Monday, May 25, 2015

The Nine Steps of Story Structure

I spent the weekend in Melbourne after  a speaking engagement at the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand Business Forum on Friday. While “on the road” I always try to take time to enjoy some down time in the city I am in. Doesn’t always happen but this weekend it did. And on Saturday night I went to see the stage show Strictly Ballroom. I remember the movie well and enjoy playing the soundtrack. Even had “Love is in the Air” at my wedding – cheesy I know! I love a good story and this one has it all – rags to riches, boy meets girl, the villain and other criteria that make up the formula of a good story. I don’t profess to be any sort of scriptwriter however a good story whether told in a blog, speech, movie or play will certainly capture your audience’s attention. In this blog I will share the Nine Steps of Story Structure.

I have over my years of professional speaking had the opportunity to learn from some masters of the craft Patricia Fripp, Lou Heckler and the director of Story Theater International, Doug Stevenson. They are all wonderful story tellers who craft their stories very well and practice profusely to fine tune and perfect their performance.

With permission from Doug Stevenson's Story Theater International, I want to share his formula for crafting your story.

1. Set the Scene

Go back in time and create the context within which this event takes place. Consider...

Time: year, month, day, time, season, holiday…

Place: city, state, country, home, school, office, bedroom, market, beach…

Atmosphere: sunny, rainy, gloomy, tense, joyous, comfortable, uncomfortable…

Event: board meeting, wedding, vacation, dinner, soccer game, seminar, movie…

Relationship: sister, boss, spouse, son, supervisor, teacher, friend, tour guide…

Data/Statistics: relevant trends and facts…

2. Introduce the Characters (Not necessarily Step 2)
Describe the main characters visually. Start with physical characteristics, age and clothing. Next, describe their personality and style. Describe anything pertinent about your relationship with that person. Introduce characters in the natural sequence that they arrive in your story.

Wendy was a middle-aged woman with long black hair that she wore pulled back in a braid. She always wore fashionable clothes-the latest styles and fancy shoes. She had a habit of always being late for meetings. She also had a tendency to apologize for things, even when she wasn’t responsible for the situation. I think she had a lack of self-esteem, and maybe that’s why she wore fancy clothes-to make up for it.

3. Begin the Journey
The journey is the task, objective or activity to be accomplished. It is what you are attempting to do before something goes wrong or you encounter an obstacle. Example: Going on vacation to Greece; waiting in line for tickets; meeting a friend for lunch; negotiating a contract; planning the annual meeting; riding a bicycle.

4. Encounter the Obstacle
The obstacle is the challenge. It is a problem, dilemma or question. It may be a person, something to be overcome, or something to be learned. It’s who or what gets in the way of achieving your goals. Define the obstacle in your story.
Example: A flat tire, a delayed flight, an abusive boss, a lack of self-esteem, a misunderstanding…

5. Overcome the Obstacle: Using Step Five to Teach
This is the “how-to” step in the Nine Steps of Story Structure. It is the most critical step because it teaches the lesson on a subliminal level. Write it out. You may choose to perform parts of this step as an IN moment such as talking to yourself (self talk) as you consider your options and come to a conclusion or new awareness.

Two Options:

A: Overcome the obstacle correctly, thereby teaching the correct behavior.

B: Overcome the obstacle incorrectly. Make mistakes. Show people through your thoughts and behavior what you don’t want them to do. Then, use the story as a spring board to discuss the correct or desired behavior.

Describe, in a linear sequence, each step in overcoming the obstacle. Think incrementally in little steps, not broad strokes. What came first: a thought or an emotion? Then what? Did you go into avoidance mode or take immediate action? Tell the truth. The magic is in the details.

6. Resolve the Story
This step is relatively easy. Go back through your story script and look for details that need to be resolved. Ask yourself, “What will my audience be wondering about if I don’t tell them? How did things work out in the end?”

7. Make the Point
A. Bridge Statement leading into the Point. After resolving the story, say, “What I learned from that experience was…” or “What that experience taught me was…”
B. Make the Point. What is the ONE point that your story makes above all other points?

8. Ask “The Question”
The question formally transfers the learning point to each audience member. It asks them to take personal accountability in relation to a specific question. It is a YOU question that forces them to consider how the lesson of the story applies to them. Example: “How about you? What do you need to do to lead by example?”

9. Repeat the Point / The Phrase That Pays
Re-state or repeat the point verbatim. Use the exact same words you used the first time you made the point. Memorize the sentence or Phrase That Pays.

Crafting your story using The Nine Steps of Story Structure will give you the foundational architecture of a great story. Your audience will be better able to follow the sequence of your story, and remember your profound message! With the Nine Steps as your “bones”, you can now flesh out your story with acting and comedic techniques to make it amazing.

Learn more about Doug Stevenson at and sign up for his newsletter to receive the full article and more…

The ability to tell a story through public speaking is powerful personal public relations and a great way to showcase your personal brand. In my free eBook the Power of Personal Public Relations I write more about uncovering your personal brand. Download your copy here.

Read last week’s blog Shine Your Personal Brand Story.

Sue Currie is a personal branding specialist and director of Sue Currie Communications an agency providing an integrated strategy of persona land professional public relations solutions to help business owners boost their image, renown,brand and business. Through consulting, corporate workshops and conference speaking, Sue helps organisations and individuals to stand out and shine.

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