Storytelling 101

Storytelling Basics

Most great stories follow a simple, familiar structure. There are different versions of this structure floating around, but we like Dan Harmon’s (of Community and Rick and Morty) 8-part story structure for its simplicity. Not all stories follow all the rules, and not all stories need to follow this structure, but it’s a useful one to use as you’re writing your stories.

  1. A character is in their default state
  2. But they want something
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
  4. Adapt to it
  5. Get what they wanted
  6. Pay a heavy price for it
  7. Then return to their familiar situation
  8. Having changed


Take, for example, Cinderella (truncated from here): 

Upon the death of Cinderella's father, Cinderella becomes a servant in her own household [#1, character in default state]. Unfortunately, her life is terrible, and she wants to not be a servant anymore [#2, she wants something].

Meanwhile, the king wants his son to get married. He plans a grand ball, inviting all the eligible maidens of the kingdom, certain that his son is bound to show interest in one of them. Though her stepmother tries to keep her from going, her fairy godmother shows up. [#3, enters an unfamiliar situation]

Using her magic wand, the godmother turns a pumpkin into a coach, four mice into horses, the farm's horse into a coachman, and the family dog into a footman. The final touch is fixing Cinderella's dress, which is turned into a beautiful white gown, complete with glass slippers. The godmother cautions that all these things will only last until the final stroke of midnight. [#4, adapts to it]

Meanwhile, the ball is in full-swing, the prince rather bored by the whole thing. However, when Cinderella enters, his whole demeanor changes. They dance together all night. [#5, gets what she wants]

When the clock suddenly strikes midnight, Cinderella flees, leaving behind a glass slipper and fearing she will never see the prince again. [#6, pays a heavy price]. Cinderella returns to being a servant. [#7, returns to her familiar situation] The king’s footmen scour the land for the maiden who fits the slipper. It fits Cinderella, and she lives happily ever after [#8, having changed].

Applied to Science

Science stories work exactly the same way, be they stories about a discovery, about a new way to look at an old concept, an interesting researcher doing cool work, or a controversy racking a discipline. Everything has a story, because everything has characters, motivations and something that changes.

In science stories, characters can be scientists, study subjects, the natural world, or data itself. Motivations can be curing a disease or just wanting to understand the world. And of course, science is all about change – from our understanding of the world, to new technologies, to confirming old theories or inventing new ones. 

Throughout the training, you’ll learn how to apply storytelling to science. We hope you’ll help us build a world in which even those without advanced degrees can start to enjoy, understand and discuss science.

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Last updated February 14, 2018