Crafting your powerful story

Everyone keeps talking about how storytelling will save the day for your business.
"Tell your story in your marketing!"
"Stories will connect you with your audience!"
"Tell your story to be memorable!"
"Tell stories to make them care!"

That’s great. But no one really tells you how to do that. You agree that stories can connect, make you memorable and make your audience care. And you do want to tell your story. But you’re no novelist. How on earth do you tell stories that will actually do all of that?

Your audience isn't just hearing your message, they are feeling it. And there is nothing more powerful than that.

I'm guessing that you, like most people, did not go to storytelling school. Well I actually did and let me tell you that boy, do they have secrets over there on how to craft great stories. First of all, in storytelling school, (ok, so more like writing classes) one of the things you learn about are frameworks for your story. To simplify, think of a framework as kind of like Mad Libs. (You know those Mad Libs where it would ask you to come up with an adjective, a noun, etc. and then at the end of it, you read the whole story and you usually come up with something hilarious?) Except, this kind of framework leaves you with a story that you can actually use. If you use one of these frameworks, you’ll be crafting stories like JK Rowling in no time.

So let me give you the most powerful and universally used framework that almost all of the epic stories use. Because why not give you the best? So have you ever heard of Star Wars? It uses this framework. Cinderella? Toy Story? The Martian? Revenant? Les Miserables? Gone With the Wind? Ok, you get the point. When this framework is used correctly, it can emotionally move your audience. Your audience isn't just hearing your message, they are feeling it. And there is nothing more powerful than that.

It is the most powerful and universally used framework that almost all epic stories use.

So onto the framework!

The framework is called the Hero’s Journey. You might have heard of this before. The term was coined by a man named Joseph Campbell back in the 1940s. What this fancy term just means is that there is this hero - Cinderella, Luke Skywalker, or you, that has a desire. This hero goes on a journey to attain that desire but encounters hardships and struggles along the way. The hero encounters one final struggle that transforms him to a new state in which he has finally attained his desire (won a victory) or has realized he no longer has that desire.

Ok, so that all sounds great. But I promised you Mad Libs. Let me break down the framework for you.

Here are the key components to the Hero's Journey:

1. Hero - Who is this story about?

2. Problem / initiating event - What is the current problem? Is there something that happened to make it worse, that initiated a change?

3. A desire - What desire is there because of the problem?

4. Journey/struggle to attain desire - What has the hero done and experienced as a result of trying to attain their desire? This is where there is tension and drama in your story. This is usually where you spend a good portion of your storytelling.

5. Precipitating Event - This is the event that leads up to the climactic event. What are some important things that happened that led up to the final event and crisis?

6. Climactic Event/Crisis - This is the event that has the most drama. This event is usually the last straw, the thing that transforms and resolves the hero’s desire - either by them attaining the desire or realizing they didn’t need the desired thing in the first place. Either way, the desire is resolved.

7. Changed state - Now that the desire is resolved, how is life different? How is the hero changed? What is this new world like? This part is usually condensed and shouldn’t take as much time as the journey, to tell.

As an example, I've plugged in Cinderella's story so you can see how this applies:

1. Hero - Cinderella

2. Problem / initiating event - Her dad died. Now her stepmother and stepsisters are making her life a living hell.

3. Desire - To get outta there and be free!

4. Journey / struggle to attain desire - She just wants to go to the ball to feel free even for just a short while. But she gets locked up in the closet and cries all night long.

5. Precipitating event - Her fairy godmother comes and she gets to go to the ball and meet the prince! The prince falls in love with her but it's almost midnight so she has to go before her carriage turns into a pumpkin. She runs and loses her glass slipper.

6. Climactic Event / Crisis - The prince goes from house to house and vows to marry the woman that fits the glass slipper. He comes to Cinderella's house and has her stepsisters try the slipper on. Cinderella almost doesn't get a chance to try it on but the prince finds here in the corner and voila, it fits! Yay!

