Anatomy of A Story, Well-Told

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We have a saying here at ECHO. It goes something like this:
It was good, it got better, the end is nice, but not a story. (It’s also probably not entirely true, but that’s a topic for another day.)

In order to get the ROI that storytelling gives, you have to actually tell a story. Sometimes, it’s hard to realize all the stories that you actually have at your fingertips. You may have heard of The Seven Basic Plots. These are seven basic archetypes of stories that reappear again and again. Understanding them is a useful way of developing an understanding of what kind of stories are around you. First, however, let’s get a little nerdy.

Every story can be broken down into specific anatomy.  There are five points that every interesting, enthralling story gets right: the setting, the pain point, the quest, the crisis and the new normal. They all work around the story’s characters to advance the narrative structure and develop a plot.


Setting, in this sense, doesn’t have anything to do with where the story takes place. It means the status quo. Everything that comprises the beginning of the story: where it takes place, who is there, and what conditions are creating their universe. This works applicably for orphan boys on far-away alien worlds and accountants in high-rises downtown.

Pain Point

Change is inspired by something happening to disrupt the setting. Someone dies, moves away or is revealed to different than we were led to believe (“you’re a wizard, Harry”). An opportunity arises. Something or someone serves as an instigator; this forces the status quo to become untenable or unattractive.

The Quest

The plot of a story unfolds when the protagonist accepts the challenge offered by the pain point. They embark on a journey to transform themselves (sometimes as literally as Rocky running the streets of Philadelphia). This is sometimes the toughest part of the story to tell, because often you are telling the process of repeated failures, difficulties and setbacks.

The Crisis

The protagonist comes to a critical point where a decision or change needs to be made. He confronts the antagonist, conquers a major obstacle or otherwise comes to a point of decision.

The New Normal

All of the lessons learned over the course of the story are incorporated into the new situation. The protagonist adjusts to his new status and absorbs the lessons of the story.

What does this breakdown of story tell us? Stories are about conflict and change. This can be no big deal to address in a fairy tale, but when using storytelling in business, it means that great stories come about when you’re overcoming challenges and defeating obstacles. This is true of personal stories as well. Your growth came from your own quests and crises; passing on lessons to the next generation means engaging with these moments.

When you’re striking out to tell your story, go back to those moments of conflict and change. They will propel your storytelling. Marketing, for a long time, has been about hiding what you feel vulnerable about, and it’s made everyone experts at detecting subterfuge. To get people’s attention, you have to be authentic. You have to be unique. Compelling story is the best way to do that.

Interested in hearing more about how we help clients use their personal or company story to deepen their relationships with the audiences that matter most? Don’t be shy! Email us at or give us a call at 604.261.1858.