Six literary elements that can take your school from spreadsheet to story

Remember back to English class when you learned the basic elements to construct a story: setting, voice, character, plot, tension, and how the work appeals to its audience? Well it turns out you learned those things for a reason (unlike, say, long division).

Think about your school’s story. What makes it compelling, memorable, even fascinating? What sets it apart from your competitors? What makes it jump off the page instead of being neatly sorted into the uninspiring columns of a spreadsheet?

By intentionally applying the elements of story in your messaging, you begin opening up the world of your school to audiences.

 


1. Setting—What do you first see when you drive onto campus or step through your school’s front door? Painting a detailed picture of your physical spaces—through great photography and design as well as words— transports prospects into your school well before they make their first visit.

View the Punahou School Intro Piece

 


2. Voice—How you talk, write about, and describe the daily rhythms of your school reveals its character and essence. Syntax and diction can swing the tonal pendulum from formal to informal, from colorful to dry, from energetic to predictable, from exciting to staid.

View the Grinnell College Student Selfie Letters

 


3. Character(s)—Teacher-student relationships form the bedrock of your school’s value proposition. Are you showing who your teachers are beyond their credentials?

View the Norfolk Academy Intro Piece

 


4. Plot—The story of your school lives in more than pronouncements of academic rigor, course lists, athletic offerings, STEAM spaces, and college acceptances. How do you chart the journey of a student from K-12? How do you trace the trajectory from precocious preschooler to polished senior?

 


5. Tension—No, your messaging doesn’t need a masked antagonist or a struggle between good and evil. But you should employ contrast in your messaging, highlighting what stands out against your competitors rather than comparing shared similarities.

View The Hewitt School Congratulations Video

 


6. Audience—Every book needs a readership, and your school is no different. Understanding your audiences’ values and expecations, and tailoring your messaging to respond to them, isn’t pandering. It’s good, intelligent communication.

View the Duchesne Academy Dad’s Piece

 


Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” In writing the story of your school—employing the same tried and true elements that have existed for millennia—you might be surprised at what you discover along the way.