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Star Wars is just one of those perfect examples of classic storytelling.

by Jerry Silfwer // Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Spin Doctor & Copywriter // Spin Factory

A while back, I took a stab at outlining the storytelling elements.

But I also wanted to apply these classical elements to an actual story, to see how they would work. The choice of a great story was a no-brainer:

Star Wars.

I was born in 1979, so Star Wars was an important part of my upbringing. Younger readers might apply these elements to Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter or, I don’t know — The Twilight Saga? 

Here goes:

Storytelling For Jedi Masters

Storytelling for Jedi Masters.

“Who’s your daddy?”

Here’s how I structured the storytelling elements to make them usable:

1. The Contract

Right at the beginning of the first real Star Wars movie, you get to see Star Destroyers in space shooting lasers and Darth Vader taking Princess Leia hostage while they literally negotiate the whole dramatic setup before Leia’s taken to her cell.

If it’s a story about space fighting, you need to show some space fighting up-front, directly in the beginning. Otherwise, the audience will feel surprised (not in a good way) or even cheated.

2. The Pull

The Empire uses a tractor beam, but we’re drawn into the story by two droids, R2-D2, and C3PO. R2-D2 knows something, but can only beep and blip, so C3PO has to ask lots of questions and repeat the answers to pull the viewer into the story.

It’s important to give the audience enough information early on, otherwise, they won’t have a chance to know what’s going on. In this case, the C2PO character doubles as the comic relief, and it’s quite common to use these types of characters to pull people into the story.

3. The Incident

After having a fight with his alleged parents, Luke Skywalker runs away from home and gets attacked by Sand People, however, is then saved by his mysterious uncle, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The incident must be intriguing, yet believable.

4. The Reveal

R2-D2 shows his message from Princess Leia, thus opening up a whole new world for Luke Skywalker and then Obi-Wan Kenobi explains about the Jedi.

The revelation is special because the audience already knows the secret. They must anticipate the revelation and welcome it when it finally arrives.

5. Point of No Return

Luke Skywalker then realizes his life will never be the same as he rushes home to find his family butchered. He decides to follow Obi-Wan Kenobi and the droids on their adventure to save Princess Leia.

The Incident, The Reveal, and the Point of No Return are often quite close to each other in most narratives and they might even be bundled together in the same scene or sequence. Together, they lead up to this:

The audience must want Luke to go off on this adventure before he himself decides to go. This buy-in from the audience is absolutely crucial.

6. Anti-Climax

Luke Skywalker, together with new companions Han Solo and Chewbacca, manages to save Princess Leia, but at the same time, Obi-Wan Kenobi is struck down by Darth Vader.

To develop the character arcs, there must be a series of struggles, and what better way to demonstrate this by allowing the main characters to experience a false win?

7. All is Lost

As the rebels mobilize to strike against the Death Star, they suffer heavy losses against a superior military force. The all-is-lost moment is condensed into Admiral Ackbar’s immortal line, “It’s a trap!”

The purpose is to get the audience to truly believe that there’s absolutely no hope of success. They must feel true despair on behalf of the characters.

8. News of Hope

With Darth Vader himself in a Tie-fighter and Luke Skywalker as one of the few surviving pilots in his and R2-D2’s X-Wing, Luke gets surprising help from Han Solo, returns with the might of the Millennium Falcon.

In the darkest hour, you want the audience to experience that exhilarating notion of hope, like a ray of sunlight through complete darkness. This passage is often about friendship because we need our friends to accomplish the impossible.

9. The Climax

Luke Skywalker completes his character arc for this movie by summoning the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi and by using the Force, he saves the day, and more importantly, takes his first real step towards fulfilling his destiny to become a true Jedi Knight.

By experiencing how someone can overcome epic struggles and grow as a person in the process, we sense a shimmer of hope for our own lives as an audience. In our admiration for the hero, we feel good about ourselves.

10. The Pay-Off

Team Skywalker get medals, but more importantly — their companionship is now stronger than ever and they’re now ready to face the Empire yet again.

Since the audience has actively taken part in the story, sharing decisions and experienced struggles emotionally, they want to be rewarded through the main characters. They want to feel that they, too, have grown from this story and that they now are better equipped to face any challenges in their own lives.

