Defining Story Structure and Emotion


Storytelling: Using Story to Influence and Connect


Lesson Info

Defining Story Structure and Emotion

We showed some examples of what story is in the marketing, advertising, and design world. Now, let's start breaking down what story means. What are the components of story. Story has a very simple structure, as you'll see. Story really is just emotion plus structure. That's all story really is. There is a structure to story. Really great stories have that structure innate to them. The way that we understand story is innate as well. It's all sort of hardwired into us. That's why when bits and pieces of a story are missing, we can identify it when they're missing. Something doesn't feel right. If you've ever had that feeling when someone was telling us a story, "something doesn't feel right," it's because part of the story is missing. There's context that you don't have and you can't quite put your finger on it. But when you know it, when you understand that story structure, and you understand how stories are built, it's really easy to go, "this is the part that's missing." It's also eas...

ier for us as the creators of story, to be able to go, "okay in this five part story structure, am I hitting all of these." I'm going to be giving you a five part story structure. Now, they are very complex story structures out there. If you want to dive into it deeper there are... For instance, one of my favorite resources is Robert McKee's book Story. It's an incredibly thick volume. He goes through it from a screenwriting standpoint. He's a screenwriting coach. It's brilliant, but it is in-depth about what that story structure is. The smallest you can get a story down is to a three part structure. I'm going to show you a five part structure that I believe is the most inclusive once we get to the structure part. What we're going to start with, is we're going to start with emotion. As story builders, as story creators, one of the things that we want most out of stories is our ability to, as we feel like, insert story into something. But the really great stories don't insert emotion into anything. They simply pull it from the audience because they know it's already there. It's the difference between manipulation and empathy, which we're going to get to in a little bit. But understanding the nature of emotion and what's authentic to our audience. What's real and unique to our audience is the key to us developing stories worth sharing. Let me give you and example. Did you notice they didn't talk about the features or the benefits of the product? They didn't talk about what the product does that's any different than what any other product does. They didn't talk about any of the things that makes it different than any of its competitors. Instead, they focused on who would use it. They didn't even tell you what they were using. They just used the product. As a father, I watch that spot and I break down every time. And my thought is just cuz they know exactly who I am. And if you're a father, that's the exact same thing, right? They know how I feel. I found there was a bunch of interesting things out of that story. Did you notice how the music built? That they are using more than just one level of communication. That they understand the nature and the power music has, that sound has in the context of how to communicate story. Did you also notice that they didn't just talk about the good things. There was some tension in there, wasn't there? There was a time when she was in the hospital. Those were included because without that tension, it feels like you're selling me something. Because that's not what real life is. Real life isn't always just everything's great, and then that's it. Real life is these ups and downs. There's truth to that aspect, that a great story isn't just what's fantastic about something. It's the ups and downs. That without showing this type of a story, we don't get interested. There's something that has to be overcome in the context of story. You've noticed that the stories we've seen in each of these cases, there's something to overcome in each case. It's really about overcoming, isn't it? It's not about the features and benefits and coming up with flowery adjectives with which to describe them. It's about overcoming something and we're beginning to see that as a consistent theme to the context of our stories. That's probably what gives it its authenticity, is if we see that bad stuff too, not just the good stuff. It's one of the hardest things for us as communicators to be able to sell to our clients. That this isn't just about all of your features and benefits and and finding a great way to show it. It's about what those features and benefits mean, and the context of what they solve, what they overcome for somebody else in a very human way. So we're beginning to see emotion play a huge role in the way that we communicate. It's one of the advantages of story. It's impossible for us to ignore emotion, so we might as well dive head first right on into it. There are six primary emotions. We can thank Inside Out and Pixar again for giving us five of the six, right? There are six primary emotions. Now you can look up different sociologists and psychologists who will have a variety of different opinions as to whether or not there are six, there are ten, there are four, there are five. I tend to sit on these six. I tend to sit on these six because I'm going to get into secondary emotions that go with these. But these six seem incredibly human. As marketers, as we begin to evaluate these emotions, these are the six that have the greatest power from a primary standpoint. We have love. We have joy. We have surprise. We have anger. We have sadness. And we have fear. This is our palette as story builders. This is what we have to use to be able to paint. Now these are pretty broad emotions, aren't they? The idea of, for instance, joy. Joy has all kinds of different variations to that, doesn't it? And you'd be right, it does. There are six primary emotions, but there are 24 secondary emotions. Under love, we have affection. We have lust. We have longing. Those are all variations of the idea of love. Under joy, we have cheerfulness. We have zest. We have contentment, pride, optimism, enthrallment, and relief. These are all authentic as well. Under surprise, we also have amazement. Something that' not so much as jarring as something that is encompassing. Under anger, we have varying degrees of anger. We have irritation, exasperation, rage, disgust, envy, and torment. Under sadness we have suffering, disappointment, shame, neglect, and sympathy. Under fear, we have horror. Then we have nervousness. I love that nervousness is under fear, a state with which many of us live in a perpetual way. And yet, it's under fear because they're exactly right, that nervousness is usually because we're afraid of something. And it's usually something that's long-standing, right. And we're nervous about it. I don't get nervous when I present anymore, but a lot of people get nervous when they present. And it's something that they're like, "Oh my gosh, I have to do it." And they do it for days and days and their nervous about it. That's the nature of fear and that's something that we can understand. The