Storytelling: The Lost Art


When the TV show Lost premiered in 2004, I was hooked from the very first shot. It had a big, lush, cinematic feel, and its crafty blend of exotic scenery and mysterious storytelling drew me in. I even belonged to a group of friends who gathered every week to watch and discuss each new episode. I met my wife through this group; no lie. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I recently started rewatching the entire 120-episode series from the beginning.

Now, I’ll admit it: I felt some serious trepidation. What if I didn’t like the show as much the second time around? We’ve all had that experience of loving some book, album, or movie at one point in our lives, only to discover it does not hold the same allure when we revisit it years later. I didn’t think that would happen for me with Lost, but how could I be sure? And if it did happen, would it rob me forever of the love I still felt for the show?

As it turns out, I was worried for nothing. I’ve found the show to be just as alluring, even a dozen years — to say nothing of a marriage and two kids — later. So I had to ask myself: why? What is it about this show that makes me like it so much?

What this show knew — and what made it so compelling — was that, as much as we all love to watch stories, we also love to be part of the storytelling process itself. And that’s precisely what Lost offered: a weekly chance to become part of the process. If you’re not familiar with Lost (shame on you, by the way), the premise was deceptively simple: a plane crashes on an island, and the passengers who survive try to figure out where they are and how to get home.

You soon learn that these are no ordinary people, and they’re on no ordinary island. But what really made the show must-see TV was the way in which the story unfolded, week by week, bit by delicious bit. As the story progressed, you come to learn that each passenger on the plane has his or her own interesting — and in most cases, complicated — backstory. As viewers, we don’t learn those stories in one big gulp, but rather through an ongoing series of delightfully small sips. Lost is like watching a quilt being assembled; you see the individual pieces, but it takes a while before a pattern begins to emerge.

I used to work in daytime drama (pronounced soap opera), and we had a term for that feeling you get when a Friday episode ends on a cliffhanger: “exquisite frustration.” That’s precisely what Lost delivered every week: a painful yet pleasurable feeling of having some old questions answered even as new ones emerged. As a viewer, ciphering through those questions and answers made me an active participant in the story. It was impossible to watch Lost as a passive consumer of images; it demanded far more. Show creator J.J. Abrams recently told Entertainment Weekly, “I find that stories do well when they make me want to know more. The stories that work make you lean in and ask questions.” And that’s precisely what Lost did, right to the end.

As a marketing and communications professional, I think of myself first and foremost as a storyteller. I tell stories about products, people and places. And as a storyteller, I try to create stories that I myself would find interesting. So, no big surprise, I often draw inspiration from shows like Lost, shows that demand, but also reward, close attention. Shows that involve the audience, and that take their time in the telling, encouraging you to get lost in the story.


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