“A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves.” – Jon Franklin
Who better to learn storytelling from than a two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner for dramatic nonfiction?
This week Darren uses Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story as guidance for “stalking the story” and writing MBA essays that grip and reveal. Franklin pioneered the narrative nonfiction genre, and his book is full of gems for applicants struggling with their essays.
After listening to this episode, you’ll know whether you are a) telling your best stories and b) writing your essays in the most compelling way possible.
According to Franklin, great stories share 4 core elements:
- Complication: any problem or event that complicates our lives and creates tension
- Development: the actions the character takes to resolve the complication
- Resolution: a change in the character or situation that resolves tension
- Character: a character who cares deeply about and puts significant effort towards resolving the complication
The result? In Franklin’s words: “In the best stories, the odyssey from complication to resolution changes the character profoundly.”
That’s what adcoms are after: getting to know what’s important to you and what has changed you. They are begging to hear your best stories. And that’s why their essays prompt you for complication, resolution, and action that demonstrate your character.
For example, two of Insead’s “motivation” essays this year are:
Essay 2. Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (400 words max.)
Essay 3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way. (300 words max.)
Insead is prompting the elements of a great story: complication (i.e. describe a situation where you failed…) and resolution (i.e. tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted…). So give it to them!
For “personal” or “motivation” type essays, be sure your story has a complication and a matching resolution. The action you take in between these elements shows your character and how much solving the problem means to you.
So here’s a checklist for finding your best stories:
- What are the biggest problems / obstacles you’ve faced? (complication)
- What you have wanted more than anything? (complication)
- When have you taken massive action to accomplish something? (action)
- When did your actions make an impact? (action)
- What are your proudest accomplishments? (resolution)
- What did you have to overcome to get there? (complication, action)
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned? When have you changed the most? (resolution)
And here’s a checklist for evaluating your essay:
- Do you involve the reader in your story with a complication and create tension?
- Does this complication mean a lot to you?
- Do you take action to solve the problem?
- Do you resolve the complication you bring up?
- Did you change or grow from the experience?
Knowing the core elements of great stories will help you find your best material and write stories adcoms will enjoy reading.
- Writing for Story by John Franklin
- Successful MBA Essay Samples from Aringo (leadership essay used in episode)
- 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays | PDF (goals essay used in episode on pg 66)
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