beauty of this is that each one of these things are happening within the context of our audience at different times in their lives. The question becomes, at that stage, where does our brand fit in and the ability to either promote it or alleviate it. That's our job as communicators. It's not that we insert any of these into it. It's that we understand our audience so well that we can pull out the ones that we need in the moments that we need them. That's how we can be the most authentic. Now, in these six primary and 24 secondary emotions, there are some nuances that exist within the context of emotion. Some things that happen to us from a human standpoint that we haven't really been able to put our finger on but are in fact unique. As we've seen from a cultural standpoint, different countries are really good at identifying very specific things that are unique to their culture. I'm gonna to give you 10 examples of emotions that are from other cultures that they've put their finger on and in each instance, some of you are going to go, "Yup, that's me, right there, I can definitely relate to that one." The ability for me to pronounce them might be a little bit different, but let's give it a shot. Awumbuk. It's from Papua New Guinea. The feeling of emptiness after visitors leave your house. Do you ever experience that? There's all this chaos for good or for bad. Then they leave and you're like, "huh" It's just king of this void that's left like the air has been pulled out, right? L'Appel Du Vide (French) How bout that? French. The inexplicable feeling to jump off a bridge or drive off a cliff, a high-place phenomenon, or the call of void. This is a really inexplicable one. If you ever stood on the edge of a cliff and just for a second went, "I wonder what would happen if I jumped?" Just for a moment, you're not suicidal, but just for second, you have just that thought. What an odd thought for us to have, but they call it the call of the void. And it's really interesting that dark alley, you're like, "Maybe I want to go down it. No I don't want to go down there." and then you change your mind. That's that feeling, right? Brabant. This is actually from Douglas Adams. The author Douglas Adams. The fun of pushing someon'e buttons to see just how far you can go before they snap. We've all had that either happen to us or we've done it. Where you just keep poking them and you're like, "I don't know why I'm poking you. I just wanted to see how far I can go before you freak out." That's a weird and odd emotion that happens, right? Amae. It's Japanese. Taking another person's love for granted, leaning on another's goodwill, or acting like a spoiled child. We've all had people who have just kept coming to you for the thing you keep giving to them and you're like, "I don't know what's driving you to do so." It's an emotion that the Japanese have called for. Depaysement. It's French. The aware, confused feeling of being an outsider in a physical place or foreign land. If you've every traveled to Europe or to a place you've never been, there's this odd thing that happens when you're looking around and you're recognizing nothings in your language, that no one's speaking your language. It's almost a giddiness. It's not fear. It's just this odd feeling of going, "I know I'm going to be okay, but this is just so weird." It's the way I thought I was going to feel when visiting Paris for the first time. Until you realize that almost all of the signage and everything to get around also includes English. And then it's, huh, I guess I don't have to, it's all sitting right there. Ilinx. It's French. The strange excitement of wanton destruction. If you've ever seen someone who's stacked up something and your like, "I just want to push it over." My daughter does it all the time when we're sitting at a restaurant. She'll build these little towers out of the sugar packets and every time I bump the table. I don't know why I bump the table, I just want to see them fall and the look in her face, "Why did you do that!" There's just this strange excitement. I also find it interesting, by the way, that the French are the ones that are identifying the majority of these. There's just people who are more in touch with their emotions than others. Boy, this is a tough one to pronounce. Kaukokaipuu. It's Finnish. I thought for sure it would be Hawaiian. The feeling of homesickness for a place you've never visited. I don't know if you've ever felt, like, "I've never been there, but I feel like I should be there. I feel like I should exist in that space." And it's a real feeling. It's a very very unique feeling. Malu, it's Indonesian. The sudden experience of feeling constricted, inferior, and awkward around people of higher status. If you've ever been caught in an elevator with your boss and you get tongue tied in that moment and you have no idea why, this is the emotion that's causing it. It's that moment that happens. Pronoia. This is British. It's the opposite of paranoia, by the way. Of course it's British. The strange creeping feeling that everyone's out to help you. Not that everyone's out to hurt you, but that everyone's out to help you. If you've ever had that feeling, "Why is everyone being so helpful to me?" And you have that strange feeling, like they're in cahoots about something. They've had a conversation that I wasn't a part of and I don't like it. Even though they are all helping me in this particular moment, I don't like it. There are others that are a little bit more poignant, as well. Boy, this is another one that's tough to pronounce. Torschlusspanik. German. The fretful sensation of time running out. If you've ever felt like you're about to be late to something and you can just see the clock ticking and you can feel that happening. With our line producer here, the clock starts to click and she's like, "There's only 30 seconds." You can feel that happening right? And you can almost have that internal clock that's ticking down that's happening with that. These are examples of really minute emotions that fall outside, obviously, of our six primary and our 24 secondary emotions. Recognizing the idea of emotion is a very complex issue and from a marketing standpoint, advertising and marketing has gotten a bad rap. In most cases, it's because of the idea of emotion. That we are trying to enact a behavior that you don't want to partake in or the customer does not want to partake in. We're trying to get you to buy a product or participate in a service that you don't want to do. In that way, that's when manipulation comes in, right? We never feel manipulated when we are given the opportunity to get something at the exact moment that we want it, for the exact price or time that we need it. No one ever feels like we're manipulated in that moment. When somebody hands us a coupon for the thing that we walk into the store to buy, no one ever hands it back and says, "How dare you try to force me to buy this." In that moment, we're like, "This is awesome. This is exactly what I wanted in the moment that I wanted it." Why can't our marketing be that way? Why can't the things that we produce, actually since we understand the audience so well, be able to produce that same feeling of "This is awesome, this is exactly what I needed in this moment." They don't