Storytelling: The whole is more than the sum of the parts

Let me show you the most successful letter in history.

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college.

They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both—as young college graduates are—were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference.

One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

The tale of two young men:

  • the greatest sales letter of all time
  • ran from 1975-2003 with only minor edits
  • sold $2 billion worth of Wall St. Journal subscriptions

… with just one little story.

Why are stories so powerful — and how can you create your own?

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”

Dr. Howard Gardner

The world of storytelling

You already know the formula for greatness:

You + Your work = Greatness

… and as you will soon see, we (humans) are walking stories.

Therefore, the stories can also be divided into two parts:

  1. storytelling1You.
  2. story2Your work.

No matter how brilliant the story is, if you tell it in a boring way, it will be boring.
No matter what a fucking genius storyteller you are, if the story sucks, so will you.

… but, in the latter, there’s some hope.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas.”

Ed Catmull

That’s why we start with that part.

So first, you need a storytelling foundation on which to build your story… then you need to build your story.

  1. Theory: why stories are so powerful for us?3You.
  2. Practice: how to create your own story?4Your work.

Let’s build the foundation.

1Storytelling theory: Why stories are so powerful?

To tell brilliant stories, you first need to understand yourself (the storyteller) and your audience (who you tell the story to).


Why do we love stories?

Hello evolution, my old friend.

People have been telling stories since ancient times… even before written history.

Just remember the cave paintings:

Chauvet Cave
30,000-year-old cave drawings in Lascaux and Chavaux, France.
“Some of the earliest evidence of stories” — National Geographic

Storytelling is universal to the human — every culture has its own.

It was developed not long after the development of language itself. Some scientists even claim that stories are why language evolved.

Together, they form communication.

The (one of the two) most influential skill of mankind.

… and as you will see, stories are essential for the other skill (thinking) too.


Because they help us achieve the big three life purposes:

  1. Wealth (material)
  2. Health (personal)
  3. Happiness (social)


In material (wealth) sense, stories can:

  • motivate — role models, heroes, anti-heroes
  • fuel imagination — new ideas, huge developments, better tools
  • show hypothetical scenarios — outcomes, examples, consequences

Stories help us control the lifeless (the environment).

It’s about the future: knowing what will happen without physically experience it.

In personal (health) sense, stories can:

  • organize the world — order in events of a random world, sense-making mechanism… categorizing information
  • pass down knowledge — survival strategies, problem-solving methods, life-saving skills… across generations
  • make information memorable — narrative instead of dry facts, vivid details, stronger emotions… memories

Stories help us control the life (our own life).

It’s about the past — knowing what happened without physically experience it.

In social (happiness) sense:

  • bring people closer together by creating shared experiences
  • form group identities by creating shared values
  • develop social functioning by creating shared norms

Stories help us control the lives (other people’s lives).

It’s about the present — knowing first-hand by physically experience it.

The results?

  1. Physiological needs: food, water, clothing, shelter, sex.
  2. Safety needs: from poisonous food, against predators.
  3. Belonging needs: friendship, love, family, tribe.

Wealth, health, happiness.

Is this building familiar?

piramis, de még csak kívülről

No, it’s not the Cheops — it’s Maslow’s pyramid.

maslow piramis

Stories can meet all our animal needs.

Survival & reproduction.

A story helps us picture a situation in our minds, which we can use to:

  • analyse the examples of the past
  • simulate the consequences of the future
  • make the right decisions in the present

Székes vs. Exit példa. when we talk publicly about our company’s random backstory or internal goals, we’re positioning ourselves as the chairs, not the exits.


That’s the power of simulation.

Mental practice alone (gondolatban gitározni pl) alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice. Kutatás link.

Exactly why it’s a fucking great foundation.

Stories can take any form:

  • rhymes
  • proverbs
  • poems
  • prayers
  • instructions
  • songs
  • fables
  • myths
  • legends
  • religion

Cinema, radio, paper — different formats, same stories.

But what do they have in common?

The answer will come from the oldest written stories:

One is art, the other is law — the two extremes.5One is fun, the other is fucking boring.

Now think about the best storytellers in the ancient world: Homer and Aesop.

  • Iliad — a long, looong war with a lesson so big (trojan horse) that a bunch of things are named after it.
  • Odyssey — a long, looong journey (after the war), so excitingly presented that we are still reading it.
  • Aesopica — a long, looong book of tales (and proverbs) with so much wisdom that we are still quoting it.

… 2500 years later.

Gilgamesh, Hammurabi, Homer, Aesop.

If you observe them carefully, they have two things in common:

  1. their works are very exciting
  2. or they are fucking useful

So, why do we tell each other stories?

