Use The Framework of Story to Turn Your Ideas From Meager to Monstrous

by Stefan Mumaw

In his seminal book Story, Robert McKee says “’Good Story’ means something worth telling that the world wants to hear.” That sounds an awful lot like what we, as creatives, believe we are creating in our work, something worth telling. Unfortunately, one word in that quote changes everything in terms of our perspective on what makes a monster idea, well, monster: “wants.” We often replace that word with the word “needs” and think it’s enough. The truth is, what the world needs to hear and what the world wants to hear isn’t up to us, it’s up to the world. In the end, most people listen to what they want. It’s our job, as communicators, to turn what we believe they need into what they want.

Story does this, it transforms soulless information into applicable actions. We learn from story, we are entertained by story and we communicate through story. It’s the most primal of communication methods and yet, we often fail to harness it’s power in our work. Our ability to tell our client’s story through our pictures or words or design or illustration is the most fundamental aspect to being a creative.

Regardless of the project that sits in front of us, we have an opportunity to tell and sell story. The logo designer tells a story of the principles or ideals of a company through the simplicity of illustration or the restraint of color. The website user interface designer crafts a story by leading the user through the content of the web experience in a strategic way. The creative director molds the story of a campaign message through each medium they choose to use. Our ability to recognize what story is the most compelling within the client or project before us then use our talents to tell that story in the most compelling manner is what being a creative is all about.

There are innumerable ways to tell a great story within the confines of our creative work. As we begin to develop the concepts we will employ, consider these opportunities to extend the life of the concept and strengthen the overall story in the minds of the audience:

Transmedia Storytelling
You may be working on a brochure design or a website interface or a iPad app. You’ve spent a great deal of time and energy defining the experience for that project. In short, you’ve molded a story. The question is: where else can this story continue? What other mediums could be used to provide context or introduce new characters or provide backstory? Transmedia Storytelling is grabbing ahold of the concept you are employing and disseminating it to other mediums, other places where your audience can interact with that story.

Long-Form Branded Content
The web, among it’s many accolades, has brought on the era of content. Brands can now tap the equity of their own making to develop story. Steve Morris of Morris Communications in San Diego, CA calls this “Owning Your Platform”, understanding that brands can now spread their message through their own content. The internet opens up a world of distribution that never existed before: video. Now, brands can tell longer stories than standard-timed TV commercials would allow.

Alternate Reality Gaming
Not every brand is right for alternate reality gaming, but every brand is right for the concept of alternate reality gaming. ARG is when the character or message of a brand is taken to the audience instead of waiting for the audience to come to them. It usually involves some form of immersive contest, where the general public is dropped into the brand character or story. You often see this with movies, where a contest will be devised that revolves around the plot of the movie, typically requiring the players to immerse themselves in the fantasy of the story as if they’re part of it. But what if we took that concept of immersive experience and transported our story to the audience instead of waiting for them to come to us? Instead of passive POP displays or counter brochures, we developed ways to bring that core message to the audience where they are, inciting curiosity and encouraging them to interact with us on their own. While not all brands merit a gaming culture, all brands merit a story taken directly to the consumer.

Robert McKee says “Story is about principles, not rules; thoroughness, not shortcuts; respect, not disdain, for the audience; originality, not duplication.” These principles can be directly applied to the work we perform on a daily basis if we take the time to recognize what story we should be telling then tell the snot out of it.

In every project we create, we have a chance to tell something magical.

Image courtesy of Lobke Peers


Quick Tips
1. In your work, first ask yourself: “What is the story I’m trying to tell?” This will help you form what is possible.

2. Can you distill your idea down to human ideals? What emotions or feelings are you trying to communicate? The character of the brand you are working on should be at the heart of the story you develop.

3. Can you envision other mediums and methods to tell the story you’ve developed? It may be an opportunity to upsell your client, your creative director or your company.

Dig Deeper!
1. Pick up a copy of Robert McKee’s book Story or check out his world-reknown story seminars at

2. Read a fantastic blog post by Steve Morris of Morris Communications entitled “Owning Your Platform”

3. Read all about the 7 characteristics of monster ideas in Stefan Mumaw’s book Chasing the Monster Idea: The Marketer’s Almanac for Predicting Idea Epicness

4. Plus, get an in-depth look at the 7 steps to monster ideas in his DesignCast:7 Killer Steps to Generating Big, Fat, Hairy Design Ideas

5. Purchase Stefan Mumaw’s book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain.

33 thoughts on “Use The Framework of Story to Turn Your Ideas From Meager to Monstrous

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