7. Changed state - The prince marries Cinderella and she is outta there and onto amazing things like her castle. The end.

Now let me show you how this works from a business story standpoint. This is a true story by the way.

Business application of the Hero's Journey:

(1. Hero) I have a friend Steve, (2. Problem+initiating event) who had a mother going into retirement. But after going through her finances, he saw that she would not have enough money to last her through the next couple of decades should she live that long. He could not support her himself because he also had his own family and 3 children to support.(3. Desire) He wanted to help her figure out a plan so that she’d be financially secure.(4. Journey) So he researched what his mother could do. He went from blog to blog to bank to bank, and website upon website. There was so much information that it was hard to decipher what to do. (5. Precipitating event) Finally, after months of research, he was able to piece all of that scattered information together to come up with a cohesive retirement plan.  (6. Climactic event) He successfully implemented his plan for her and secured his mother financially as she aged. (7. Changed state) Afterward, he had all this useful information. He didn’t want others to go through as much trouble as he did, so he created his site “NewRetirmement.com”, to share the information he had. The end.

See how by just following the framework, I was able to tell Steve’s story that connected us with him? We’ve all gone through something similar. We all have parents. Most of us would help our parents if they were in need. We’ve trolled through the internet before searching for much-needed information. We get his plight. We see that he started his business for a great reason! I could have told Steve’s story without the framework. It would have gone like this:

I could have told Steve’s story without the framework. It would have gone like this:

“I have this friend Steve. He started this site called “NewRetirement.com” that has services that will help seniors with their retirement planning. It has innovative ways, not available elsewhere, that can help seniors financially secure themselves as they age.”

Did that resonate with you? No! To me, it was blah blah blah. I know nothing about retirement and it’s not relevant to me nor my mom! But the first version, now that one, I can connect with.

Your stories don’t have to be about life changing and super heroic events either. The framework can be used on a simple thing like reviewing a product.

So now you’ve got a great classic framework to work with to craft your stories. Your stories don’t have to be about life changing and super heroic events either. The framework can be used on a simple thing like reviewing a product. Here’s an example of a product review on YouTube.

Product Review using the Hero's Journey:

1. Hero - Cielo

2. Problem / initiating event - I have shaky video. No matter how much I try to hold my iPhone still, it’s still so darn shaky! Gah!

3. Desire - I want a tool that will stabilize my shaky video.

4. Journey/struggle to attain desire - I first went cheap and got one for $60. Zomg. It was so awkward I never used it. So then I got a different one for $350. It was ok but not reliable and it would always go out of balance.

5. Precipitating event - Then I was shooting a gig at the Napa Valley Film Festival and was hanging around other photographers. One of them introduced me to the DJI Osmo. He showed me how it worked. Holy cow. I had to buy it.

6. Climactic Event -  I bought the DJI Osmo and was happy that it was less than $300. I took it for a spin. It was much more than I had hoped. Not only did it stabilize my footage but it could track objects and do time lapses.

7. Changed state - I now have amazing video AND even have the added bonus of automatically tracking and following my subjects without my doing anything. Now I don’t even need my cumbersome slider. It has completely lessened the gear I need to carry around when shooting.

See how even a simple thing such as a product review can have a story? I could have easily just said, “hey guys, I got this new gimbal that stabilizes your iPhone for smooth video. It works really well and even has object tracking. I highly recommend it.”

Which one has more impact? The first version! Because how many of us have gone through the experience of trying out a bunch of gear, often trying to save money at first but get screwed, and then to find that ONE piece of gear that finally does it right? Again, the story made you think about your own experience, and you could relate to me.

Stories make you think about your own experience and thus makes you relate to it.

So now, with all of those examples, go and create your stories using the Hero’s Journey framework. To make your life easier, I created a worksheet for you. Make sure you print it out so that can write all over it.

If you found this useful, please share it with your friends. Especially if you think they have a story to tell and could use this to make it an epic story.