  • To eat.
  • To drink.
  • To have fun.
  • To find a mate.
  • To fall in love.
  • To have kids.
  • To build a tribe.
  • To have a shelter.
  • To stockpile weapons.
  • To seek meaning.

In short, survival & reproduction.

Exactly the two factors that characterize the greatest storytellers:

  1. education
  2. entertainment

Stories are the original form of education and entertainment.

They have dual power — to simulate and to inspire. A story provides inspiration (what to do) and simulation (how to do it).

When a caveman wanted to make his child viable, he wanted to teach him/her — but the child wanted to have fun. Two completely opposite forces:

  • one is boring, the other is exciting
  • one is exhausting, the other is relaxing
  • one is usually useful, the other can be harmful

How could they combine the two?


They told stories that were useful while entertaining the children.


Did you know that:

You didn’t fall off your chair when you heard that, did you?

Now imagine that you are watching the FIFA World Cup final, where your country is playing.

The whistle blows, and the game starts…

Our bodies are nourished by fat, protein, carbohydrates — macronutrients. But our brains see a tasty, hot, dripping burger — deep-fried meat squeezed between two buns.

valahogy szemléltetni, hogy melyik indítja be a nyálzást — show, don’t tell

The same happens with information — that’s why we see tasty, hot, dripping narratives instead of basic facts. Deep-fried peak squeezed between the beginning and the end. Emotions. Meaning.

Education and entertainment.

In other words, it’s ability and motivation — the two most important ingredients to generate action:

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt.

That’s why we — the evolution itself — love AND need stories. It generates action.6Remember these two things (usefulness & entertainment) really well — you’ll need them soon (in the practice part).

“When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’
But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’”

David Ogilvy

So essentially, stories are vessels that carry things such as morals and lessons. People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narrativesa. Subway sztorit is inkább mesélik egymásnak, mint azt, hogy 6 kalóriát tartalmaz a szenyó. And while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.

We have been eating stories since the beginning of history (and before) and will continue to do so until the end of history.

… and that’s why we (humans) are walking stories.

“Listen, and you will realize that we are made not from cells or from atoms. We are made from stories.”

Mia Couto

2Storytelling practice: how to create your own story?

Imagine a man being able to command a stadium full of people who drink his words.

Now, imagine two stadiums.



Hundred. Thousand. A million.

… under the control of one man.

Scary shit.

Hitler a tömeg előtt

This is what happens when a storyteller gets people to listen, accept, believe his story.

… but luckily, it also works in the other direction.

Valami jó ember a tömeg előtt

Now, how?

Let’s hear what the great storytellers say about it.

Ide betenni egyet, akinél a transition is benne van.

For example, the five rules for effective speechwriting from Winston Churchill:

  1. Begin strongly.
  2. Have one theme.
  3. Use simple language.
  4. Leave a picture in the listener’s mind.
  5. End dramatically.

If we wash them together, we will find that there are:

  • A story has 4+1 big parts.
  • A story has 25-30 small principles.

The latter is what Outer word is all about.

The former looks like this:

  1. beginning
  2. end
  3. peak
  4. bottom

… plus the bridge between them (transitions).

A sztoriról egy kép, ahogy egy keretet formáz, a keretben pedig a kis hidak — és odaírva mindenhova, mi micsoda

To prove this, I will present the peak-end rule.

It says that the peak and the end of the experience is what most influence the perception of the experience.

If no other part of your story is good, except the peak and the ending, then people will call it a good story. If you can make the beginning and the lows good too, they will say it’s a great story.

Ugyanaz a sztori kép, de csillogjon arany keretben vagy valami, hogy mutassa — great story

All you have to do is:

  • Begin strongly.
  • End dramatically.
  • Peak indensively.
  • Bottom minimally.
Begin strongly
Legyen egy kerete (kezdés, befejezés), benne pedig egy peak és a bottomok — de most a kezdés legyen csak éles, a többi kihalványítva

The main purpose of the beginning is to pull the consumer in.

This is the part that most people see.

It’s the tasting for deciding whether it is worth consuming the rest.


On average:

Best beginnings:

  1. Lion king (és a dal)
  2. Game of Thrones
  3. Baby driver
  4. Up
  5. Get out
  6. Marsi (ide bevágni a könyv nyitóoldalát)

All you have to do is to begin strongly.

What does “strong” mean?

  • Unexpected
  • Exciting
  • Simple

Strong means: attention-grabbing.

End dramatically
Legyen egy kerete (kezdés, befejezés), benne pedig egy peak és a bottomok — de most a befejezés legyen csak éles, a többi kihalványítva

The main purpose of the ending is to satisfy the consumer.

This is the part that most people tell.

It’s the taste in the mouth that lingers after the last bite.

