Join Stefan Mumaw for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding story structure, part of Storytelling for Advertising Campaigns.
- In Stacey Williams-Ng's awesome course, Storytelling for Designers, she summarizes the goal of stories that designers would create as this, to amuse, instruct, or educate. To accomplish this within the constructs of a campaign, it's important that we also understand the basic structure of story in addition to its goals. While we certainly can find more complex and detailed story mechanisms, I'm going to share a basic five-part story structure.
It begins with exposition. Exposition is the context for our story. Who are the characters in the story and what is their relationship? When does it take place? What time period does this story take place? This can be done with a formal, narrative backstory or a simple image or word. This is where we gain understanding as an audience and where the foundation is laid for what this story is about. Next, we have an inciting incident.
Because all stories are inherently human and humans resist change, most compelling stories need something to take place to push the story forward. This can be in the form of an introduction to a protagonist and their desire, an antagonist and their opposition, or it can simply be a device that provides purpose for action. As a side note, don't get too hung up on the terms protagonist and antagonist. Not all stories have to have a good guy and a bad guy in human form.
Think of them more like the forces that are working for or against the goal. Next, we have rising action. Now that we understand the who, what, where, when, and why of our story, we are now introduced to the opposing forces that stand in the way. Every great story has conflict or tension and this part of the story shows how that conflict impedes the protagonist from achieving their goal. Then, we have the climax.
This is where we see if the goal is achieved or not. In action movies, it's that final fight scene between the protagonist and antagonist to see who ultimately wins. Or in romantic comedies, it's where see if the couple gets to be together. But in the context of advertising and marketing, the climax usually is more subtle and nuanced. Lastly, we have resolution. There is always an aftermath to the story's climax.
Sometimes, the resolution is good. Sometimes, unforeseen consequences are discovered. Regardless, we as humans want closure so we need to know what it all means in the end. That is the five-part story structure. Let's put that structure to the test with a little story exercise.
In this course, Stefan Mumaw lays out the structure of story and uses the development of a real-world campaign to show how each story component builds an emotional bridge between brand and consumer. He breaks down how that story translates to the various advertising components that creatives often use in a real-world campaign, like TV spots, print ads, websites, and social content.
- Building story through narrative
- Triggering emotional responses
- Story in brainstorming
- Using story in TV, print, web, and social media campaigns