The seven basic plots – PowerPoint edition!

Storytelling means you need a plot. Christoper Booker’s 2004 book tells us there are only seven basic plots for dramatic purposes. Other people say there are 20 or 36 or just one. But what does that mean for the sort of storytelling that agencies are trying to do? Storytelling that is more about transmitting information and building agreement than it is about entertaining. Storytelling that, for our sins, takes place in PowerPoint?

There is definitely some fun to be had writing your debrief as ‘Overcoming the Monster’, or ‘The Quest’ … or ‘The Tragedy’. But having tried it in the past, honestly, it can be a little much. 

So what are the archetypes relevant to the sort of stories we have to tell? There are seven we’ve identified at Incite.

We use these as starting points for debrief storyboards  – and they can be useful for all types of communication, in fact. Some are simply about laying out the details of “Why” or “How” you should do something. Others – which we call ‘deductive’ – are about explaining the logic that links “Why” and “How”, and can be especially powerful when your story needs to be persuasive. 

We’ll often sketch more than one of these until we find a structure that feels right. Why not try it next time you have a story to tell: 

Our seven plots: 

1 / Persuading

Supports a recommendation; usually with whys 

  • Needs a strong point of view to gain attention
  • Convincing evidence plus compelling narrative 
  • Also good for pitches – both to clients and to stakeholders! 

2 / Making improvements

A deductive storyline

  • Where you are vs where you need to be
  • What is required
  • Gain agreement on actions to achieve this

3 / Problem solving

A deductive storyline. Don’t use if the audience already agrees there is a problem

  • This is the problem
  • This is the cause
  • So, what we need to do is

4 / Choosing an option

A deductive storyline. For when you need to work through all options, not just show the best

  • A journey, explain then recommend
  • Why, what, how structure

5 / Risk management

A deductive storyline to gain agreement on actions

  • What’s working
  • But what are the watch-outs
  • Therefore we should do this

6 / Action plan

Don’t use if you still have to gain agreement to do something

  • What to do or How to do it (not Why)

7 / Business update

A simple, flexible, comprehensive storyline, eg

  • We’ve done this already
  • We’re doing this now
  • What comes next

If your consumers have a story that your business needs to hear, you can reach us on london@incite.ws or on +44 (0)20 7438 4950.

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