Radio Hed: The Story Spine

Radio-Hed-Logo-2By Jeffrey Hedquist

The Story Spine is a template originally created by Kenn Adams, a playwright and improvisational actor, to aid improvisers and writers in creating well-made stories. It can give you the bones or structure of a story on which to hang your commercial and give it flow.

Begin each sentence or part of the story with one of the numbered phrases. To demonstrate how this works, I’ve included an example of notes for a commercial we created for Carroll’s Home Design Studio. The finished spot is on this month’s RAP CD.

1. “Once upon a time…” (This is the introduction to the setting and characters in the story. The platform. The exposition. It gives listeners the context and sets the stage.) Example: Doris & Ed lived in a house that, like all houses needed some things repaired. Ed was a halfhearted do-it-yourself wannabe, and Doris was a pragmatic “let’s just get it done right” person.

2. “Everyday…” (The platform continues and develops.) Example: Doris would remind Ed that something in their house needed repairing and Ed would keep putting it off.

3. “But one day…” (This is the catalyst, the reason that the story is being told. It’s why today is different.) Example: Ed finally agreed to make the repair, but Doris had already called in the professionals from Carroll’s.

4. “Because of that…” (repeat at will)   (This is the heart of the story. The consequences that ensue from the catalyst. Each event leads to another event, building suspense and tension.) Example: Ed was secretly relieved. He never really wanted to do it himself anyway.

5. “Until finally…” (Here is the climax. The clincher. The moment for which we all wait!) Example: The team arrived and started work, and Ed knew he was off the hook.

6. “And ever since then…” (The resolution. The conclusion.) Example: Doris hasn’t had to nag Ed about the door. And now that they’ve found a good solution to getting repairs and remodeling done, she’s got all kinds of projects to complete.

The story spine will help you create a story outline that flows. Rewrite it so it doesn’t sound like a fairy tale (unless that’s the kind of story you’re creating). Listen to the Carroll’s Home Design Studio spot on this month’s RAP CD to hear how we transformed this outline into a commercial.

Is the story spine perfect for every client? No, but it can remind you to include story elements you might have overlooked, which will make the story more compelling and your commercial more effective.

© 2004 Hedquist Productions, Inc.

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