I admit it! When people tell me something must be a certain way, I don’t like it. I am a rebel at heart. Good stories have a specific structure and if that structure is violated, your stories suck.
When you become smarter than Aristotle or Plato, then let me know. However, until then these are the facts. All well constructed stories consist of some basic elements that must be followed. There IS a formula for telling well structures stories.
There are two books I will highly recommend, both of which are available in our bookstore. These are the Bibles of the writing arts:
Aristotle was really the first to put the basic tricks-of-the-trade for writing to paper. Aristotle’s Poetics is a must for every writer to read every few years.
Playwrights have used the classic “beginning, middle and end” for thousands of years and you will more commonly hear it called “three acts.” You will find some writers that have diversified and split these into five or more acts, but three acts is generally accepted as the basic format.
Act 1 – Sets the scene and situation. This is the idea or concept that attracts the viewer/participant. This is usually about 1/4 of your story.
Act 2 – The middle portion of your story is the complication. During this section the plot is becomes more difficult and during the second portion of this portion of the story you are providing answers, preparing or equipping the hero (think of your product or service as the hero).
Act 3 – The end of the story is the conclusion, the thing that wraps everything up and provides catharsis. It is the climax of your story.
It is essential that your story have conflict. Yes, even a sales brochure or blog can have conflict! The simplest form of conflict is question and answer, problem and solution, cause and effect. It is the soul of the emotion.
To be sure, your idea is the most critical element, and the structure is really the superstructure over which you construct the idea; but, the idea must be solid.
But, I’m selling widgets!
During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the promoters licensed everything. Everyone had the “Official (insert product type) of the Los Angeles Olympics” and eventually, Saturday Night Live did a sketch about the “Official windblown trash of the Los Angeles Olympics” complete with a storyline about this sad piece of trash – a fast food wrapper – on its journey to the Olympic Games. Yes, you can create an emotional story about anything, if you want to. It’s all about using your imagination.
Most products are sold on emotion, even widgets. You may be selling electrical fuse boxes, but those products make an impact on the lives of their customers and you can capture that story. Joe had a problem and you solved that problem with your product is no different than the story of Luke who had a problem and resolved that problem using “the force” in Star Wars.
And, you can stretch that even further and if you are creative enough, you can embed your product in a dramatic story with characters. Don’t believe me? The Pink Panther was a movie about a diamond, not bumbling police detective. Apollo 13 was about a rocket. The Love Bug and Christine were both movies with the central character being a car. A character can be anything. The Love Bug was really about growing old gracefully; a retired automobile looking to have one last fling. Apollo 13 was a daring journey home against all odds. We can all identify with those stories, can’t we?
Carl Hartman is a former executive with a major American television network, reality television producer and co-founder of Brand.gineering. His best-selling book Brand.gineering: A 14-Step Powerful & Profitable Brand Development Blueprint for the Digital Marketing Age, is available exclusively on Amazon.