Nowadays everyone must call themselves a storyteller.

Like anything else, this is just a new name for an old idea.

But ask them what a story is and they’ll bury you in adjectives.

A story is: touching, involving, entertaining, educational, uplifting.

It must reveal an inner truth, spark a basic emotion, express a basic need, speak to the common humanity in everyone.

And you’re still none the wiser.

Because they never say anything they can be pinned down to.

But Steven Pressfield is a real storyteller.

He’s written advertising, he’s written screenplays, he’s written novels.

He’s written a book “NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SHIT”.

And when he writes about a story, it’s crystal clear common sense.

And the most useful thing you’ll ever read about our business.

Here it is:



What are the universal structural elements of all stories?

1) Hook.

2) Build.

3) Payoff.

This is the shape any story must take.

1) A beginning that grabs the listener.

2) A middle that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement.

3) An ending that brings it all home with a bang.

That’s a novel, that’s a play, that’s a movie, that’s a joke, that’s a seduction, that’s a military campaign.

It’s also your TED talk, your sales pitch, your Master’s thesis, and the 890-page true saga of your great-great-grandmother’s life.


There it is,

Forget all those touchy-feely adjectives.

If you haven’t got 1), 2) and 3) you’ve got nothing.

If you don’t have a hook you won’t grab people, they won’t stop and read, so everything else is irrelevant.

You need to build, where each word does exactly that: builds on the last, and if it doesn’t cut it out.

Finally the payoff: the thought that you want the reader to take away with them.

What is the one thing you need them to remember?

This is how a great symphony works, it’s how you write great copy, it’s how should arrange your portfolio.

Get them in, keep them interested, leave them with something to take away.

For me that’s a creative director’s job.

To make sure every piece of work coming out of the creative dept has that structure.

Don’t dictate the agency style or the execution.

Each creative will have their own style, like a football team.

But make sure that the right structure is in every piece of work.

Because that structure: 1), 2), and 3) is how every story works.

And it works that way for a very simple reason.


Because that structure is how the human mind works.