Storytelling Guide

When a campaign is in the planning stages, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to think about! Who is our audience? Whose voices are we taking into account? How do we balance short-term goals with the long-term change we want to see? What are our assumptions and where are our blind spots? Is everyone clear on what the campaign hopes to accomplish?

 

This guide brings together key questions, steps and exercises to help anyone build a powerful story.

 

Note: We believe in a democratic, participatory method for building our stories. This is both a matter of values and of pragmatism. The most powerful narratives come from welcoming in different voices and diverse communities, not shutting them out. So gather your whole team and as many diverse points of views as you can, and let’s get started.

Before You Start A Campaign

We build stories, yes, but we must also contend with stories that already exist. After all, we’re never starting with a blank slate. That’s why working on a story isn’t just about identifying a hero, a conflict and some pretty images. An effective, compelling story must stand on a base of critical analysis and careful understanding of the dynamics at play. Our narratives begin to unfold even before we consciously  write them. This is why some of our most important work as activists occurs before the campaign even starts.

Begin by understanding these three foundations of the story:

Know Yourself

The stories we tell reflect who we are, what we believe and the futures we envision. We can’t tell a story without knowing ourselves.

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Know Your Landscape

Every story is part of a larger narrative ecosystem. Good storytellers are mindful of how their tales interact with those already in circulation.

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Know Your Audience

A successful campaign calls on the values and needs of its listeners. Who are you talking to? What are you asking of them? How do you connect with them?

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Crafting A Story

The story we tell through a campaign is not so different from one we’d find in a novel, a movie, a myth or a play. Like those stories, ours will contain certain elements. There will be characters, settings, conflict and plots. If we want to maximize the impact of our story, we’ll need to be as thoughtful about each of these elements as any novelist or filmmaker. Here we’ll present some techniques for finding the right story.

Who

Who is your story about? It's time to determine your cast of characters.

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What

Conflict propels the action forward. It inspires characters to act. It lets the audience know what’s at stake.

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Where

Every narrative has a place, and its specific sights, sounds and smells will give your story texture.

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How & Why

A plot consists of the individual events that make up your narrative—its “how”—and a causal connection that tells you “why” they happened. Together, they form the thread that ties your story together.

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Frames

A frame is the lens through which you are representing an issue, and it has great power to shape your audience’s understanding.

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Strategies for Storytelling

Narratives are always in conflict with each other. Here's how you can ensure your story is heard.

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Checklist Guide for Good Practices

Short on time? Looking for some quick, helpful principles to apply to your story? We’ve gathered a checklist of things to keep in mind.