How to Use the 7 Story Plots in Your Business Awards Entry
7 basic plots in stories - two little girls telling stories by the fire
June 21, 2021

Writing a business awards entry?

Huzzah! Go you. Excellent decision to enter an awards program.

Ok, so that’s the easy part done. Next, you have to figure out how to write a standout, winning business awards submission. That can seem daunting, I know.

I’d love to help, and I’ve got tonnes of useful stuff in my awards writing arsenal of tips.

But for this post, let’s focus on the number one thing you need to stand out in 2021: storytelling.

 

Want to know how to use storytelling to stand out and capture the judges’ attention?

 Of course you do. Good news, you’re in the right place. 

I’d like to kick off by making a key distinction with using storytelling in business vs in your business awards entry.

 

In marketing, the customer is the hero

When we use storytelling in marketing, the customer is ALWAYS the hero, and you (the business) are the guide who helps them overcome a problem and achieve success.

Your business is not the hero, and you should never position it as such.

Horn tootin’ is a job for awards you win. And testimonials. And case studies. Not the job of copy on your website, social media or sales brochures.

A classic movie to help you understand

Seen Happy Gilmore? Of course you have! Who hasn’t?

Happy (the hero) needs to win a big golf competition to snaffle a fat cheque so he can save his grandma’s home. But he can’t do it without the help of Chubbs (the guide) who teaches him how to play golf.

In marketing, you’re Chubbs, and Happy is your customer. 

The story you tell is Happy’s, and you openly invite your customer into it.

 

In business awards entry writing, it’s slightly different

When writing a business awards submission, you’re sharing your business’s story. You are not your business (even if it feels like it sometimes!). But you, and your employees/colleagues do shape and guide it.

So here, you are the guide and your business is the hero. How did you (or someone else in your business) help your business to overcome a problem and achieve success?

 

The fundamentals of story structure

A key thing to remember is that every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Set the scene and bring the reader into the story with context.

The middle is the easy part, and the part most of us can do without even thinking about it. This is where most of the detail lies.

And whatever you do, don’t forget the end. You wouldn’t leave a movie audience without wrapping up the movie (even if it is a cliffhanger!). They need closure. They need to know whether the hero got the girl (super cliché, but it’s easy to relate to), whether the hero survived or not, was it all a dream or was it real etc. You need to end your own story with the outcome.

 

So what are the 7 story plots?

It is widely agreed (and disagreed by many!) that there are only 7 basic plots in storytelling. That if you critique every story ever told, it will fit at least one of the 7 plots. Sometimes, there are stories within the stories, and you may find your story fits more than one plot.

 

Using the 7 story plots in your business awards entry

To make the most of these 7 plots and use them to tell a story in your awards submission, follow these steps:

  1. Read through the 7 plots and see which one most closely aligns to your story
  2. Now consider your story against the plot style. Use the example movie (or another one that you are more familiar with) to help you understand the key elements of the plot.
  3. Write down the key parts of your story in dot points. Use the plot style and the example movie to make sure you cover the beginning, middle and end. And remember, all great stories are based around a problem, and the need to solve it. Just like a great business.

Sooo, there’s only 7 possible plots?

While some storytelling experts will get into fiery debates about whether there are only 7 plots, you can’t argue they make a useful tool for storytelling in business.

 

Plot #1 – Overcoming the monster (also referred to as the Underdog)

What it looks like

The hero must face a villain (a villain can be external, internal, or philosophical) and draw on their courage and strength to destroy them. They must do this in order to make everything right in the world again.

Movie example

Pretty much every super hero movie ever made!

 

How it might apply in business

Villains in business are everywhere. And I don’t mean literal villains in cloaks with evil, red eyes. Villains can take the form of clunky, inefficient software, skyrocketing house prices, and even an 18-year-old calling themself a life coach.

Maybe your business operates in an industry that’s rife with rip off schemes. Is your industry typified by products that don’t deliver what they claim to? It can be within your business, like old school technology that’s holding you back from growth. It could even be an employee who was participating in fraudulent activities (boy do I have a story from my past about THAT! Hello ex-boss from circa 2006, you know who you are).

It might be a specific client contract that you’re locked into and despise, and it feels like there’s no way out. It can be as simple as bad tasting coffee (now THAT’S a villain I’d take on in a heartbeat!) or the lack of transport options in your regional town.

How has your business faced up to, fought, and overcome a villain? And how did you help it achieve success?

 

Plot #2 – Rebirth

What it looks like

The opportunity to recover from mistakes and/or poor choices, or even misfortune, and start over. The protagonist’s (main character) life is turned around by the ability to get a fresh start and make new choices.

Classic movie example

Eat, Pray, Love

How it might apply in business

2020’s word of the year “pivot”* perfectly sums up how rebirth can and has applied to many businesses. While COVID was the catalyst, a number of different reasons lead to several businesses completely changing their offer. Local to me, toy store and indoor play centre Matty’s Toys & Baby was forced to close the inflatable play area for an extended period.

With expensive equipment sitting unused for months, and the threat of future closures somewhat unpredictable and always imminent, it was time to review how their floorspace was used. The play equipment was sold, and the floor space repurposed to display more of the outdoor play equipment they sell in store, plus the addition of baby essentials.

