best practices

Five Parts Are Better Than…

Thanks to the SuperBowl “Puppy Love” commercial, we now know the love story of puppy meets Clydesdale, Clydesdale falls for puppy, and so on. It is a familar story construction with unusual costars, which is why the audience can connect immediately and still see it as refreshing.

In Harrison Monarths’ The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool, he writes about the commercial’s construction and Freytag’s five acts:

  1. exposition
  2. rising action
  3. climax
  4. falling action
  5. dénouement

Interestingly, the ad was periodically aired without all five parts.

The “Best Buds” story also uses these elements to great effect. The more of the acts each version of the ad had, the better it performed.

Weirdly, the part I see storytellers leave out is the second one, the rising action. They often jump to the climax, skipping the the section that builds anticipation and tension. If you are a beginning storyteller, do yourself a favor and craft your story with all five parts and then see if it really can stand losing one. With enough discipline, you could have a five line story with all the parts in there nice and tidy.
The one exception is if you are making an ask at a fundraiser. In that case, drop off before the fifth part, so the audience knows that it is responsible for the final outcome (i.e., there is no happy ending without your generous donation). I agree with Monarth when he writes,

Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act.

If you want them to act, make them own the final part of the story.
There is a whole lot more to Monarth’s post so please give it a read.

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