Story Wars? That’s right. Sometimes today’s fast-paced, 24-hour, digital media landscape can indeed seem like a battlefield. Every time we lob a new message into the fray, we hope it’ll win hearts and minds, but we aren’t surprised when it “bombs.”

Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell—and live—the best stories will rule the future, says that either our stories inspire participation and evangelism by audiences or they wither.

Sachs makes the case that the storyteller who will “rule the future” must begin to see herself as a modern-day myth-maker—someone who sees gaps in the stories we’ve been telling ourselves and fills them, creating new meaning and rituals and encouraging her audiences on their path to fulfillment.

He knows what he’s talking about. He’s the brain behind some of the most popular, viral, for-good-not-just-profit messages of our time, including Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars and many others. He’s a co-founder and CEO of Free Range Studios.

The book came out in 2012 and I’ve been meaning to write about it every since. I’ll be issuing a series of Flashcards that sum up the key lessons. (I also recommend reading the book and checking out the resources at

Let’s start with the basics—five elements of winning stories and five pitfalls to avoid (Sachs calls them the Deadly Sins!).

5 Elements of Good Stories—5 Deadly Sins

YOUR STORY SHOULD BE…1) Tangible—It’s like we can touch and see your ideas.
2) Relatable—
Good behavior is rewarded and bad is punished. Our values are reinforced.
3) Immersive—We can imagine ourselves in the story. 4) Memorable—Paint vivid “pictures in our minds.” 5) Emotional—Facts and data aren’t enough; you make us feel something.
DON’T DEFAULT TO…1) Vanity—It’s about you, not your audience. 2) Authority—Spewing facts without saying why it matters. 3) Puffery—Commands, not inspiration to act, join, or engage. 4) Insincerity—Telling us what we want to hear, not expanding our thinking. 5) Gimmickry—Going for quick laughs and missing meaningful connections.

July 16, 2014