see that as marketing. We, as consumers, don't see that as marketing. We see that as value. From and emotional standpoint, the difference between manipulation and empathy is the difference between inserting emotion versus understanding and pulling out emotion. Empathy is simply us understanding the emotions of others. And in most cases, it's understanding emotions of others, emotions that we don't share in any particular moment. That we don't share that emotion, but we understand it. We comprehend what that is. The difference between manipulation and empathy is our ability to understand what emotions people already have and then how does our product, our service, the thing that we're working on fit into those emotions. How do we alleviate the fear that they are already experiencing. How do we accelerate the joy that they already have. Not, how do we give them joy, or how do we make them fearful. It's how do we pull out what already exists. It's a very fine line between doing so. It means that we, as the communicators, we, as the developers, we have to understand who our audiences are. We have to actually know them from a human standpoint. That's where empathy comes from. In my opinion, you can not build effective stories if you are not empathetic. You can't do so emotion-less. You have to understand who's going to take in that story and what they are feeling in any particular moment. All of us have been in a movie that's gotten to us, for whatever reason. Whether it was a rom-com, whether it was a drama, whatever it was, it got to us, in that moment. We cried through the movie. Why do we cry during movies? We don't cry because we are genuinely sad for that actor in that moment. We cry because we feel something within the context of an experience we have that it touched us and is related to us from an experience that we've had. That's empathy. That's us understanding who our audiences are and what they feel in any particular moment and then how our brands can serve that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with our brands serving those moments. It's not manipulative. If you need a tissue, if you're crying and you need a tissue, no one looks at the box of kleenex and says I can't believe you just gave me kleenex, I would prefer this other brand. I can't believe you did that... No, they're looking at it as a value. When marketing can turn the corner between manipulation, between branding and value, between advertising and value, that's when you know story is connected and that's our job. And it seems complex and it seems hard. And you'd be right, it isn't the easiest thing in the world, but once you understand the structure it's a lot easier for us to develop those and we're going to take a look at those structures. In the stories that we develop, this is what I call a story pyramid. Every story, everything that we make is designed for that bottom layer. In most cases the things that we create are either designed for art or information. That's their point. It's there to communicate information or simply to create art. In almost everything, every act of creation is to do so. It's for art or information. We, as creatives, we have a desire for the things that we create to enact a certain emotion and that's where that layer comes up. And we say to ourselves, Well, if I can insert a little bit of emotion into this, I'm done. I now have communicated this information and I've done so in a way that makes somebody feel something. So there's the top of my pyramid. But that's not the top of the pyramid. There are other goals that exist beyond that. We can go one step above emotion to the idea of change. When we can show the change that happens through the use of this product or service, we're not only inserting emotion, but we're doing so in a personal way because we're showing how you would be better or different through the use of this. And showing change is the hallmark of any story. If you go to the movies, inherently you will see change happen through your characters in some way. They think something at the beginning of the movie, have some experience, and think something at the end of the movie. You're seeing change happen and there's no reason why we can't enact the exact same thing in the context of who our audiences are. Even change isn't the top of that. Empathy becomes the top of that pyramid. It's our ability to see change in ways that maybe even we don't experience because we understand our audiences so very well. I was saying that demographics aren't enough. We live in a world with which we are given personas that are based on those demographics and we plug people in based on ages and we plug people based on corporate or collective belonging, that they all behave in this way. Which is never the case, they don't all behave in this way, but because we can't create individual marketing for every single person, we need large buckets with which to work. But the persona in the context of story isn't quite enough. We have to understand what drives those behaviors for us to understand how we can be empathetic to their cause. How we can understand those environments. What we're seeing in our culture currently is sort of this divisiveness. Now, it's happened from a political standpoint or at least it's been illuminated from a political standpoint, where we can see this divisiveness that's happening, but that divisiveness has always been there. There have always been sides in our society. Our ability to look on the other side and go, I don't agree with it, but I understand it, and here's how I can serve it. It's the hallmark of any great storyteller, the ability to tell stories that are beyond our comprehension or the things that we believe. That becomes something that as we grow a story, developers or story tellers and story builders that we can look to do. Can I create stories for the very people that I don't get, I don't understand. But can I recognize what are the beats for them and then be able to create a story for that? So, from a story standpoint, that gives us that sort of goal with which we are moving emotionally. Any questions? I know I through a bunch at you from an emotion standpoint. Are there any questions that have come up? Yeah. You mentioned the the difficult part about storytelling is selling it to your clients. Yeah And I find in corporate world where revenue is kind of the hallmark of marketing goals, how do you convince the value of the story and that brand emotion that motivates the customers? I almost always turn to personal behavior. That the person who's in charge is who's the keeper of that budget. There are things that move that person, too. And if you can figure out who the audience is in the context of the person that your selling your story to. There are ways for you to form that story. To spin that story. So you can show them their own behavior in the context of the way that they buy. Behavior is something that you can't, you can justify your behavior, but in most cases it's unique to you. So, if I can take a story and say, "I understand your audience so well that this is a story I want to tell and it's going to cost this much money and there's a certain investment that has to come with that story. What I'll do is I'll show them their own behavior in something that they partake