Facts Tell but Stories Sell!!–Tell Me A Story


Our culture loves a good story.  Stories are how information, principles, traditions, historical events have been passed down for generations.  Oprah has built a billion dollar mega corporation simply by telling ‘stories’ of the human kind.  Ronald Reagan, considered by many to be one of the greatest politicians was a master story teller.  The unconscious mind seems to work more with patterns that details, so stories and metaphors can be very useful to communicate ideas to the unconscious mind.  When it comes to selling or print material the same holds true.

Whether you are creating a short ‘pitch presentation’ or creating a sales letter-story telling is a must.  When using stories or metaphors to illustrate points it by-passes the mind’s linear thinking or critical factor and gets the mind to focus like a laser on the idea.  People automatically put themselves in a story, that is why we laugh, and cry when watching a really good movie.

If you are trying to sell a prospective client or create some marketing collateral be sure to include stories and metaphors.

For example, an advertising account executive used a story to win his client’s cooperation before landing a big account. He told about wanting a tree house more than anything else for his 10th birthday. His father was less than convinced that a tree house was a good idea. Consequently, he asked his son a half-dozen times if he was sure he wanted a tree house. Each time the boy would more confidently reply, “I’m sure.” Then on his birthday he asked, “Daddy, where’s my tree house?” His father took him into the back yard where the boy expected to see a gigantic tree house. But all he saw was a pile of wood, some nails and a hammer. His father then pointed to all those things and said, “Son, if you really want a tree house then let’s build one together.”  The prospect got it…if we want to build something great then each of us is going to have to do their part.

Use ‘Testimonial Stories’

Testimonials are stories- the success stories of your clients.  They cut through all the marketing clutter like no other!!  Testimonial stories elicit emotion and identification from your potential prospects.  The think ‘hey if it works for him/her,  it will work for me too (because I am just like them).And when you tell a story on your website, in an article, or even in an ad, you are letting people know that, “this product, service, or business opportunity worked for other real live people, so it could work for you, too!”

Ronald Tobias, in his popular and practical book, 20 Master Plots, and how to build them, describes 20 common story plots and gives lots of detail on how to construct complete stories around them.

Twist these plots in your headlines, ad copy, sales letter or websites.

The 20 Plots
1. Quest

The hero searches for something, someone, or somewhere.

2. Adventure
The main character or protagonist goes on an adventure, much like a quest, but with less of a focus on the end goal or the personal development.

3. Pursuit

The main focus is on chase, with one person chasing another.  The person being pursued may be backed into a corner and somehow escapes, so that the pursuit can continue. Depending on the story, the pursued person may be caught or may escape.

4. Rescue

In the rescue, somebody is captured, who must be released by the hero or heroic party. A triangle may form between the protagonist, the antagonist and the victim. There may be a grand duel between the protagonist and antagonist, after which the victim is freed.

5. Escape

In a kind of reversal of the rescue, a person must escape, perhaps with little help from others. In this, there may well be elements of capture and unjust imprisonment. There may also be a pursuit after the escape.

6. Revenge

In the revenge plot, a wronged person seeks retribution against the person or organization which has betrayed or otherwise harmed them or loved ones, physically or emotionally. This plot depends on moral outrage for gaining sympathy from the audience.

7. The Riddle

The riddle plot entertains the audience and challenges them to find the solution before the hero, who steadily and carefully uncovers clues and hence the final solution. The story may also be spiced up with terrible consequences if the riddle is not solved in time.

8. Rivalry

In rivalry, two people or groups are set as competitors that may be good hearted or as bitter enemies. Rivals often face a zero-sum game, in which there can only be one winner, for example where they compete for a scarce resource or the heart of a single other person.

9. Underdog

The underdog plot is similar to rivalry, but where one person (usually the hero) has less advantage and might normally be expected to lose. The underdog usually wins through greater tenacity and determination (and perhaps with the help of friendly others).

10. Temptation

In the temptation plot, a person is tempted by something that, if taken, would somehow diminish them, often morally. Their battle is thus internal, fighting against their inner voices which tell them to succumb.

11. Metamorphosis

The protagonist is physically transformed, perhaps into beast or perhaps into some spiritual or alien form. The story may then continue with the changed person struggling to be released or to use their new form for some particular purpose. Eventually, the hero is released, perhaps through some great act of love.

12. Transformation

The transformation plot leads to change of a person in some way, often driven by unexpected circumstance or event. After setbacks, the person learns and usually becomes something better.

13. Maturation

The maturation plot is a special form of transformation, in which a person grows up. The veils of younger times are lost as they learn and grow. Thus the rudderless youth finds meaning or perhaps an older person re-finds their purpose.

14. Love

The love story is a perennial tale of lovers finding one another, perhaps through a background of danger and woe. Along the way, they become separated in some way, but eventually come together in a final joyous reunion.

15. Forbidden Love

The story of forbidden love happens when lovers are breaking some social rules, such as in an adulterous relationship or worse. The story may thus turn around their inner conflicts and the effects of others discovering their tryst.

16. Sacrifice

In sacrifice, the nobler elements of the human sprit are extolled as someone gives much more than most people would give. The person may not start with the intent of personal sacrifice and may thus be an unintentional hero, thus emphasizing the heroic nature of the choice and act.

17. Discovery

The discovery plot is strongly focused on the character of the hero who discovers something great or terrible and hence must make a difficult choice. The importance of the discovery might not be known at first and the process of revelation be important to the story.

18. Wretched Excess

In stories of wretched excess, the protagonist goes beyond normally accepted behavior as the world looks on, horrified, perhaps in realization that ‘there before the grace of God go I’ and that the veneer of civilization is indeed thin.

19. Ascension

In the ascension plot, the protagonist starts in the virtual gutter, as a sinner of some kind. The plot then shows their ascension to becoming a better person, often in response to stress that would defeat a normal person. Thus they achieve deserved heroic status.

20. Descension

In the opposite to ascension, a person of initially high standing descends to the gutter and moral turpitude, perhaps sympathetically as they are unable to handle stress and perhaps just giving in to baser vices.

People don’t remember statistics, but they have a special storage compartment in their brains for stories. Stories are an innate part of human beings. As long as there are people, there will be stories.


  1. Jeff,

    This is a phenomenal post–and a great resource. I’m going to bookmark your list of the 20 plots for future reference!

    In college, I studied writing and theatre. I’ve always been intrigued by the power of story. Now as a marketing consultant and copywriter, I try to use it as much as I can in my business and for my clients. More than almost anything else, story has the power to motivate, inspire, and persuade. Not to get all philosophical ;), but I think it’s because human beings long to relate to other human beings, and a well-told story does it better than almost anything else.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  2. Stories are great at showing what can happen in a business relationship. Thanks for outlining plots because it is so important to be able to adapt your story telling to a specific client or situation.

  3. Thanks for a great post!

    The story-telling side of persuasion really has my interest lately, on recommendation I’m currently reading Writing For Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, soon to be followed by Egri’s Art of Dramatic Writing. Thanks for the list of 20 Master Plots!

  4. The Blogger Source says

    Stories give people a way to connect. Much like the old war stories my grandfather would tell me.