Captivate with chemistry

We’re all suckers for a story. And the reason might be more scientific than you think. Unlock the psychology of storytelling in three stages.

1. Hook with cortisol

Powerful stories don’t rely on fearmongering – they use the body’s stress hormone for good. The best tales surprise us, rather than trigger harmful levels of panic. Carefully teasing out our fight or flight response. Capturing our imaginations with a thought-provoking detail. 

How to do it

Start with the reason to care. Get your reader’s attention by skipping straight to their driver. Something that hits home. Maybe that’s a headline fact, stat or opinion. 

Say something unexpected. Nothing awakens the adrenal glands like a sudden jolt. Nothing too unpleasant – more out-of-the-blue or mildly nerve-racking. Just enough to stop a reader in their tracks. 

Be disarmingly honest. Bare faced transparency can be all it takes to cause that cortisol spike. The character that confesses, the narrator that serves home truths... the company that tells it how it is. 

With the cortisol surging, it’s time to... 

2. Engage with oxytocin

Oxytocin’s got a lot to answer for – making us more empathetic, open to connections and changes in the way we behave. And we release it by the truckload for emotional, character-driven stories. 

How to do it

Create characters. Give your story a human face. As readers, we engage with stories through the conduit of recognisable, relatable characters – people who we can see ourselves or others in. Always bring in characters to help your message resonate and make people want to act. 

Find the emotion. It won’t always jump out at you. Especially, perhaps, in your writing for work. But it’s always there, lurking beneath the surface – waiting to unleash ‘the love hormone’. Unearth that reason to care. Look past the facts to find the human moment. 

Oxytocin engaged, let’s... 

3. Reward with dopamine

Science tells us stories that end well make us happy, because our brains release dopamine. It’s our reward for sticking with a character through their ups and downs. The pay-off for living through their peril and coming out the other side. So, how to make people care? 

Use a story structure we all respond to. American writer Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Shape of stories’ theory says every engaging story has a structure with a dramatic arc. It’s this oh so familiar structure that hooks us in as readers. 

In simple terms, it’s the ‘Somebody wants’, ‘But’, ‘So’ framework. 

Somebody wants… look at the character and their goal 
But… something’s getting between the character and their goal 
So… the character does something about the obstacle and it all turns out well 

Got a story to tell? Maybe we can help...