in. It doesn't even have to do with this aspect of the story, but to show them the difference between this and this, and this and this, and you see which line have you gotten to, that then has enacted your behavior. That's the same tasks that we're moving through here. So, if you understand what the ultimate goal is in the context of your story, not just to create a story that somebody likes, but there's a goal behind story. We looked at that Christmas day truce, there's a goal behind that story. Finsbury spent a lot of money. That was like Hollywood level short film type of stuff. They spent a gazillion dollars making that. The goal of that wasn't just to put out art. The goal of that was to sell chocolate. And we know that at the end of it. And it's okay that that's their goal. This idea that commerce is somehow evil. Commerce is not evil. Commerce is awesome. If we can show people that this brand believes in this thing, you're going to go out and buy chocolate anyway. Buy ours, because it connects to you. In order to sell that, if you were given a budget that was a little bit less than what it would take to build that and that's the idea that we had. I would show what their behavior would look like in something else, something that's personally unique to them so they could see the line that needs to be crossed in order for this to happen. So, it's really just making it personal to people you sell with. The idea of selling in general is all about making it personal. Mmhmmm Question from the internet Stefan. From the internet! Robin B. would like to know can you give suggestions for accessing empathy when you're working with a product you struggle to relate to. Empathy is human. Products are not. Empathy is human. The goal isn't to relate to the product. The goal is to relate to the people. The product may be something that you don't partake in or you don't participate in, but you have sat next to the people who do. In many aspects of your life, there are areas with which you find common ground. Things that you do believe in. It may not be in the way that they express it, but it may be in the belief behind it. So the goal would be to find common ground between those people. Take a look at who that audience is, what their behaviors are, then come up to the idea of why are their behaviors in that way. Why they behaving that way? The why question is usually something you can relate to. For instance, if there is a product and a product line that I don't partake in. Say, for instance, we're dealing with something like women's clothes. I'm obviously am a big dude. I'm probably not buying a whole lot of women's clothes. So if I have to create stories that are around women's clothes, I have to find what it is why women would buy certain clothes. The why they would buy certain clothes, in most cases, will be the same reason why I do. If I come high enough in the ladder, I can find those common points. That's the areas with which I connect to. So it's less in the weeds about the parts and services of the product, it's more about the people who engage in that product and then what common ground can I find between me and them to be able to build a story that matters. What else? From Jay Grady. Are manipulation and empathy reliant upon the intelligence level of your audience? No, because empathy is about feel, it's not about understanding. It's not about intelligence. All humans feel. We have certain emotions that are innate to us. Those six primary emotions exist regardless of whether or not you're a Rhodes Scholar or not. Those six emotions are unique to each one of us but they're universal in the way that they partake in us. Us understanding the behavior of people even if they're outside of our particular group or the way that we behave is more to do with how people feel than how people think. This gets into the rationale versus emotional argument of the way that we buy. It's interesting that our behavior in the way that we buy is different than our behavior in the way that we sell. We sell on ration. We hold our products and we talk about their features and benefits in a very rational way. To say, of course you want this product. Look at how great it is. Look what it does. Look at all these things. Comparatively, it's fantastic. It's the best in the competition. We hold up those rational things. But that's not how we buy. We don't buy on ration. We buy on emotion. The rational argument is our backup. It's the thing that we turn to. Very few of us, some of us, but very few of us buy a car we hate. Regardless of how practical it may be. If it's ugly, we won't buy it. If it's a color that we can't stand, if it's a shape that we don't like, it's very difficult, regardless of how practical that car may be for us to purchase it. We buy on emotion and we back it up with rational purchase drivers. Even though the way that we sell is the exact opposite. We turn to our rational purchase driver because it's easier for us to make a comparative. There is no question, this is better than this. This is cheaper than this. So why wouldn't you buy it? But all of us have bought products that are more expensive than their competitors, haven't we? Well, that doesn't make any sense. From a rational standpoint, you should buy the cheapest product. The one that's the most available. But that's not the way that we buy. We buy on emotion and we back it up with ration. But that's not the way that we sell. So, to answer your question, this has more to do with feel. The way that somebody feels about something, than it does the way that somebody thinks about something. Intelligence is far less important as.. The mind is less important than the heart when we're talking about purchasing. Awesome. Thank you very much. And one more from the internet. Yup. When tapping the basic emotions, is there a risk of being banal? I suppose that there is. But that's if we're taking it from a selfish standpoint. If we take it from the audience's perspective and the way that they think, there are unique instances with which each of those emotions are displayed or are enacted. There are ways with which each audience interacts with the idea of love. For instance, we saw that Dear Sophie ad from Google. If I asked you, what was that an ad about? What was that a story about? If you had to pick one of the six that existed there, you'd probably say love, right? I think joy would probably be second. You saw some moments of joy, but that wasn't really what the ad was about, that this product will enhance joy. This was about love. So, in that way it's a pretty broad aspect, right? It's pretty large massive thing where love is a big topic. But in this instance when you're dealing with the idea of a father, it starts getting smaller and smaller and as a father, I take this idea of love and I make it very personal to my relationship with my daughter. In that way, because of the nature of implication, I think that's what keeps things from feeling banal. It's that the individual begins to apply what they are seeing to their own life and the examples and the emotions that are stirred, the examples become incredibly specific because I'm not thinking of his daughter, I'm thinking of mine even though it's about his. The personal nature of which I think makes it far more poignant.

