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Why Story Telling Matters

For fifteen years or more, I have been collecting stories that I can tell in seminars, training workshops or keynotes.

I have well over a hundred packed away now, but my interest started in the 1980s when I cut out an entry from the Guardian’s ‘Notes & Queries’ column:

It is a much quoted maxim that there are only seven stories in fiction and that all others are based on them. Is it true, and what might these seven stories be?

I’ve just wasted 20 minutes looking for that cutting (I know it’s somewhere in my filing system) and then discovered in as many seconds that I no longer need it: you can read the answers that the question received here.

The Seven Basic Plots

From the cover of 'The Seven Basic Plots'What I do recall for certain is that this article predates, by many years, Christopher Booker’s mammoth book, ‘The Seven Basic Plots’, published in 2004.  I first discovered this book on my wife’s bookshelves, the first time I visited her house, and I have been meaning to read it ever since.  Once again I have been stymied, by this year’s 750 page Christmas present.  I am a quarter of the way through.


Yes, by the way, I am one of those people who scans the bookshelves in every house I visit.  You can tell a lot about a person/family by the books on their shelves.

Anyway, back to the point…  Booker gives his book this subtitle:

‘Why we tell stories.’

As I have not read the book (yet), I can only give you my reasoning.  We are story telling creatures.  We enjoy stories; indeed, we crave them.  They are how we take in information most easily, how we are moved by it, and how it is best made to stick.

I think this is a view that Roger Jones might endorse.  I say this after reading the newest Management Pocketbook, Roger’s ‘Storytelling Pocketbook’.

The Storytelling Pocketbook, by Roger Jones

Roger identifies a far more manageable three basic themes for your stories, advocating powerfully for using storytelling as your favoured means of communicating powerful messages at work.  Roger’s three themes are:

Protagonist is compelled to take on a challenge of some sort and, in so doing, prevails.  Very much like Booker’s ‘quest’ plot.

A story of innovating and breakthrough – like Archimedes and his bath or Coleridge and his laudanum-fuelled nap.

Two people, teams or competitors are forced by circumstances to connect, and their complementary powers, styles or passions combine to prevail.  Think Kirk and Spock, Jobs and Wozniak, Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin.

Ooops – there are three

You have probably noticed the power of threes in political rhetoric:

  1. ‘education, education, education’
  2. ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’
  3. ‘Government of the people, for the people, by the people’

… but have you noticed that stories are full of threes?  My [ahem] three year-old daughter likes Goldilocks and the three bears, the three billy-goats and the three little pigs, not to mention Cinders and her two sisters.  Booker argues (I have skimmed the book) for the prevailing power of threes.  Think:

  1. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva
  2. The Roman Triumvirs
  3. The large number of literary trilogies
    (LOTR, HDM, G, TTEOTE – go on, have a go.
    *Answers at the bottom)

The Storytelling Pocketbook

There is much to value in this excellent new pocketbook.  If you ever have to speak to an audience (3 to 3,000) then this one is a must-have pocketbook.  You can even buy it in e-Book format, right now.  Go on.  Treat yourself to some new year CPD*.

* Here’s a gratuitous picture to stop you seeing the answers before you are ready.

They are below

Story around a Campfire (credit:


  • Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)
  • His Dark Materials (Pullman)
  • Gormenghast (Peake)
    … or The Godfather, if movies are more your thing
  • To The Ends of the Earth  (Golding)
  • Continuing Professional Development
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