By Kevin Elliott

Storytelling is the oldest and most effective form of human communication. 

Whether you make TV, documentaries, or want to market your business, nothing—NOTHING—works as well as a good story. 

Which begs the question: What makes a good story? 

You might think there are thousands of elements to crafting a compelling yarn, but there aren’t.

In fact, there are only a hand full of story lines that we use. In all the thousands of years and millions of stories in human history, we’ve boiled down the essential patterns of storytelling and use them over and over again.

They work every time they are tried. 

This is great news for you, because if you use one of these story patterns, it is nearly guaranteed to resonate with people. 

Here’s the bad new, though. ONLY these universal patterns work. Stray from them and your story will fall flat, guaranteed. 

Which brings us to video. Nothing tells a story like video (ask Netflix) and video production is expensive (read our blog post explaining why), so you better get it right, or at least hire a company that will get it right. 

Here are the three most common, and most effective, story lines. Use them in your video and people will be drawn to them. 

1. Guy Falls in a Hole

When we meet our protagonist (guy or gal), everything is great. Life couldn’t be better. Then, suddenly, our hero has an unfortunate break that crushes her and makes life difficult (falls in a hole). 

The hero, with the help of key friends, is able to dig her way nearly out of the hole when – BAM! – she’s knocked back down. 

She doesn’t give up though. In one last daring push, she overcomes, gets out of the hole and lives happily ever after. 

Those last four words should tip you off. This is the basic story line of every Disney movie you’ve ever seen. 

Cinderella, when we meet her, is a princess. Life couldn’t be better. Then, suddenly, her father dies and she is left in the care of her evil stepmother (in the hole). 

By the by, she meets her prince and everything seems peachy (the magical ball) when – BAM! – she is knocked back in the hole (stepmother locks her away). 

With the help of some friends (mice and other woodland creatures), she finally digs out (prince finds her and puts on the slipper) and they live happily ever after. 

Disney’s entire gazillion-dollar princess enterprise is built on that pattern. 

So why don’t you use it? You don’t have to tell a princess story to make it work for you. 

We were asked to do a corporate “thank you” video for a company whose town had been devastated by Hurricane Michael

The rest of the company pitched in to help and they overcame. Sound familiar? Fall in an unexpected hole, work together to get out, overcome and happily ever after. 

So that’s how we told the story. See if you agree. 

2. Quest

Just the word “quest” probably conjures stories in your mind. Lord of the Rings is arguably the most famous quest ever. 

Quest is different than Guy Falls in a Hole in that the hero in Quest wants something in advance and sets out to find or do it. 

The hero in Quest knows he is in for tough times and will fall in many holes. It is expected, but the Quest is worth it because of the prize at the end – the ring in Lord of the Rings, Penelope (Odysseus’s wife) in Odyssey, One-Eyed Willy’s treasure in The Goonies

Consider this episode of our docu-series CRAFT, on comic illustrator Jayson Kretzer

Jayson is one of the happiest guys you’ll meet, but his journey (quest) to becoming an award-winning illustrator was tough. He fell in some holes along the way and climbed out, but his goal was to become an illustrator at all cost. 

And he did it, which makes his story soooo compelling.

Have a look (the episode is about 10 minutes). 

3. There and Back Again (or Voyage and Return)

This story makes a loop. Our hero starts at home, must battle through a long journey full of monsters and hardships before returning home a changed, and better, person. 

This is your classic comeback story. It is used especially well in sports. A team is at the bottom and has to struggle against all odds, fight the world (or league), and return home victorious, a better team. 

A great example is Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die

Here’s another There and Back Again story from our friends at Red Lightswitch called Long Walk From Darkness. 

It’s about a former Navy Seal who trains prison inmates to be more resilient and successful when they are released. Those guys have to walk into the darkness before they fight their way out. 

Magnetic story line. Here’s the trailer. 

Follow the Patterns, See Success

These, and several other, story patterns have proven successful over more than 10,000 years. Now that you know them, you’ll see them everywhere. Usually in a story you like. 

Use them for your business or project and you will draw people in. 

Just tell a good story. 

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