In Storytelling, Keep It Simple (Stupid)

3-Part Story Structure

Storytelling is both deceptively simple and deceptively complex. That is, people either underestimate or overestimate its difficulty.

As a result, some people get intimidated and don’t believe they can tell a decent story. Others are undeterred, and go around claiming their anecdotes and accounts of their everyday travails are actual stories.

So striking the right balance is tricky. I use a simple three-part story structure when explaining stories to people. It’s the one I learned at Second City’s training center.

Now I always point out that there are certainly other elements to stories, but these are the essential building blocks. Without all three (character, challenge, goal), you probably don’t have a story. And the point you’re trying to make is going to have less impact.

I sometimes worry that this oversimplifies things too much. But then yesterday I was presenting to a group and one of the audience members said that what he liked about the three-part structure was that is was simple and easy to remember.┬áHe said he attended a storytelling seminar where he was given an eight-part formula for stories. He couldn’t recall any of them.

So simplicity definitely has its virtues.


Photo via Zsolt Zatrok