Fun question: What character appears in the most films and television programs? Dracula? God? Santa Claus?
All of those make the top ten list, but none is the correct answer.
Satan (or The Devil) is a character is more than 840 projects – more than any other character.
If you limit the list to mortals, the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes fictional detective Sherlock Holmes as the most portrayed human. More than 75 actors have taken on the role, including Sir Christopher Lee, John Cleese, Charlton Heston, Roger Moore, Robert Downey Jr, Will Farrell, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Yūko Takeuchi (who plays a female version of the character in a new series from HBO Asia and Hulu Japan).
The diversity of these distinct voices and performances makes the Sherlock Holmes brand richer and stronger. In fact, it highlights the importance of understanding the difference between voice and character.
In storytelling, voice is the natural manifestation of the storyteller’s personality and unique style. Think of Ernest Hemingway’s direct and unadorned prose or Steven Spielberg’s use of “the Spielberg face” in every one of his movies.
Character, on the other hand, is specific to the story being told.
As storytellers, we must recognize the separation of voice from the character of the story we’re telling.
No one will ever confuse Saving Private Ryan and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They have very different brand character. But there’s no doubt that they both have the distinctive Steven Spielberg voice.
In brand storytelling, many different people create content, working on thought leadership, inspirational customer stories, how-to manuals, and everything in between. There’s a tendency in business storytelling – often a desire – to distill and homogenize the many diverse voices into one pure brand voice.
This is a mistake.
We simplify them, apply brand-voice rules, and of a sudden wonder why all our content sounds the same. It’s on point, but it’s plain vanilla, sounding like it came from a machine. And that’s the thing – it did.
Our brand is our shared character as business storytellers.
We must certainly agree on common attributes and point of view. But when we bring diverse author voices to that shared character, we enable a richer and stronger set of brand stories. Just as Sherlock Holmes is a stronger character (read: brand) for the diversity of voices that bring him to life, so too is our brand better because of the many different voices of our storytellers.
Great storytelling happens when you artfully use your distinctive voices to create multiple facets to a character’s unique personality. Not celebrating the differences in our voices is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.
It’s your story. Tell it well.