May 25, 2018

Develop Your Story with the Nine Steps of Story Structure

Develop Your Story with the Nine Steps of Story Structure
by Doug Stevenson

Great storytellers don’t just hope to get lucky. They spend significant time choosing the right story and crafting it for maximum impact. Many speakers and presenters spend far more time building boring PowerPoint slide decks than they do crafting their stories. But crafting your story with good structure is imperative. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to storytelling structure. Classical story structure has been around for thousands of years, and it still works!

Here is my Story Theater Method version of classical story structure. I call this The Nine Steps of Story Structure. Use these steps as the architectural framework for your story, and your story will have a logical sequence, as well as solid dramatic tension. It will also contain a clear, concise, and actionable lesson.

  1. Set the Scene – when and where?
  2. Introduce the Characters – who else was there?
  3. Begin the Journey – what was the task or goal?
  4. Encounter the Obstacle – what goes wrong or impedes progress?
  5. Overcome the Obstacle – how was the problem dealt with?
  6. Resolve the Story – how did things work out in the end?
  7. Make the Point – what is the one thing, above all else, that you learned?
  8. Ask the Question – transfer the lesson to the listener: “how about you?”
  9. Restate the Point – restate the lesson of the story as a call to action.

Use Your Personal Stories

The best stories are about something that happened to you. You are the main character. However, even when the story is about something that happened to someone else, you still were the observer, or it affected you in some way. The story is still about what YOU learned from the situation. No one else has had your exact life experiences, therefore no one else has your stories. Your stories make you unique and relatable and they build trust and credibility.

Using Step 5 to Teach the Lesson

Step 5 is the “how-to” step in the Nine Steps of Story Structure. It is the most critical step because it teaches the lesson on a subliminal level. How you overcame the obstacle or challenge, or what you learned by succumbing to the challenge, teaches the lesson of the story: the new way to think or behave that you want to share with your audience.

Here are two ways Step 5 of the story can teach the lesson:

  • A: You overcame the obstacle correctly, thereby teaching the correct behavior.
  • B: You overcame the obstacle incorrectly – made mistakes. You can show people through your thoughts and behavior what you don’t want them to do. Then, use the story as a spring board to discuss the correct or desired behavior.

Each Story Makes One Point Each Time You Tell It

Just about every story you have has the potential to make several points or teach a variety of lessons. Pick one point, and only one, each time you tell it. Keep it simple. If you add more than one point at the end of your story, all the points are watered down, and the lesson of the story is less powerful.

They’ll Remember Your Phrase That Pays

Make the point of your story a call to action. I call it a “Phrase That Pays.” Keep it short and start with a verb. Here are some examples of verb-oriented, call-to-action phrases:

  • Lean Into the Mountain
  • Take One Step at a Time
  • Run Your Own Race
  • Inspect What You Inspect
  • Ask For What You Want
  • Stand in Your Power
  • Pick Up the Phone
  • Look for the Limo

Crafting your story using The Nine Steps of Story Structure will give you the foundational architecture of a great story. Your audience will be better able to follow the sequence of your story, and they’ll remember your profound message! With the Nine Steps as your “bones”, you can now flesh out your story with details, acting and comedic techniques to make it amazing.

For a more detailed explanation of the Nine Steps of Story Structure, get my book: Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method on Amazon, Kindle or Nook, or get the Story Theater Audio Six Pack CDs or mp3 download on

Contact me for keynotes, training, and private coaching. I’d love to help you find, craft and deliver your amazing stories to make your message memorable and effective.

by Doug Stevenson

“Doug Stevenson gave an informative and entertaining keynote on storytelling for sales at our Global Sales Kick-Off. We know storytelling will help us close more sales and Doug’s methodology is just what we needed. Doug was a big hit.” – Patrick Stuver, Co-Founder, Everbridge

“We brought Doug Stevenson in to teach his Story Theater Method to both our senior trainers and our senior management. He was a huge success. I’ve also hired him three more times to work with other groups. His workshop is both inspirational and very practical. I highly recommend him.” – Elizabeth Wiseman, VP, Oracle University

“Doug, it’s safe to say you knocked it out of the park. Here’s some feedback from your storytelling workshop: “This was the best training I’ve ever had at USAA.” “Doug makes the material so compelling.” I hope we can work together again soon.” – Darrin Wylie, Director, USAA Insurance


Mark Your Calendar for Oct. 12 in New Orleans
Join Doug in New Orleans at ATD Core4

  • October 12, 2018: New Orleans, LA: Doug will present a general session keynote at the ATD Core4 Conference: The Power to Persuade – The Magic of Story, on Friday, October 12, 2018, 8:30 – 9:30 am. More details available at:

“Doug, I did a presentation last week to a corporation, and though I have always used stories, with your Story Theater Method, I felt like I could re-live them. I felt empowered that I was presenting in a style that really engaged the people in front of me! The audience was right there with me. Thank you.” – Kathryn Hay, Gold Coast, Australia



Connect with Doug!
Join the conversation with Doug:

  • Storytelling for Business Group on LinkedIn
  • Storytelling Mastery Fan Page on FaceBook
  • Doug’s YouTube channel click here
  • @DougStoryCoach on Twitter

Doug’s Next Level Storytelling Video eLearning Series:

Learn to choose, craft and deliver your stories for greater emotional connection, impact and memorability. This series is like studying with Doug in the comfort of your own home or office. You’ll learn skills you can implement the very next time you speak!

  • Over 40 short video tutorials
  • Five story examples
  • PDF summaries for each video
  • Suggested exercises for each lesson
  • Self-paced; online; at your convenience
  • Unlimited access

“Doug’s e-learning course works on my schedule and my pace. Plus the beauty of online classes is you can download the videos and exercises and revisit them when you need to. Doug gets business, he’s worked with professionals from the corporate world and emerging entrepreneurs. Whether you are in sales, human resources, business development or in the executive leadership, Doug’s methods produce results.” – Karen Post, Entrepreneur,

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