You can’t close it in a way that makes the consumer feel you’ve fucked them over. They can’t feel that all the time spent on the story is a waste of time. E.g.: When it was all a dream and what he saw didn’t happen. But you can raise questions instead of closing, for example if the consumer doesn’t know if what they are seeing is a dream or not (inception)

Best ends:

  1. Inception
  2. The pursuit of happyness
  3. Furious 7
  4. Usual suspects
  5. Forrest gump
  6. Shawshank redemption
  7. Gladiator
  8. Apollo 13
  9. Shutter island

All you have to do is to end dramatically.

What does “dramatical” mean?

  • intense
  • slow

Dramatical means: emotional.

If you have to choose one thing, the end of the story is the most important — it has to end with emotion if you want to share it with someone else., the end should end with the emotion of wanting to share it with someone else.

The end of the story should be cool, and it should evoke emotions that stimulate sharing (emotions that stimulate activity, arousal).

It is best if the end reminds you of the climax. Or you can even mix the two!

limited memorization

You can get people to recommend you (referrals) by making the end of the content fucking awesome — a perfect peak-end effect. To show you how, I’ve added a bonus section at the end of this article (my alpha-readers said that’s the best part of the whole writing, it’s called “the soul of the story”). With this, I combine the peak-end effect into an end-peak effect (because the peak is also the end!).

Peak intensively
Legyen egy kerete (kezdés, befejezés), benne pedig egy peak és a bottomok — de most a peak legyen csak éles, a többi kihalványítva

The duration and length of the experience will be completely ignored, it doesn’t matter.

Therefore, you have to maximize it.

time dilation (climaxes with time dilation or dragging)

Best climaxes:

  • Csillagok között — a néma rész vagy az óriás hullám

All you have to do is to peak intensively.

What does “intensive” mean?

  • intense
  • slow

Intensive means: air retention.

Make it memorable, so that by the time you reach the end of the content, you still remember it and share it.

Bottom minimally


Legyen egy kerete (kezdés, befejezés), benne pedig egy peak és a bottomok — de most a bottom legyen csak éles, a többi kihalványítva

The duration and length of the experience will be completely absorbed, it matter the most.

Therefore, you have to minimize it.


We already know from the productivity post that unfinished things create tension, but a different kind than when we have to start something. The latter is paralysing, but this one is motivating you. That’s why we watch series that we know from the pilot that they’re a bunch of poo.

There is the same difference between a bottom that has no purpose and a bottom that does.

The point of each sentence is to get you to read the next one.

… and this is especially necessary for passages that are harder to start than a sentence:

  • between chapters in books
  • between episodes in podcasts
  • between seasons in series

But even with the latter, the paralysis wears off as soon as you start — so the key is to get people to eat up your very first sentence.

My favourites:

  • The rise and fall of the third reich
  • Da Vinci Code
  • Maze runner Book 1
  • I felt it in red rising when he beat the fitchner out of nowhere, I thought he beat him to death. It was double tension because on the one hand it made me fucking curious, on the other hand it made me frustrated because I didn’t understand what was happening. I understood, but I didn’t understand why it was happening. These 2 forces came at me and I read on like a banshee.

strategically withholding information (hooks aka curiosity gap

Make it:

  • better
  • faster
  • funnier

Remember the storytelling theory part?

Stories have two purposes:

  • Education
  • Entertainment

Example of the entertainment: Avatar James Cameron interview, when he talks about slowing down, just enjoying the moment.

Example of the education: make a bed for the story.

Best example of education & entertainment: Harry Potter — Dursley’s part is the anchor to which Hogwarts will be compared later (contrast, education), but it’s really funny to see that family.

So to sum up:

  • Zero to bad: delete the pointless bottom parts
  • Bad to good: add purpose to bottom parts (utility or entertainment)
  • Good to great: add both purpose to bottom parts (utility and entertainment)

Now for the best part.

The soul of the story

We have talked about algorithmic thinking before — in the focus article.

You have to:

  • reverse-engineer the story’s underlying principles
  • prioritize them in order of importance
  • pick the first three elements

For example, I want to write a fantasy.

My algorithm looks like this:

  1. World
  2. Characters
  3. Story

It’s that simple.

You don’t believe?

