During COP26, when stories are flying about further and faster than ever before, rattling across conference halls and rising in the streets – how can you get your storytelling to stand out and have your message heard above the rest? We think one of the answers lies in Story Types.

Theorists the world over have explored the notion that stories take specific patterns. One, Chris Booker, theorised that there are just seven types of story and we can see that they don’t just work in fiction, they also work out in the real world…

The seven storytypes outlined with icons and subtitles. 

From left to right: 

Overcoming the monster, Rags to Riches, Quest, Voyage and Return, Rebirth, Comedy, Tragedy
The Seven Story Types

The #BuildBackBetter movement is a rebirth story that has taken hold of the Western world. The Race to Zero campaign is a voyage and return story mobilising actors outside of national governments to join the alliance. Greta flips between different story types depending on the message she needs to get across, whether she’s bashing politicians with tragedy story types, or changing her name to Sharon to bring some comedy coverage to the cause.

The power of a story type comes from its appeal to our subconscious – we recognise that we’ve heard this story before, know how it ends and therefore, what we’re expected to feel, think or do. At the start of COP26, we’ve cherry-picked some example campaigns that fit the mould of these story types. We hope it acts as inspiration and a quick-and-dirty introduction to some storytelling magic to help you tap in to our pattern seeking, narrative hungry story brain. 

Tragedy

Goal is to scare people enough that they stop or start doing something or demand the same from others.

Strengths
Great for grabbing attention and portraying the seriousness of the problem.
Weaknesses
As likely to trigger a flight response as a fight one. And better for promoting short-term action, not longer-term solutions.

Greenpeace has released some eye-opening shorts that spotlight the deceits of big oil and agriculture firms through offsetting scams.

Comedy

Present a problem or reveal a tragic truth in a way that removes the audience’s guilt and shame.

Strengths
Rarely used but can get a lot of attention with its uniqueness – perfect for calling out the ridiculous and ineffective.
Weaknesses
Watch out for making light of hard issues – especially issues that you may be removed from but are having very real and negative effects on others.

The UNDP is urging people worldwide to take urgent climate action to help ensure we collectively meet the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Overcoming the Monster

Heroes set out to defeat an antagonistic force that threatens their way of life – discovering an attitude or flaw in themselves that they also need to change

Strengths
A David vs. Goliath story type. Great at winning support for the ‘underdog’, and putting pressure on those who hold power. Best when the monster is an idea or behaviour that needs challenging.
Weaknesses
Make sure to think about the change you want to see, and leave space for redemption, otherwise vilifying people or organisations is not helpful in the long term.

The #StopCambo campaign is made up of individuals, grassroots groups and organisations across Scotland, the UK and the world, who are dedicated to ending all new oil and gas extraction and bringing existing production within safe climate limits.

Rebirth

The hero is confronted by their past or present behaviour and benefits from breaking that pattern – becoming aware of the self-destructive nature of their values and choosing to adopt different values moving forwards.

Strengths
Power comes from owning the problem as well as the solution. Connects to some of our oldest myths and legends.
Weaknesses
Actions speak louder than words – a rebirth story without concrete actions is just greenwashing. Make sure you have tangible steps that your hero and audiences take.

As the host country for COP26, the Scottish Government has a role to play in how it communicates the issues around the climate crisis and what is at stake to its own citizens by highlighting the threat to the local habitat.

Rags to Riches

Classic story arc of moving from humble beginnings to attain riches, varying from material gains to finding meaning in service of others.

Strengths
Involves a highly motivating call to adventure for others to join you on your journey of change, for personal or planetary gain.
Weaknesses
Be wary of what you place as the ‘riches’ in your story – are you promoting personal and monetary gain or sustainable impact? And remember, someone will always look to knock you back to ‘rags’ again.

CAFOD‘s new campaign is a response to Pope Francis’s call for a new way of thinking about the world, and to take an active part in renewing our troubled societies by embracing the universal values of solidarity and fraternity.

Voyage and Return

A journey of change that is broken into a series of smaller steps of discovering, adopting and benefiting from something new.

Strengths
Breaks a seemingly insurmountable challenge down into actionable pieces. Good for collaborative stories and multiple perspectives.
Weaknesses
Be careful not to miss the bigger systemic picture. Whatever you’ve learnt on the way, don’t forget to tell an overarching story that puts your incremental successes back into the bigger context.

The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) showcase the impact of climate change on people’s lives across the globe. The campaign, #ClimateChangedMe gathers over 100 voices from community members, volunteers, and activists.

Quest

Mission full of purpose, overcoming obstacles to realise a clear vision of the future.

Strengths
Having a clear end-goal rallies support and gives audiences transparency. Challenges are welcomed as part of the journey as opportunities for growth.
Weaknesses
Quest stories can sometimes feel never-ending, which can lead to a lack of engagement and belief.

Wateraid released a new campaign ahead of COP that highlights the role the international non-governmental organisation plays in tackling the effects of climate change, calling out the challenges it can, and can’t help solve. 

Crafting your own campaign?

Now you know what story type to harness, why not get to grips with the building blocks that lie behind the worlds most successful stories.

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