The Power in ‘Once Upon a Time…’

Once uponThe house creaked as the winter wind howled outside. Although it retained some of its 1870s grandeur – the cherry moldings, the columned entryway to the living room, the kitchen’s wainscoting – the house had undergone many changes over the years.

“Trying to tell me your life story?” she thought as she snuggled deeper into her recliner. “And what stories you could tell…”

Stories – they are the most powerful way humans communicate. Every writer – sometimes deep, deep down – wants to write a great novel. (C’mon, you know you do!)

Why? Why do we “torture” high school students with 500-year-old Shakespeare plays? Why are Aesop’s Fables and fairly tales by the Brothers Grimm still being told or read to children? Why do we read works like The Lord of the Rings over and over again?

What gives a story its power? All stories offer some universal truths, but it is the way they put them before us that make them powerful.

I could tell you to forgive your kids for foolish choices even if they blow all their money and need to move back home. Or I could say that you may think you’re a nice person, but it is your actions that are the real test.

Who is going to remember that? But more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Those stories were so powerful, their titles have become part of our everyday language.

Yet stories are not just for fiction. Businesses large and small know the value of telling their “story.” Every business or organization has an “About Us” page. A good story keeps the company in the customer’s mind.

So, how do we tap into this power? Well, we need the secret ingredients. (Okay, they’re not so secret, but we often forget them.) We need:

  • a protagonist (hero, heroine – whatever) with a problem
  • the conflict between the problem and arriving at the solution
  • the protagonist solving the problem
  • life with the problem solved

Simple, right? Hold on there! Not so simple. We need to be able to combine these in the right way to make it successful.

So here’s my attempt to tell you the story of John S. Pemberton.

It was 1886, and Atlanta, Georgia had just passed prohibition. This meant renowned local pharmacist and chemist John S. Pemberton could no longer sell Pemberton’s French Wine Coca there.

He had created the drink, based on a French formula, to aid digestion, give strength to muscles and the nervous system, and provide a boost of energy. It was all based on the “miraculous” properties of the coca plant, sacred to the Native South American. Since a main ingredient of the formula was wine, it was now banned from Atlanta.

Pemberton did what any industrious inventor would; he went back to the drawing board. He substituted sugar syrup for the wine and renamed the concoction Coca-Cola.

The rest is history.

This information was taken from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


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