I’m a sucker for a good story. Have been since I was a youngster.
And I’ve been reading and writing them for years, so I thought I understood how they work.
But it wasn’t until I was earning a living writing and read Into the Woods that I understood I was wrong. John Yorke’s book opened my eyes to something special.
Once I knew about five-act story structure, I couldn’t stop seeing it. In all the best stories. In every medium. Across time and space. From caveman campfires to corporate boardrooms, hieroglyphics to emojis, it’s a cosmic Rosetta Stone.
Powerful stuff. But I didn’t know what to do with it yet. I was working as an SEO content writer and, despite my daily resistance, ‘content’ meant something you shove in a space when the web designer’s done. Urgh.
I knew taking John’s course Story for Communications would be the first step to changing a company into a brand. To establish a strong, simple story about what we were all about. Then we would be more motivated and serve clients better. But they weren’t really interested in any of that stuff. So I saved up for the course myself.
Story for Communications has real depth but it’s so accessible – using examples that already feel familiar (that ol’ five-act structure again). For instance, you might watch a famous ad from a big brand and then break it down into each step so that the structure is clear. By doing that, you peek under the hood of a super-effective story and recognise each gripping point. Once you know where those sweet spots are, you can tune them up in your own comms stories. Make them sticky.
The tutor Richard Benson was extremely supportive and responsive. And we had a great bunch of classmates from vastly different walks of life – everyone from clinical psychologists to digital marketers. Submitting my own work for constructive feedback was really valuable too. Because now I knew my blind spots and how to correct them.
Turned out I never used any of this new knowledge at that company (suppose they didn’t pay for it anyway). Instead, I went freelance with my own copywriting business – combining my SEO savvy with smooth conversion copywriting.
So how does this relate to story and leadership? Before I write website copy, I interview employees at all levels. Get to know the organisation and its culture inside out. Learn how they talk to and about each other. And how customers talk about them. The psychology of story gives you a whole new perspective on internal and external communications. Fresh ways to motivate yourself and others. More energy in your mission, whatever that may be.
You’ll hear lots of watercooler chat about storytelling (online and IRL). And there are several story courses and coaches. But I see none that reveal the mechanics of story structure like Story for Communications.
Patterns. Tapestries. Rich new ways of seeing and doing. Stories that mean business. Worked for me.
Robbie Handy is a freelance SEO content writer and creative copywriter from Fife, Scotland who has lived and worked in Jamaica and the UK over the years. He writes for UK, US, European and Australian clients in sectors like travel & tourism, law, higher education and tech.
When he’s not writing copy, you’ll catch him running after his kids, hiding from his wife and writing thumb-stopping posts on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/