@SXSW: The Secret to Creating Viral Stories in the Modern Age

by Sara Toole on March 14, 2012


Another great session at SXSW was given by Jonah Sachs, author of the upcoming book Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the FutureThis was a fascinating presentation about one of the secrets to creating videos and stories that people will like and want to share.

Jonah says that the elements that make stories ‘viral’ are universal, and have been around for ages.  He identifies three specific elements – freaks, cheats and familiars – as being common elements of stories that become mythic.

Freaks are characters that do not quite fit in.  The elephant God ‘Ganesh’ is an example Jonah uses of a freak.  People like to cheer for the freaks, the underdogs who overcome adversity to achieve something great.  A freak could be an underdog with a big challenge.

Cheats are characters that cheat the system.  Sisophys is an example Jonah provides of a cheat.  He killed his houseguests and then was sentenced to eternally push a rock up a hill.  We love to see people who cheat get punished . . . like Voldemort in Harry Potter.  He cheated to get knowledge that he was not qualified or entitled to possess and used it for great evil (the horcruxes).  We love to see characters who cheat and do evil things get punished.

Familiars are stories and genres with which we are already familiar – Marvel comics is a great example. These stories have been around since childhood for so many people and are well loved.   We like to identify with familiar characters and genres, as they provide a sense of security and an emotional story that is already a part of the sub-conscious store.

Using these three elements in a viral story, or to market your business – is a great way to get people to listen and want to share your campaigns.  I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation by Jonah and look forward to his book coming out!

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