Three Elements of Strategic Stories
Stories can convey our vision, influence attitudes, and inspire action—but not without a well-thought-out strategy.
Scientific research shows that stories shape our hopes and values — and strongly influence decision-making and behavior. The following storytelling tips draw on our strategic storytelling toolkits — available free at Storytelling for Good — as well as insights from the work of Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal and a leading authority on the science of storytelling.
1. Strategic storytelling begins with a clear understanding of the audience and purpose.
Storytelling can motivate and mobilize people to advance a cause, but it must be strategic to achieve impact. Creating a smart storytelling strategy begins with setting a goal and identifying the audiences who can help you achieve it. Our Storytelling Strategy toolkit at storytelling.comnetwork.org walks you through the steps of outlining a storytelling strategy.
2. All stories are about people facing problems and finding solutions.
“Stories — from great epic poems to office scuttlebutt — are almost uniformly about humans facing problems and trying to overcome them. Stories have a problem-solution structure,” Gottschall writes in Infecting an Audience: Why Great Stories Spread.
A simple but powerful narrative framework can help you organize your ideas according to this structure. The idea is to position your audience as the protagonists in your story and describe the goal they seek to achieve. Then you can define the problems they face and the solutions you offer.
This structure shows how your cause is relevant to their lives, and the story becomes, according to Gottschall, a “vehicle for conveying our ideas, our values, our vision.”.
3. Strategic stories must have a lesson — and a call to action.
Ultimately, storytelling for social change must influence people’s attitudes and inspire them to take action. So your story must open people’s eyes with a lesson or moral — and issue a compelling call to action.
“(S)tories are not usually about meaningless problem solving. Unless a story is communicating some message or moral, some set of values or ideas, it seems empty,” Gottschall writes.