The Five C's of Storytelling

Use this simple framework to easily drive home your points, engage your audience, and compel them to act.
Gavin Hammar
January 6, 2022

When to use

Use this article to plan out any story you intend to tell – whether written, verbal or through video. It will give you a solid basis to start from so you can flesh it out when you sit down to produce your content.

What you'll need

You'll need a notebook, some post-its, a whiteboard or a note-taking app. You can collaborate with your client, a coworker – or, if you prefer do this alone.


1. Prep

Open your notebook, launch your note-taking app or walk up to the whiteboard.

TipThese are two of my favorite note-taking apps: Notion and Bear

Draw a large rectangle and break it up into 5 equal sections.

At the top of each section, write the following, respectively:

  • Context
  • Catalyst
  • Complication
  • Change
  • Consequence

Great! Now it’s time to get our creative juices flowing...

TipI like to use this Spotify playlist to help me get in flow.

2. Context: The backstory

Let’s start by introducing the audience to the hero of the story.

In the Context section, answer the following prompt:

PromptWho are we talking about and why are we talking about them?
ExampleFor non-profits, this person can be someone who came to your organization for help, a staff member or a volunteer—anyone whose story you’d like to tell.

3. Catalyst: The Event

The audience will now learn about what changed in the hero’s world and why they needed you.

In the Catalyst section of your rectangle, write your answer to the prompt:

PromptWhat happened in this person’s life before they came to your organisation?
ExampleThey lost a close family member to this disease and promised they’d do whatever it takes to help others.

4. Complication: The Obstacle

The person is now faced with a problem and a decision to make.

In the Complication section of your rectangle, write your answer to the prompt:

PromptWhat difficult decision did this person have to make?
ExampleThey needed to decide between continuing their lucrative career as an accountant or joining your non-profit to help others.

5. Change: The transformation

The audience will now learn about the decision that was made that resulted in them overcoming the complication.

In the Change section of your rectangle, write your answer to the prompt:

PromptWhat path did they ultimately decide to take? How did your organisation help them overcome that obstacle?
ExampleThey decided to give up their accounting career to join your non-profit.

6. Consequence: Resolution

The audience will now hear about the lessons learned as a result of the transformation and how the person's life changed.

In the Consequence section of your rectangle, write your answer to the prompt:

PromptWhat lessons has this person learnt as a result of the decision made? How has their life changed?
TipThey've learned that it's not about the amount of money you make, it's about having a purpose in life.

Putting it all together

Now that you have answers jotted down for each of the five sections, you can use them to tell a compelling brand story. The story should tie back to your organization's vision, mission, or values, and the aim should be to bring your audience closer to your brand.

Below is an example of an employee story using the 5C's. It's designed to help potential candidates learn more about the company culture and its values. It can also be used to instil trust in existing employees by showing them that the leadership team is willing to bend the rules to look after them.

  • Context: Sally is a designer, living and working in London.
  • Catalyst: Her uncle back home, in France, was sick.
  • Complication: She needed to care for her sick uncle. But she loved her job and didn't want to quit.
  • Change: Your company decided to change its remote working policy and allow her to keep her job and work from France.
  • Consequence: She's remained with the company and has gone on to become VP of Brand, overseeing a large team. She's learned that the company truly lives by its core values – one of them being "We got your back". As a result, they've earned her trust and her loyalty.

Wrapping up

In a world that's constantly trying to distract us, as humans, we are consistently drawn to good stories. Whether it’s a book, a movie, a famous celebrity or a TV show – we buy into a believable, authentic story. We want to relate, to feel, to connect.

And it's the same for brands. Brand stories help you establish consistency and build trust. They have the power to attract loyal customers in a way that traditional sales and marketing activities cannot. If you're new to storytelling, the 5Cs of Storytelling is a great way to get started as it forces you to think through all the components you need to tell a compelling story.

I highly recommend reading What Great Storytellers Know to learn more about The Five C's of Storytelling.

Gavin Hammar

Founder & former CEO @Sendible (acquired in 2021). Now building Storyprompt to help small businesses accelerate sales by amplifying the stories that earn their buyers' trust.

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