The 7 Essential Elements of Compelling Storytelling

compelling storytelling

There are seven basic elements of compelling storytelling that you should use when crafting a narrative. Using the classic fairy tale, “Cinderella” as an example, we explore each element and the role it plays in building an effective story.

– Part 2 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Now that we’ve talked about why storytelling is important in our everyday lives, let’s take a look at the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  A story by definition is a narration of a series of events told with a specific purpose in mind.  The purpose could be to interest, amuse, engage, instruct, or to convince.  How you build that narrative and what you include will determine how effective your story will be at accomplishing its purpose.

The elements of effective storytelling can be broken down in numerous ways.  Copyblogger, for example, breaks the building of a compelling marketing story into three simple parts – the hero, the helper, and “the gap.”  Any good writer will tell you that there are countless facets and angles from which to work a story as you craft it into an enthralling narrative.  Every storyteller’s toolbox is different, but these seven basic elements are always present in truly compelling storytelling.

Using one of the most well-known fairy tales of all time, “Cinderella,” let’s investigate each element and see how they function to support this timeless tale. 

1.  Set the Scene 

Establishing the characters and context by describing the scene of your story is the first action you should take to establish your narrative.  By describing the situation, you build the solid ground upon which your story will stand.

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl with her doting father.  One day, her father brings home a new bride and her two daughters to join their family.  The new stepmother spoils her own children and treats the girl somewhat poorly…

 We first set the scene with characters and context, answering the question, where am I in the story?

Imagine if you began telling Cinderella’s story without context.  Jumping in with a mean stepmother who won’t allow Cinderella to go to the ball robs your audience of the experience of losing themselves in your story.

2.  Use Descriptions to Build an Emotional Connection

You don’t need to be a poet to highlight the essential details in your story.  Simple descriptors can do wonders for building that crucial emotional connection between your audience and your narrative.

…Then one day tragedy strikes.  The girl’s loving father suffers a fall from his horse and dies, leaving his devastated daughter in the hands of her stepfamily.  The stepmother becomes very cruel, forcing the girl to labor as a servant in her family home for years…

Not to be overused, planting small details into the story can help paint a picture for your audience and draw on their emotions.  She doesn’t just lose her father, but her loving father.  The stepmother isn’t just making the girl work, she’s being especially cruel about it.

3.   Tell Me Who this Story is About

A story is nothing without central characters.  Compelling storytelling is built on the conflict happening between the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s).  You have to tell your audience who they are.

…While her stepsisters are treated like princesses, the girl toils away doing all the household chores at the command of her evil stepmother.  When a royal ball is announced, all eligible young ladies are invited to attend to meet the Prince…

Now we know all the characters central to the main plot, and we know how we are supposed to feel about them.  Your story might only have one character, your customer for example, but that’s ok.  As long as we know who they are and that they are important, you’ve included this basic element.

4.    Establish Conflict for Your Characters

Conflict drives your story forward.  It is the momentum behind your characters’ actions, the reason you’re telling a story in the first place.  There has to be a problem to solve, an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to meet.

…the girl dreams of going to the ball, but her stepmother gives her extra work to do, taking up all her time to prepare.  By evening, the stepsisters leave for the party without her, as she had nothing to wear and no time to get ready for the lavish event…

Will Cinderella make it to the ball?  Even if you didn’t already know the story, you would suspect that she will.  Why?  Because the story would be pointless otherwise.

Overcoming conflict is the whole point.

5.  Evolve Your Characters

Just like in the Copyblogger example above, every story has “the gap” or the evolution of the characters as they move through the narrative and towards reaching their goals.

…In misery, the girl begins to cry as she watches her stepfamily leave for the ball without her.  But as her tears fall, a bright light appears and her fairy godmother stands before her.  After a pep talk, a song, and a magic spell, the girl gains her confidence back.  With her magic dress, pumpkin carriage, and horsemen mice, she leaves for the ball…

Maybe your characters aren’t likely to rely on a fairy godmother and magic to get them over the hump and off to the ball, but something has to change in order for them to overcome the conflict in your story.  It usually won’t be as easy as it was for Cinderella, but your character’s transformation is essential to the moral of your story.

What did your hero learn that gave them the strength to fight that proverbial dragon?  How will they proceed in the future now that they’ve learned this lesson?

6.  Give Your Audience a Resolution

The final point of your story ties everything together.  The resolution to the conflict, how the characters solved the problem at hand, is a basic component of compelling storytelling.  Your resolution is the main action of your story.  How did your hero slay the dragon?

…At the ball, the girl becomes the center of attention.  No one knows who she is, but she catches the Prince’s eye and he dances with her all night.  They fall in love, but, as the clock strikes midnight, the fairy godmother’s magic begins to wear off.  The girl must flee, leaving behind a glass slipper.  The Prince uses the glass slipper to search the kingdom for the girl to whom it belongs.  When he arrives at the girl’s home, her stepmother locks her away so the Prince will not see her.  The determined girl escapes and proves to the Prince that the glass slipper belongs to her.  They marry and live happily ever after.

 A combination of luck and willpower help Cinderella overcome her final conflict, and the audience gets the happy ending they’ve been hoping for.

7.  Reveal Your Story’s Relevance

We all know that person, a friend or a coworker maybe, who will jump into a conversation with a story of their own.  But by the time they’ve finished telling it, you have absolutely no idea what their story had to do with the topic at hand.  Don’t be that person.  Tie the meaning of your story back to its purpose; make it relevant to your audience.

The tale of “Cinderella” demonstrates all of the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  When you find yourself telling a story, think back to this example and you’re sure to remember everything you need to craft a compelling story.

Like what you read?  Please help spread the word of The Sales Storyteller by sharing this post using the below links and follow my blog for notifications of new updates via email.  Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: MorgueFile

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3 comments on “The 7 Essential Elements of Compelling Storytelling

  1. Steffany says:

    Absolutely love reading your work!

  2. […] gone over the elements of compelling storytelling, now let’s try these five simple exercises that you can incorporate into your everyday life that […]

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