What is a story made up from? Over the last few years of writing about storytelling in Pharmaceuticals and other major branding genres I have always struggled to answer the question in a simple way. Plato suggested that all stories  have  a beginning middle and end and Aristole wrote about pathos, logos and ethos. Others have shown that stories can be boiled down to seven major themes and its fascinating to see that Cinderella was told in Europe, India and China at the same time even though there was no possibility of the story having been passed from one region to another. Like the other  stories this was a “Universal Story” an understanding we are born with supported by our cultures and our humanity. Part of the universality of stories was explored by Carl Jung with his work on archetypes as universal characters who behave in well known and expected patterns.

Even knowing these elements of stories and what makes them good and bad, I still find it difficult to explain to people what the essence of a story is. Perhaps the story premise or long line is as close as you can get to the real essence of a story. It’s the boiled down content that everyone can easily digest. But this still doesn’t help me in the way I need to explain the ideas of storytelling and how they apply to building great brands. To help me I created the “Four Circle Story Map” as a way to breakdown the contents of a story into its building blocks. The Story Map can be used to either dissect story into its components or to build a compelling story from scratch. As all brand architects know get the brand story straight in the early days is vital to create effective brand communication and sales.

The Four Circle Story Map is based on Michael Hauge’s observations of how to pitch stories and plays to Hollywood. As I sat in my Swiss holiday chalet with the kids playing Memory behind me I stole a short time go over the Michael’s advice and read through many of my old Moleskin note books that go with me everywhere. I saw four circles overlapping to capture the interplay between elements Hauge suggest are key to pitching and therefore creating a story that leaves people wanting to learn more. The four major circles represent the key elements of a story. If it doesn’t have these then I don’t think you can tell a story. The are the hero or protagonist; the conflict; the story set up and the deep issues the story tackles. As you can see in the picture below those circles overlap in certain places like a Venn diagram. Where they intersect they cause interactions that define the hero’s opportunity; the story tension and the hero’s arc. Further overlaps define the protagonists motivation and the empathy that the protagonist employs in the story and of course the overlap of all these is the essence of the story.

A good story is defined by how a protagonist moves to resolve a conflict in its journey, employing empathetic traits to engage an audience and live true to its outer motivation. To make it easy to use as a tool the circles can be used as a list of question that create all you need to know to understand your story. I use this now to capture the elements of other people’s stories and the elements of great brand communications (stories) for Pharma and beyond.

  1. Story Set Up: What we need to know in the stories history
  2. Protagonist: Who is the protagonist
  3. Conflict: What conflict faces the protagonist
  4. Outer Motivation: What is the motivation for the protagonist (to win, to return, to grow etc)
  5. Deep issues: What larger issues does the story deal with ) poverty, injustice)
  6. Opportunity: What prize is on offer to protagonist
  7. Arc: how will the protagonist change over the course of the story (Frightened bystander to confident activist)
  8. Empathy: In what way will the protagonist take (humorous, powerful, likable)
  9. Tension: What is the unspoken feeling feeding the conflict based on the deeper issues the story talks to

By working through the nine elements you are forced to thing about the different interactions the elements have in the story. It will help you see if everything hangs together well and will help you get at really concise premise that you can use to catalyze your communications. When i’m creating brand stories I use this to see where the brand will be used. What role does it play in the story and to keep the brand in the story relevant and authentic. I think this helps you focus on who your audience is. How your brand will fit into their narrative and how you might want to tap into that life narrative with your communications.

To get started, try it on a film and then a brand you know well. When your set make some notes about your brand and have a go with the circles or list. Let me know how it goes.