Theirs is a brilliant example of rebirth. COVID was the misfortune, but they leveraged this to make a significant change to their offer and are now truly thriving.

*Not officially the word of the year, but it was probably the second most used – after “unprecedented”!

 

Plot #3 – Rags to riches

What it looks like

The protagonist is introduced as a likeable character living a very modest life, often very much struggling and even portrayed as an underdog.

They’re typically characterised with having a solid moral compass.

Something unexpected happens which allows them to live the life they were truly born for. They may have natural talents discovered, which catapults them into a world of opportunity (think A Star Is Born). Or, it can be a more literal story of riches, like Slumdog Millionaire.  

Classic movie example

As well as the above, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

How it might apply in business

Putting aside the more obvious examples, it could be a little known product that was chugging along, just doing ok. Then it gets discovered by a celebrity who shines a spotlight on it, and suddenly everyone in the world wants one.

It could be that you offer a service that wasn’t really understood until you got a contract with a high profile brand, and that catapulted you into a whole new dimension of business.

Or, maybe you implemented new software that created a whole new level of automation in your business and you’ve gone from struggle street and crazy late nights to actually being present in your kids’ lives.

 

Plot #4 – Tragedy

What it looks like

The focal tragedy in a movie typically comes about because someone (often with an ego problem) aimed too high. The ship that couldn’t be sunk? Ahem…it did.

In The Notebook (HUGE personal fave), Allie’s parents disapprove of her relationship that dares cross into a lower social class, and they whisk her away to New York. Cue: total heartbreak and emotional devastation.

Classic movie example

As well as the above, Titanic

How it might apply in business

Maybe you took a huge risk on launching a product before it was really ready, and it failed dismally. You were just so damn excited about it, and you wanted it out there.

Do you just give up on something you felt fiery about? No, of course not.

You go looking for answers, and new ways to make it work. Why did it fail? What did you do wrong? What could you have done differently? How can you make sure you get Ryan Gosling in the end? Oops, I mean, how can you make sure the launch is a success next time?

Follow the core plot elements to help you shape your entry.

Hot tip: If you’re using this story archetype for your entry, I highly recommend a Friday night snuggle with Ryan and The Notebook. For research purposes, of course.

 

Plot #5 – The Quest

What it looks like

The protagonist has to go on a mission for something bigger than themselves, and they face several character-testing challenges along the way.

Classic movie example

The Hunger Games

How it might apply in business

This pretty much sums up business, on the daily.

We are in business for something bigger than ourselves, and we ALWAYS face epic battles getting wherever we need to go.

Most businesses fail because they eventually get tired of the character-testing challenges.

But not you, my friend. You’re persistent, resilient, determined, ambitious, hardcore. You’re Katniss damn Everdeen and you’re going to win The Hunger Games.

When using this format, it’s important to highlight the impact the challenges had, how they tested your business, and how you turned threats into weapons. And ultimately, what succeeding really means, beyond the obvious.

Like in The Hunger Games, sure, Katniss winning meant she didn’t die. But what it really meant was that she was able to stay alive and take care of her sister, and ultimately, fight a much bigger fight. She was able to take on The Capitol and overturn the whole messed up system in Panem.

Don’t forget: Think about that as you write your awards entry. Keep applying the “so what?” test until you get to what success really is.

 

Plot #6 – Voyage and return

What it looks like

The protagonist suddenly and unexpectedly finds themselves in a strange world (usually through making a less than ideal choice).

They must fight the challenges presented in this strange world and make their way back to their own world. When they return, they have new levels of wisdom and life experience.

Classic movie example

Alice in Wonderland

How it might apply in business

If you’ve found yourself thrust into an uncomfortable and unexpected situation, and you have to figure out how to get back on track, you’ve experienced voyage and return.

What’s important is that you highlight what bad choice you made and the impact it had, before you talk about how you got back on track and the (obvious) success of that.

Don’t forget: Wrap up your story by highlighting your lesson learned using your newfound wisdom, so you can ensure it doesn’t happen again.  

 

Plot #7 – Comedy

What it looks like

Not just a funny movie, or every romantic comedy ever made (although most fit this archetype), the comedy plot is characterised by confusion.

Typically, there are two characters who are destined to fall in love, but there are roadblocks in the form of confusion that keep getting in their way.

They must resolve the confusion before they can live happily ever after.

Classic movie example

The Wedding Singer

How it might apply in business

A series of mishaps, poor choices or even sheer misfortune can play out in a borderline humorous way. You’ve heard the term ‘a comedy of errors’, right?

And while big mistakes in business aren’t generally funny, if there are enough of them, and the impact is reasonable, the storyline can certainly be crafted from a comedic angle. 

You want your customers to fall in love with your business and feel like they can’t live without your products or services.

You want them to feel like they’re destined to have whatever it is you’re selling, and they want a happily ever after where your product makes their life better.

If a series of mishaps have gotten in the way of uniting your customers with your products, you may well have a story that fits the comedy plot.  

 

Conclusion

Understanding the story plots, and being able to see which one yours fits will help you use storytelling effectively to share your story.

Because once you know which plot it fits, you can conduct a brief analysis of your story and ensure you’ve covered all the key elements of the plot.

Good luck!

And if you need help with writing, editing or proofreading your entry, I can help.

 

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