The Four Pillars Of Story - By Patrick Moreau
We were read a story before bed as children, sometimes two if we begged. As adults we read online news, talk about the day’s big events; we exchange stories with our friends of how we spend our days. We know stories exist, but what exactly is a story? More importantly, how do we tell a good one?
At its most basic, story is the retelling of events, real or imagined, often told through a single perspective.
Humans are hardwired for story, it’s in our DNA. Storytelling pre-dates written language. Think about that for a second. Before we could pass on knowledge through notes, letters, or books—we used story. The telling and re-telling of stories are how we make sense of, and make the most of, our existence. So story is in us. And it has been for a long time. And that’s why stories are so sticky, why they make us lean in, and why they stay with us
But story is also a powerful tool: it’s a bridge that can take viewers on a journey from one shore to the other. From where they are, to a new insight, product, service, or idea that you’d like to them to know about. Story can be your bridge. We can use story to guide the heart to move the mind.
We’re all naturally storytellers. But the real craft is in being able to tell remarkable stories. And to help you with that we’ll explore the foundation of story by looking at the 4 Pillars of story. Once you understand these Pillars, and their roles, you can start maximizing them in every story you tell.
The foundation of story, across mediums, is built on what we call the 4 Pillars; People, Places, Purpose, and Plot.
People are the characters in our story. They are your emotional core. And so we call the main character in your story, the Heart. But not all characters are created equally. To have a strong Heart of your story there is one thing, more than anything else, that you need to find.
Desire matters most. After all, we can’t expect our audience to want to hear our story more than your Heart wants something. It’s this strong desire—this fire deep inside our character, that helps the audience fall in love.
Now places are the situations, environments, time, and objects that give our story context and depth.
Place is all about authenticity. Rather than telling you about who our character is, we can use place to show you. And in using place, we can allow you to experience the character, to come to your own conclusions, and to have a much deeper trust.
Last year we did a Super Bowl story for CBS on a lady who had had her hands in the making of every single Super Bowl football since the tradition began 49 years ago. We could tell you that she cares about what she does. Or, we could use place to show you her stacks of albums, her decades of photos of the games she’s been to and the people she’s met, all around football. And we could take you to the factory, long after sunset, where she sits at her sewing machines not making more footballs than those around her, but instead making them far slower and far better. By using those places we can let our audience more fully experience our character. And that will bring a stronger authenticity and a deeper trust.
Now Purpose is the why behind our story, what do we really want our story to say? The moment our audience doesn’t think this story matters to them, it isn’t relevant to their lives, they tune you out.
It is incredibly important that we take the time to think about our Purpose, the why behind our story. After all, if we don’t know what it is we are trying to say, we certainly can’t expect our audience to figure it out.
And then we come to our fourth Pillar, Plot.
Plot is the structure of the story. In its simplest form, think of that structure as beginning, middle, and ending. Now, there is one thing that fuels your Plot and will take your viewer through the very beginning all the way to the ending.
That vital ingredient? Conflict.
Conflict causes tension. Conflict causes us to pay attention and tune into the story. And on top of all of that, conflict serves the vital role of asking a question. Will they end up together? Can she make it in time? Will he defeat the evil sorcerer? Our Heart, with strong desire, runs into conflict. But because her desire is so strong, she persists. And thus starts her journey and asks our question, Can she do it?
If we use Place throughout our story and if we’ve clearly defined our Purpose, we can then have this journey lead our viewers right across that bridge—right to the other shore.
I could tell you that there are 30 million slaves in the world today. But that’s a dark, uncomfortable fact. One that most of us will turn away from and quickly forget. Or we could tell you the story of a 9-year-old girl who had the audacity to think that she could change the world. Who set up her lemonade stand, day after day, with the goal of freeing 100 children and therefore raising $150,000.
That story, the one of the 9-year-old girl, it’s one that many people will tune in for. It’s a young girl with strong desire who, one day, ran into conflict and thought she could do something about it. And as you go on that journey with her, you may just learn a thing or two about slavery. You’ll be brought to the other shore.
That, my friends, is what a remarkable story can do for you. Guide the heart to move the mind.