Storytelling Lessons from Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies
Last year’s literary scene was filled with excellent new books from top authors like Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Harper Lee and T. Geronimo Johnson to name a few, but the award for most discussed novel for the year went to Lauren Groff’s fourth book Fates and Furies. The Guardian states: “Not only has Groff’s novel, by the Wall Street Journal’s count, landed on more US year-end best-of lists than any other work of fiction, but Amazon has made it official, stamping its endorsement on Fates and Furies as the retailer’s book of the year. The cherry on the top came from Barack Obama, who earlier this month told People magazine he liked Fates and Furies more than anything else he’d read in 2015.”
The book is divided into two sections. Fates, the first half, is written from the perspective of Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite. We follow him from his youth in Florida, through college, where he gains popularity on the stage, and subsequently to his marriage to Mathilde. He speaks to us in sweeping, glowing words about his successes, his struggles, and his dear wife. In the second half, Furies, a similar story is told from Mathilde’s point of view. We learn about her childhood in France, her tragic path to college and her reasons for marrying Lotto. Unlike her husband’s narrative, Mathilde paints a story that is not nearly as glossy or optimistic as Lotto’s. She is driven, calculating, and meticulous, making sure they have the dream life everyone thinks they have so effortlessly.
In a scene that takes place in one of Lotto’s drama classes, the professor asks students to describe the difference between a comedy and a tragedy. Unsatisfied with the student’s answers, he responds,
“It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.”
Nowhere is this statement so true as in content marketing. Daily, we help share brand stories in creative and engaging ways. The success of that story often depends on the perspective we share with the world. It is important that we are sharing meaningful stories that honestly engage readers. While Fates and Furies is ultimately about marriage, we can still draw some valuable lessons about the stories we tell and why we tell them.
1. Move Past Your Successes and Failures
Lotto rests on his accomplishments in college and expects his past successes to propel him to future glory. As a result, he spends several years sitting around and believing he is important without accomplishing a thing in his career. On the other hand, Mathilde cannot move beyond the tragedies of her past. She over corrects to the point of hiding her true self from those around her and, ultimately, hurts them. Understanding the balance between using successes and failures to motivate your story is crucial if you want to have progress and avoid mistakes in the future.
2. Don’t Tell Faux-thentic Stories
In our hyper-sharing word, faux-thenticity is the name of the game. From all outward appearances, Lotto and Mathilde have a picture-perfect marriage: he is beautiful and successful while she is supportive and charitable. As the story progresses into the second half of the novel, we see that almost every beautiful and perfect thing that happened to Lotto was actually carefully orchestrated by Mathilde. In their quest to keep up appearances, Lotto and Mathilde lose sight of who they are and what matters most in life, and we are left wondering if they knew each other at all. Don’t think you can get away with telling faux-thentic stories to your audience. It is dishonest, and will only damage the relationship and leave you disconnected from them.
3. Acknowledge Those Who Help You
After he achieves success in writing plays, blissfully unaware Lotto praises Mathilde for giving up her career to cook meals, clean the house and edit his work for him. Mathilde, overcome with frustration, leaves the room, much to the confusion of Lotto. He does not know that in addition to making major edits, she has been pulling in favors to finance his projects. Success often comes as the result of a team of people. Even if you are the figurehead, it is important to recognize the people who work behind the scenes and to take the time to fully understand how they contribute to your company. Because without them, you would not be where you are today.
If you also read Fates and Furies this year, let me know any marketing or business lessons you learned in the comments. Feel free to also share your favorite lessons from other novels you have read this year. Happy reading!
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