Storytelling: Using Story to Influence and Connect

Lesson 9/10 - Storybuilding: Creating Tension


Storytelling: Using Story to Influence and Connect


Lesson Info

Storybuilding: Creating Tension

Happy is boring, include tension. This is one of the areas that is difficult for clients to accept. That not everything in the lives of our audience are honky-dorey. That having this particular product doesn't make everything better. And that's usually a very difficult stand for us to take. Most marketers are simply unwilling to show any tension in the context of their marketing. They don't wanna even infer that this emotion exists around my product. And unfortunately that's where, from a manipulation standpoint, that's where we get in trouble. If we say, "If you have this your life is great." That's never the case, right? Tension has to exist. Any great story has tension. Imagine a romantic comedy, you go to see a romantic comedy, and a boy and a girl are married, and they have a wonderful life, the end. It's just a terrible movie. Like there's nothing going on in that movie. All you see of them is happy all the time? One, that doesn't feel real, because you know that's not the case, ...

but two, there was nothing that happened. Nothing occurred. An inciting incident in the context of any story means that something happened, there was a push of some form, right? That something occurred that wasn't always good, but that doesn't mean that it can't lead to something good. Now the example I give from film world is Star Wars. In Star Wars New Hope, you know, number four, but number one, if we go back to the numbers right? Star Wars New Hope, right? What's the inciting incident in the original Star Wars? The inciting incident that pushes the story forward? The inciting incident in Star Wars is when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru die. If they don't die, Luke never leaves. Remember, he's attached to this life, he wants something greater for himself, he knows that there's this calling to be a Jedi, but he'll never act upon it, because he has responsibilities at home. And he'll stay right there. Well the Empire is looking for the droids, and they come by and they kill Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, the only thing that's keeping him from getting what he wants, from pursuing the life that he knows to be. So if that bad thing doesn't happen, Darth Vader's still in charge. That's bad, right? So we need that, we needed that bad thing to happen, that's the tension that exists, that sets the movie into motion. Every one of us in the context of the lives of our audience members, there is tension that exists there. For me, the natural tension that exists within the context of the structure of story is in the world that is. If the world that is is a great world, and then you put my product in it, and nothing changes, why should I buy that product or service? My world's already great, why should I spend the money? I wanna spend the money filling holes, I don't wanna spend the money just continuing on, right? So from a tension standpoint, the natural place for us to include tension is the world that is. There's your natural tension. It doesn't have to talk about the product and what it doesn't do, we don't have to ever lift up the product and say, "This is what it doesn't do, don't worry about that." All we have to do is show the natural tension that exists within the context of life. Because life has tension in it. But for us to ignore tension, is for us to manipulate. That's where we start to get into that weird line of making the implication that our product just makes everything great, which isn't always the case. Let me give you an example of how tension plays out. John Lewis is a British toy company, British toy retailer. Now they put out a Christmas ad every year where they do something, a really wonderful story. In this particular instance, we saw our five-part structure play out, didn't we? We saw the exposition of a boy in a relationship with a penguin he has as a friend. We know that and we're like, "Okay, clearly this isn't real," we know that's most likely not real, right? So it's that exposition. We see our inciting incident. Our inciting incident is when the penguin first sees two people together, and he's like, "Aw, I want something more," right? And that starts driving the story forward. And the boy starts to notice it as well. And we see that rising action of the boy noticing these moments where his friend wants something more and he wants to give it to him. Then we see the climax of what he does about that. And then the resolution, which is really where the turn exists, where all this was in his imagination, and it's the beauty of toys that toys allow us to play out stories in our imagination, which is all daydreaming or imagination really is. You ever watch your kids play? They're enacting stories. There just dropping themselves into the middle of stories because it's innate to them, it's what they do. And so we see it play out here. And from a tension standpoint, we saw that tension. Everything wasn't great. That the penguin wanted something, and we saw the little boy was like, "How come we don't have the same relationship we had before?" And he has to be a little bit selfless in that moment, right? We see the tension that exists there. And then we can see it rise from that tension. There has to be that up and down, without the up and down, you really get no true, honest story. In the context of the way that we work from our brands, we have to know what that authentic up and down is. It doesn't mean we have to go all the way into the pits of despair and then arise from the ashes. But we do have to have some up and down. Without a little bit of tension, we have nothing to overcome. We can't show the true human result, the true human benefit of our product, if we never show what it helps to overcome, in the context of life, in the context of a problem that it solves, we have to have both of those things. So when we're developing our stories, recognize what the natural tension is. And if you're struggling to find it, always look at the world that is. What's the world like without this product or service? What's it like at it's worst form? You can always find natural tension there. But if you spend enough time with you audience, you'll see the things that they struggle with. That's why I'll always break down audiences into loves and fears, not as consumers, but as humans, as people. What do they fear? And then how does my product help to alleviate that? There's natural tension that exists within that as well. And again, depending on how comfortable your client is in playing in that world, sometimes you can only dip a little bit. I can show a little bit of tension, but I can't have too much. And that's okay, as long as there's an effort to include tension and sell the product or service, a story is overcoming something. Make sense? Questions? About tension? Any come up? Yeah something from over here. Is it difficult walking the line between creating true tension and sort of awkwardness. Oh sure, depending on the product or service, absolutely. There's, it is definitely a line that you walk. And it's not something that I could give you a process with which to overcome, that's something that happens with experience. To know, "Okay with this particular product or service where does the tension exist?" The tension in that particular story was really light, it was very subtle, and it was part of its charm. And the nature of the way that story played out. Sometimes the tension is really obvious. And for certain products or services, it's a little awkward to show what that natural tension is. Ultimately, you can get all the way down to the weeds from a practical standpoint of what the actual tension is with this product or service, or you can get into life analogies. What's the analogy of that tension that I can play in? If it's too awkward to play here, I'll play in this analogy instead, and then transfer it back over at the end, when you start going, "Oh that was a product, "or that was an ad about blank, okay, I see." And now I'm making the connection. If it's too weird in that place to show that tension, you can always build up your analogies and use the analogies to drive the story forward.

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.


Mary Rainwater

Outstanding class. Stephan Mumaw is a wonderful presenter with a wealth of knowledge. He delivers a ton of information in an organized and fun way! As a fiction writer,I was unsure if this course would be all that helpful. However, once I realized that the "product" I was selling was the "theme" (the unspoken moral throughline) of my story everything clicked into place! I highly recommend this course to all writers who wish to better "sell" their own "product".


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.