Class Description

We are all storytellers. Few of us are storybuilders, capable of not only understanding the structure of story but able to use it to connect to the people that consume it. Story has a form, one that Stefan Mumaw, the Director of Creative Strategy at the well-known story shop Hint, is going to break down for you. He’ll lay out the structure of story and use real-world examples to show how each story component is used to build an emotional bridge. Bring a few tissues, story has a knack for producing both tears of laughter and empathy and Stefan will use both to show just how powerful story can be.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • How to create emotion
  • Story structure
  • Character development. Associating characters of a brand with characters
  • Rational and emotional purchase drivers

Stefan reminds us that target audiences are made up of individuals, and for the message to be effectively received, it needs to be couched in a story that speaks to what motivates people, thus awakening a response.



GREAT CLASS!! Loved the content. Engaging speaker and wonderful examples shared. Took a lot from this class that I will bring back to my daily creative work!


Stefan was an amazing speaker... He provided great detail in explaining the structure of a story, and his example/videos really drove home the points he was making... He had wonderful real-world professional experiences to share.


Stefan's a truly compelling speaker. I listened to the free online version of the course a couple of times (with some breaks when I had to leave). It's a good commentary on storytelling principles and what makes a good story. His examples come from big brand packaged goods (such as beer), which are sold more on emotion. They're a good way to see story structure and his video examples are entertaining and spot on.