October 18, 2021

Creating an Emotional Appeal: Story Arc

The community health sector works with tough subjects that touch lives every day, like substance abuse and mental health. We already know that creating an emotional appeal is key to getting your target audience to act. Whether you need people to sign up for training or want employees to feel like their work makes a difference or whether you simply need people to get help, creating an emotional appeal is a critical way to get the audience to move. Last time we talked about how internalizing messages sometimes helps us understand the impact of an emotional appeal on our audiences. In this edition, we’re going to talk about how to create an emotional appeal using a story arc.

You probably got introduced to the story arc way back in English class as a kid. Story arcs help frame an emotional appeal in a way that gives people information with a timeline that encourages them to act. