If you want to be effective at storytelling, there’s a successful structure and format that human beings across cultures have independently discovered – and it’s older than Yoda
I loved Star Wars as a kid. The only thing better than that was enjoying it all over again – every movie and spinoff – with my daughter when she got into it.
Padme, Rey, Ahsoka Tano were all her favorites at some point. And the ride, “Rise of the Resistance” was the highlight of our trip to Disney last year.
Then this year she threw me a curveball: Harry Potter was her new favorite – and better than Star Wars.
Of course, I was floored. While I dutifully watched (suffered through) all of the Harry Potter movies – that story doesn’t even come close to Star Wars in my book.
However, I have to admit there are some similarities between the two.
As comedian Aaron Woodall jokes, they are effectively the same story. He says J. K. Rowling, “wrote Star Wars with sucky lightsabers.”
He goes on to point out some of the similarities:
- Young male orphaned protagonist;
- Sent to live with aunt and uncle for safety;
- A mysterious bearded stranger teaches him about ancient magic;
- He’ll learn more about the magic from an older and wiser wizard later;
- Leaves home against his uncle’s objections;
- Meets a girl he’ll love like a sister who in turn is in love with his scruffy best friend who provides comic relief in the story…
You get the idea.
The long version of his comedy routine is embedded below and the good stuff starts at 1:35 – and here’s a link to the Shorts version on YouTube if you just want to get it.
Storytelling format: the archetypal hero’s journey
That these two stories are similar isn’t an accident. Author Joseph Campbell studied mythology across cultures for a lifetime and realized mythical stories all follow the same basic format.
The Blinkist summed it up this way:
“When Joseph Campbell traveled to Europe as a college student in the mid-1920s, he began to hear first-hand the philosophies and mythologies of other cultures. It led to a lifelong passion in comparative mythology.
After studying cultures around the world, including Asian, African, European, Polynesian, and Native American, Campbell noticed their stories didn’t just share thematic elements. The heroes in these tales also had a tendency to go through three distinct stages: they would be separated from their communities, made to endure a series of difficult trials, and emerge as enlightened beings who then returned home to share their newfound wisdom and powers.
These stages became known as the monomyth, or the archetypal hero’s journey and the structure Campbell describes has been influential to countless storytellers ever since. Perhaps most famously, George Lucas was only able to finish his screenplay for the first Star Wars movie after reading Campbell’s work.”
Campbell put his thoughts in a book published in 1949 titled “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Wikipedia borrows directly from his book and offers this synopsis of the archetypal hero’s journey:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This is truly profound: a long time ago, in cultures far away, different people separated by thousands of miles, all sat around the campfire and told stories that all followed the same basic format.A long time ago, in cultures far away, different people separated by thousands of miles, all sat around the campfire and told stories that all followed the same basic format.Click To Tweet
Here’s Campbell’s storytelling outline:
Stage One: The Departure
- “Call to Adventure.”
- “Refusal of the Call.”
- “Supernatural Aid.”
- “Crossing of the First Threshold.”
- “Belly of the Whale.”
Stage Two: The Initiation
- “Road of Trials.”
- “Meeting with the Goddess.”
- “Woman as the Temptress.”
- “Atonement with the Father.”
- “Ultimate Boon.”
Stage Three: The Return
- “Refusal of the Return.”
- “Magic Flight.”
- “Rescue from Without.”
- “Crossing of the Return Threshold.”
- “Master of the Two Worlds.”
- “Freedom to Live.”
The lesson for B2B marketing?
If you want to be effective at storytelling, there’s a successful structure and format that humans across cultures have independently discovered – and it’s older than Yoda.
Your company or product is NOT the hero. It’s simply a part of the journey the real hero – your customer – is making.If you want to be effective at storytelling, there’s a successful structure and format that humans across cultures have independently discovered – and it’s older than Yoda.Click To Tweet
Survey: Most B2B Marketing Writers Aren’t in Direct Contact with Customers
Image: DALLE, “jedi with a light saber deflecting electricity in the style of van Gogh”