Storytelling creates a bridge for ideas to cross between us. And storytellers, like engineers, rely on scientifically tested building blocks to create a functional structure.

Here are three of the key building blocks you’ll need and the science of the success behind them.

The Cliffhanger

There is a canny knack to building suspense in a story. Firstly you’ve got to give people a character or two they can empathise with and root for. Then just when you’ve got people to care about them, you put them in a high stakes situation. The character will then act, and the action will cause conflict, the character is left with a difficult choice and they need to talk about it — that’s dialogue. The dialogue re-established the reader’s connection with the character and they become hooked on the outcome. That tension of the hook followed by an unexpected result releases a hormone called dopamine.

Dopamine increases focus, motivation and memory. It’s a feel-good hormone that links the outcome of the story to a reward — the relief that comes with the resolution of conflict. The promise of this reward is so great that it makes us act. Dopamine engages the motor system in the body, tingling the nerves and creating a pleasure and satisfaction cycle. It’s so powerful that if it’s misused, it can become addictive. Soaps are adept at this kind of story; hooking readers in with strong characters and high drama. It keeps audiences coming back for more.

Show the love

To care about a story, first, we have to care about a character. When people listen to you, read your words or absorb your visual messages, they are investing something in you that they would like a return on. Showing people a no-holds-barred character requires a physical description combined with a personality that shows fallibility, intimacy and vulnerability. These things make us feel human and help us fall in love! That blind love is a side effect of oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone. It’s released when we bond socially. It’s the drug that persuades women to go into labour and makes them feel so loved up with their screaming newborn when they’re done. It makes people particularly sensitive to sensation. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are heightened and more vibrant and it’s this increased intensity that offers the reward the reader is looking for. Oxytocin amplifies our enjoyment of the world and people around us. The downside to this is hormone is that it can bond certain groups so well, that it creates social divisions and anti-social feelings to people outside of the bonded team. Charity’s are very good at constructing this kind of narrative for their adverts and fundraisers. The message that we are all one, and need to help each other, can help drive donations. Some, like refugee charities, can cause the kind of division that sell newspapers too.

Make ‘em laugh

There are several types of funny stories that use techniques like wordplay, ridicule, parody and irony. There is a trick to each but this is not the place to get into sacred mechanics, the important thing is that laughter is the expression of joy. Joy is not a mood, it is a core emotion. Joy, unlike happiness, can’t be fostered through early nights, scented candles and managed expectations. Joy is a bursting, fleeting wellspring of good vibes that are as involuntary as they are fabulous. It’s the same when you exercise,  you get a rush of joy — that’s endorphins being released.

Endorphins are lovely little hormones that make you feel relaxed, creative and focused. They not only give you a sense of euphoria, but they block pain too. Ever heard the saying ‘you have to laugh or you’ll cry’? These pain inhibiting neuroreceptors create such an immediate respite from any distracting suffering that the relief floods your body and your muscles contract with mirth. That’s why plenty of seemingly uninteresting brands (Old Spice, Charmin, Taco Bell) use funny social media strategies. Being amusing gets them positive attention, active engagement and wide reach, while simply talking about their products might get a bit dull.

A great novel might include all three triggers but great branding can draw on either one or mixture of them, depending on differing audiences, products and markets.

If you are hoping to come up with some narrative content for your brand, but don’t know where to start then try booking yourself or your team on an Attractivity storytelling workshop. These are bespoke and tailored to your circumstances and will help you identify the right strategy and how to use it.