AFL-CIO Storytelling Genres


  1. David vs. Goliath

    1. Overview:

      1. Easy to understand: Small protagonist vs. mammoth opponent.

      2. The odds are not in David’s favor.

      3. Emotional connection stems from imagining yourself as David, an ordinary person effecting spectacular change.

    2. Rules:

      1. Key story element: Structure. These are goal-oriented campaigns; we must understand the goal.

      2. David needs to be relatable.

      3. Target needs to be BIG -- and hatable.

    3. Sub-Genres:

      1. Systemic Change (minimum wage campaigns, EFCA, Walmart, healthcare): personal stakes can be low, but change must be big and broad reaching

      2. Individual Change (one shop organizing campaigns, foreclosure campaigns): personal stakes must be high, target must still be big and hatable

  2. Righting a Wrong

    1. Overview:

      1. Easy to understand: something happened that was wrong, and a campaign can make things right.

      2. When something “wrong” happens, it upsets our sense of balance in the world. These campaigns restore that sense of balance and justice.

    2. Rules:

      1. Key story element: Sympathy. We need to have sympathy for whomever was on the receiving end of the bad thing that happened, and feel a desire to help make things right.

      2. Must have a clear inciting incident.

      3. The ask must be a clear and obvious solution to the inciting incident.

    3. Sub-Genres:

      1. Politicians/corporations did something bad (letting unemployment insurance expire): Easy formula here: clear villain harmed clear victim, and we can fix what happened (though there can be a question of whether to fix or to punish).

      2. Discrimination (workplace discrimination, unfair firing): The trick here is finding the most obvious solution, as well as the solution the victim actually wants.

  3. Beating Back a Threat

    1. Overview:

      1. Easy to understand: there is a serious, imminent threat, and we need to do something to stop it.

      2. These stories can usually be told another way, so you would only choose this frame in cases of extreme urgency.

    2. Rules:

      1. Key story element: Stakes. We need a clear picture of exactly what’s going to happen if this threat comes to pass: a worst case scenario.

      2. Threat must be serious -- the higher the stakes, the stronger the story.

      3. Requires a villain: this story frame is focused on a bad guy bearing down. The villain is more important than the victim for this frame.

    3. Sub-Genres:

      1. Stop a bill from being passed (Right to Work, AL bill to destroy community sick leave): Systemic threat, distributed stakes, requires clear examples to demonstrate how stakes impact individuals.

      2. Stop a corporation/work site from doing something to harm workers (Starbucks threatens to abolish healthcare for part-time employees): Again, notice the threat is distributed. This frame is a way to personalize a threat that affects many people.

  4. Protection Campaigns

    1. Overview:

      1. Easy to understand: a campaign to protect someone from irreparable harm.

      2. These campaigns can be the most primal of all because of our basic desire to protect our children (or other loved ones who depend on us).

    2. Rules:

      1. Key story element: Empathy. We must really feel connected to the people who need protecting, and therefore feel connected to the fight to protect them.

      2. We must believe the subject of the campaign needs our protection -- no one needs to "protect" President Obama from Republicans.

      3. We must believe a loss of the campaign will result in serious physical or emotional duress for the subject.

    3. Sub-Genres:

      1. Protect an individual (deportation campaigns): Similar to David vs. Goliath individual campaigns, but told with a protection frame instead. Focuses on connection to the person being protected.

      2. Protect a group (striking workers, worker safety): Need clear examples of distributed stakes, avoid top-down language and assumptions.

      3. Environment/toxics/safety (Walmart is polluting a well!): Using protection frames are a way to humanize these stories - protect X place from Y destruction.

  5. Aspirational Campaigns

    1. Overview:

      1. Campaigns we didn’t know we needed: Salve for a wound we didn’t know we had.

      2. In the wake of any bad situation, ask yourself, “What’s the best possible thing that could come from this?”

      3. Key values: Community, Redemption, Transformation

    2. Potential ideas:

      1. Honor a hero (put Emma Goldman on the $20 bill).

      2. Give happiness and comfort to those who need it most in the wake of a tragedy -- national or personal (post-Sandy campaigns).

      3. Find a large group of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo (AFM musicians).

      4. Find a campaign that reflects how people see themselves (asking for workers to be included on a prominent panel).