Classic stories are often the easiest to analyze because of how clean their dramatic builds are. Try finding these components for classics like The Lord Of The Rings — or why not Jaws!

Infographic: Storytelling Elements

storytelling-elements

Additional Storytelling Resources

For corporate purposes, I prefer to use this simplified script:

Promise. Why should anyone read your post? A big promise ensures your readers to know what to expect from this story. Of course, you need also to deliver on your promise.

Conflict. You need to explain that you understand the frustration and that you’ve been there yourself. Why should anyone trust your story otherwise? Most writers rush this to get to the solution, but all good stories focus more on the hardships than on anything else.

Discovery. When, how and why did you decide to find a solution to your problem? A “point-of-no-return” is needed to engage the readers in your story. Tell them when, how and why.

Solution. As for the solution (or should I say resolution?), keep it brief and to the point.

Call-to-action. And finally, since you’re creating a blog post, you should leave the reader with a clear notion of what to do next!

For honing your writing skills, these are my go-to books on persuasive writing:

… and last, but not least, my favorite software for dramatic writing:

One more thing. As I’m writing this, we’re expecting a baby boy and my wife is currently five days past her due date. If all goes well (and I think it will!) — I hope to have many years of storytelling in front of me.

May the Force be with all of us!

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Author:

Jerry Silfwer is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.


Doctor Spin’s comment policy:
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Reader reactions:

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Camilla Eriksson

Awesome post, as usual. I really appreciated the adaptation of the classical elements in storytelling to a corporate setting. Loving the way you treat us readers with insights and tools of the trade in every single entry.

Reply
Doctor Spin

Thanks. Yeah, I just had to go with Star Wars to amplify the script, ha!

Sara Hernandez

Thanks for a well written blog post! Now the only challenge for corporations is HOW to find these people that have the talent for storytelling and the will to improve on these skillls. This is not an easy task. Where do you propose we can find such talents?

Good luck with the new baby!
/Sara

Reply
Doctor Spin

Thanks, Sara. And such an important question — how to find these people?

Here’s how I do it: The client invites their experts to recurring editorial meetings where we discuss topics and headlines. They get “homework” to write a first draft based on a script like the above.

Then I rewrite all the drafts and improve their scripts with cliff notes on what changes I’ve made. Most experts get inspired and the next time — they try harder and get better.

So I guess my suggestion is to setup editorial meetings every other week or so, pull in people with expert knowledge and then to add a “coach” to keep these experts inspired! :)

Markus Welin

Great read! Especially since I really enjoy fictional storytelling, and also actually took a course in screenplay writing in college. Will most definitely try your script!

Reply
Doctor Spin

Thanks, Markus. Oh, screenplay writing sounds exciting. I took classes in creative writing myself, but these days I’m only doing corporate writing, haha. But who knows? ;)

Jakob Rydberg

Reg your answer to Sara: Awesome tip – homework, rewrite with cliff notes, etc. A little OT but, we’ve acquired some customers that are brave enough to start writing themselves with our coaching and “hand-holding”. The way you do it will definitely go into our toolbox. The biggest challenge that some of our customers face is not time-issues, resources or even ideas, but having the guts to do it.

Reply
Doctor Spin

Good thing you bring it up Jakob, I think there’s a huge discussion going on whether or not to produce content (and do community management) in-house or not. There’s, of course, no universal answer, but I see a lot of organization doing it in-house without the skills needed and others outsourcing it without getting enough ROI from it. So I think bravery is a part of it for those organizations throwing themselves out there, but hopefully, they’ll have some support to help them take it seriously.

Thanks for commenting, Jakob. Much appreciated.

Mael Roth

Many times I’ve complained about the many unsubstantial posts about storytelling out there… However this actually sheds some light on what is meant. One of the best posts I’ve read recently, thanks so much Jerry. ;-)

Reply
Doctor Spin

Appreciate it, Maël. I’ve been trying to find a format for this myself, so I felt that it would make sense to put it into a post. Glad you found it useful.

Lars Wirtén

I´m impressed by people who are so concise about such an infinite topic. Alright, I know the basics of drama, but still. Great with the Star wars example. Shared it on our blog: http://bit.ly/1wMtQHr
/Lars

Reply
Doctor Spin

Thanks, Lars. Appreciate you spreading the word. Peace.