Storytelling is a powerful tool. As far back as you go in human history, we have used stories for all kinds of things. Stories to motivate, stories to convince, stories to teach. As a leadership tool, stories are an incredibly powerful way to connect with people and to influence them. They will in turn spread that influence.

Stories have a shape. Kurt Vonnegut was famous for his initial explanation of the shape of a story. The character may begin at a towering high that drops them down into the depths of hopelessness, or they may go through a roller coaster of experience on the way to the conclusion. There are a few different story structures and shapes that I have found extremely helpful when planning writing, public speaking, or in a leadership situation.

Dan Harmon, creator of Rick and Morty, has recently coined what he calls the story circle. It has several steps but ultimately it boils down to a character beginning in a normal place. They then want something, go through great trials in order to achieve it and pay a heavy price. Finally they return changed. This is pretty similar to Freytag’s pyramid in that there is an inciting incident, rising action, a climax, and then a conclusion. But there’s more to it than just that. The story circle allows us to pick up the actual telling of our story at any point along it and because you can use it as a plot device for both your overall narrative as well as subplots, I have found that it is scalable and extremely useful.

The most recent structure that I have been experimenting with is the five-act tragedy; clearly this has been around for a while. I just finished a story called Unlucky Strike in which I endeavored to fit a full five-act tragedy into 4,000 words. This was actually about right, and planning out the scenes one at a time was extremely helpful. After I had done that, it was pretty much just coloring in the squares and the story wrote itself in only two days!

Whatever the structure of your story remember that stories have meaning. Your story should have the same power and purpose that you hope to impart to your reader. Whether I want people to see a certain viewpoint, to feel a certain emotion, or to come to a certain conclusion my story and every piece of its structure has to be moving towards that direction. So whether you use your stories in leadership roles, to entertain, or to start a movement remember the structure and use it with intent. Happy story telling!