How to tell a powerful story

Everybody loves a good story – to hear one, and to tell one – which is why a good story, well told, is engaging, memorable and cuts through clutter like a scalpel.

A good story should be viral in nature. In other words, one that people believe is worth repeating – whether it’s at the water-cooler or around the BBQ.

So what are the elements of a good story?

Well, a joke is a good story… look how often people repeat good jokes. I’m not suggesting you tell jokes, but that you analyse a joke that you like, to understand how it works and why it works.

Another practise that isn’t often utilised by content creators and marketers is to create a story that touches on those timeless archetypes that strike powerful cords deep inside our psyche.

Elements of an archetypal story:

  • The story should have a hero – usually you or someone in your company;
  • The story should have a ‘damsel in distress – the customer. It is important that we care about our damsel. Tell us a bit about them. Why he or she is a good person and why we should care about what happens to that person.
  • The story should be about a problem.
  • The problem should hold consequences for the person we care about. It’s not something we want them to have to endure, or at least endure further. Better still it should be a problem with which we empathise, understand or identify.
  • Complication – just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, there’s a complication. Perhaps your customer tries to solve the problem and only ends up making it worse.
  • The story should have a challenge. What are the obstacles to solving the problem?
  • The grand finale. How did you solve the problem? How did you overcome the obstacles to get there, and what was the final big problem – the dragon you had to slay?

If we care about the ‘damsel’ then the solution needn’t be dramatic, or funny or carry a great punch line – although it helps.

The most important thing is that we are made to care, through the problem or the people.

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