Storytelling–How to Do It
A previous edition of this newsletter talked about the benefits of using storytelling in your marketing. This newsletter talks about how to write a story–what’s the appropriate structure. It turns out that the structure of stories, called dramatic structure, has been analyzed since the time of Aristotle, and is well understood. There is a well-established pattern that successful stories follow, after centuries of experience that we humans have had to perfect the craft. This issue discusses that structure.
Gustav Freytag was a German novelist who lived in the mid-19th century. His analysis of dramatic structure, now called Freytag’s Pyramid, is often cited as the definitive work on the subject. There is usually a protagonist the main characters, with whom the audience is intended to identify. The protagonist comes into conflict of some kind with the antagonist. Freytag’s Pyramid, shown below, consists of these five parts:
1. Exposition–introduction of important background information, such as the setting, back stories for the characters, events taking place before the plot, and so on.
2. Rising action–a series of events that build toward the point of greatest interest. These events are usually the most important part of the story; the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax
.3. Climax or crisis–The climax is the turning point, where the protagonist’s fate changes. In a comedy, things may have gone badly until now, and they start going well. In a tragedy, things have been going well and now change from good to bad.
4. Falling action–during the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, and one or the other prevails. There may be a moment of final suspense whether the outcome of the conflict is in doubt until the very end.
5. Denouement, resolution, revelation or catastrophe–the unraveling of the complexities of the plot. A tragedy ends with a catastrophe, a comedy with the protagonist better off than at the start of the story.
You may think that this complex structure, used for Greek and Shakespearean dramas, isn’t applicable to a modern story in a newsletter or Web page. Indeed it is! Here’s a well-know example of storytelling by Moe Levine, a famous plaintiff’s lawyer. Juries usually listen to long closing arguments; this is the complete closing argument famously used by Mr. Levine:
“As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.”
As you can imagine, he obtained a large verdict in favor of his client, who had a double amputation because of an accident.
The Bottom Line
When you use storytelling, consider Freytag’s Pyramid. It has stood the test of time and it’s a way to write stories that move your reader.