December 20, 2018 • Sara Eagin
Can you tell a compelling story in six words or less? Hemingway’s six-word story challenge has inspired many writers, and more than a few high school English teachers and students, to test their skills. While six words might be a fun challenge, it is usually not a storyteller’s preferred way to tell a story that engages readers.
However, today we face a need for what I call “compelling brevity.” People’s attention spans are measured in seconds, and they have a ton of options and distractions. Persuading someone to read your content in the first place is half the battle.
Brand storytellers need to find concise, effective ways to capture attention. From Twitter to exhibit labels to PowerPoint slides, the demand for compelling brevity is everywhere.
Here are a few suggestions for telling a story in 50 words or less:
The ability to tell compelling stories with fewer words comes to life in museums and exhibits. Writing a label for an artifact or photo is an art form that History Factory has been refining for 40 years. Here are a few great examples from the 2017 Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition that we find particularly inspiring:
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
This label, alongside a tank of green moray morena (what you would likely call an eel), paints a vivid picture of the species and packs plenty of information in a small amount of space.
Detroit Institute of Art: “The World in a Cup”
Here’s what this label says:
Every cup of coffee, tea, and chocolate tells a story.
A global story … both bitter and sweet, of vessels adapted and transformed, of economic systems built on power and subjugation, of identity, both self-defined and imposed, of traditions shared across time and place.
Perhaps there has never been anything simple about a cup of coffee, tea, or chocolate. #SiptheStory
This summary label of a display on the history of various beverages is enticing because it states the main point but gives readers space to connect the dots.
Detroit Institute of Art: Tea Scoop, 1600s–1700s
Here’s what the label says:
Small and unassuming, tea scoops are considered the most valuable of all tea utensils because they connect us directly with the masters who carved them by hand from bamboo.
Sugiki Fusai, the famous tea master who made this scoop, painted a poem on the container to commemorate a memorable tea gathering. It expresses how enjoyable it was to drink tea by candlelight after an unexpectedly warm winter day.
This object label goes beyond identifying the artifact as a tea scoop—something most people could probably decipher from simply looking at it. The text gives visitors some context and detail that is interesting to read.