Then let’s see some examples: 

  • Star Wars: original trilogy (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode IV: Return of the Jedi)
    • World — Jedis, Sith lords, Millenium Falcon, Death Star, lightsabers… Every child’s dreams.
    • Characters — everyday kid (Luke), strong woman (Leia), funny side character (Han), fantasy side charachter (Chubacca) best antagonist (Darth Vader), best mentor (Yoda)
    • Story — plot twist (I’m your father), underdog story (David vs. Goliath), happy ending (Sith lord dies, Vader leaves the dark side) etc.
  • Star Wars: prequel (Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
    • World — still badass
    • Characters — everyday kid (Obi-Wan), strong ever weakening woman (Padmé), funny side character Jar Jar, best hysterical antagonist (Anakin), dead mentor (,
    • Story — 

Míg előbbinél mindhárom, utóbbinál már csak ⅔ vagy ⅓ klappol — that’s why, even though 30 years hamarabb született (ezért filmtechnológiában elég elavult), még mindig jobb az eredeti.

  • Harry Potter
    • World — Roxfort, repülő seprűk, boszorkák és varázslók… varázslat
    • Characters — Everyday kid, strong woman, funny sidecharacters, best antagonist (Voldemort), best mentor (Dumbledore)
  • A legendás állatok és megfigyelésük
    • World — still badass
    • Characters — meh, olyan semmilyenek
    • Story — meh, olyan semmilyen, már tudjuk a végét
  • Az eredeti gyűrűk ura trilógia
  • A hobbit trilógia (film)

Végül egybevetni a 3 sztorit (insert lap, amin áthúzkodva egyes szavak) — template!

Pixar 22 alapelv és egyéb doksik is jöhetnek.

That’s how we will build a template right now!

Így meg kell keresned a top faktorokat a saját genre-dben — és non-fiction genre-ben is

The Sum of it all

So to create a checklist that you can take away with you, we need Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle:

1Why do I need stories?

Golden circle, bekeretezve a belső réteg

To be wealthy, healthy, happy.

To be free.

To live.

2How can I make stories?

Golden circle, bekeretezve a középső réteg

(Reading on phone? Rotate it for wide screen mode)

Empty pocket (zero coins)Leaky pocket (too heavy coins)
Tries to survive financiallyTries to reproduce financially
Thinks money solves problemsKnows money highlights problems
Starts by catching the butterflyStarts by fixing the net
Works for moneyMoney works for him
His standard of living inflatesLives one level below his means
Buys according to his wantsBuys according to his means
Prepares for the best, ignores the worstHopes for the best, prepares for the worst
Most important resource is moneyMost important resource is time
Says "yes" to everythingSays "fuck yeah" or "NO"
Compares himself to othersCompares himself to his past self
Only cares about the price of buyingAlso cares about the price of owning
Spendthrift, not a generous.Reserve, not a miser
No idea what he's spending onWrites down his spendings
Puts money from his hand into someone else'sPuts money from his hand into his pocket
Borrows moneyLends money
Works to get out of debtWorks to not get into debt
The pressure is killing himHe uses pressure as motivation
Thinks loan is evil and fears itUses loan as an investment
Taxes first, spends the restSpends first, taxes the rest
Thinks "money = happiness"Knows "no money = unhappiness"
Thinks "to make money, he needs money"Knows "he only needs money to invest"
Diversifies to make moneyDiversifies to keep money
Studies forecastsStudies history
Invests in what's trendyInvests in what he knows
Only invests in safetyInvests in high-risks too
Thinks "money is stagnant if he doesn't spend it"Knows "money either grows or shrinks"
Doesn't like to talk about moneyInterested in the topic “money”
Likes to be the smartest personSurrounds himself with people smarter than him
Thinks he learns everything at schoolLearns finance at home
His learning ends with schoolHis learning ends with death
Spends on liabilitiesSpends on assets
Tries to own everythingTries to control everything
Pays to tax authorities & courtPays to accountants and lawyers
Never uses personal financesStarts a company... for personal finance
Thinks the rich got rich because they are lucky or evilThinks the poor stay poor because of their habits
Thinks in price ($)Thinks in cost-per-use, unit price ($/kg) or hourly wages ($/hr)
Thinks in what he sees (why should I buy this product in front of me?)Thinks in what he doesn't see (what else can I get for that money that's not in front of me?)
Pays for unexpected expenses with a credit cardPays for unexpected expenses with his own emergency reserve
Pays others firstPays himself first
Knows everything betterAsks for advice
Buys the luxuries firstBuys the luxuries first
Speaks the language with wordsSpeaks the language with numbers
Works hardWorks smart
Getting poorer and poorerGetting richer and richer
Looks for a good jobCreates a good job
EducatedSurrounded by educated people
Wants to buy everything, but can't afford anythingCan buy anything, but doesn't want everything
Thinks the same (99%), so he gets the same results (1%)Thinks differently (1%), so he gets different results (99%)

3What should I do to make stories?

Golden circle, bekeretezve a külső réteg

Feedback fontossága

  • Alpha readers
  • Optimal reader: yourself (e.g. J.K. Rowling) or a very critical close person (e.g. Stephen King’s wife)

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Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.