many cases, people from different lifestyles want to compare themselves with others who they think are similar to them. This is called Social Comparison Theory and in most cases, it only works one way. People want to compare themselves against those who they feel are doing better than they are. This is called upward social comparison, and comes about because people tend to emulate those whom they think are better than themselves...but only if they think the status of those they emulate is achievable.
Therefore, if you hire a creative writer or a blogger, you expect to get the best out of them. Likewise, if you are a blog writer and someone has hired you to write a story about them, ask them who they want to become and try to understand who your prospect is trying to persuade. Once you fully understand where your prospect is coming from and what they truly want, you can explicitly tell your story. You can state whatever losses they are avoiding, and talk about the benefits possible without making your story put your prospect in a bad light. Knowing these facts will make your contrast story more compelling to read.
The use of contrast can also be subtle in showing and bringing out the differences between characters, results, things and products. Different ways used to communicate the differences are through intangible ways like emotions, intellect, beliefs, attitudes and values, and through tangible differences like shape, physicality, color, language, appearance and strength. By showing both sides, the understanding of contrast becomes even clearer.
Almost everyone has told a contrast story in their life. We sometimes do it without even realizing we are telling paradoxical stories. These stories are the ones that make sense of what is happening in the world. When tension and contrast are created, they lead us to deeper levels of understanding about life and the world around us. Darkness becoming light, and day becoming night, is the essence of contrast storytelling.
Has this article helped you understand contrast storytelling? Is there anything you would like to add? Leave a comment in the comment box below, and do not forget to share this article with a friend.