The Shapes of Stories

Blog posted by Richard Pentin
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Richard Pentin, Planning Director at TMW, explains why we should continue to look to professional storytellers for inspiration.

To those of us who are involved in defining social media content strategies, CRM, transmedia planning or ‘advertainment’, it’s becoming increasingly apparent we need to become skilful storytellers. But rather than draw inspiration from our peers and the marketing literati, shouldn’t we also be turning to professional storytellers like authors, script writers, film directors and journalists?

With that in mind, I thought Kurt Vonnegut, a successful American writer, artist and anthropologist, could teach us a thing or two about storytelling. He developed the ‘Shapes of Stories’ model which is a beautifully simple, yet witty visualisation of the way certain stories unfold to the final denouement.

The x-axis plots the story from beginning to end and the y-axis represents the emotional roller-coaster between positive and negative outcomes. From there you can see how different stories start to take shape. This infographic gives a handy synopsis of the different shapes and approaches but to bring this to life you really must watch the entertaining clip above where he presents this in person in his own inimitable style.

So how might we apply this in our day jobs?

The main take-out for me as a planner is to start visualising the shape and emotional journey you want to create for the consumer before developing your next brand story. It might also be quite a useful frame of reference when creating or assessing potential creative routes to see whether a different narrative structure could generate a more desirable emotional outcome.

On a more immediate level, a framework such as this might also help us to improve the way we present strategy to senior management or in pitch situations. After all, the best presentations are invariably those which manage to frame the client challenges and the subsequent strategic recommendations around a gripping storyline.

If nothing else, perhaps one should just view this as a ‘Kurt’ reminder that we all need to become good storytellers, not just good communicators. 

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