All of us construct narratives about ourselves – where we come from, what we do, where we are going. The kinds of stories we tell make a big difference to how confident we are marketing ourselves and our products or services.
Classic powerful stories from Antigone to Casablanca to Star Wars to Harry Potter have been analysed and found to contain the same basic five elements, as follows:
- A protagonist the listener cares about. We must be able to relate to the situation or struggles of a particular person or group.
- A catalyst compelling the protagonist to take action. An event takes place and something important is at stake. Typically, the first act of a play or section of a novel is devoted to establishing this fact. It’s up to the protagonist to put things right again.
- Trials and tribulations. The story’s second act commences as obstacles, produce frustration, conflict and drama, and often lead the protagonist to change in an essential way. As in The Odyssey, the trials reveal, test, and shape the protagonist’s character. Time is spent wandering metaphorically in the wilderness, far from home.
- A turning point. This represents a point of no return, which closes the second act. The protagonist can no longer see or do things the same way as before.
- A resolution. This is the third act, in which the protagonist either succeeds magnificently or fails tragically.
This is the classic beginning-middle-end story structure defined by Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago and used by countless others since. It seems to reflect how the human mind wants to organise reality.
Do you have a coherent and compelling story about yourself? What about your firm – what’s that story?
Source: Herminia Ibarra & Kent Lineback in HBR Jan 2005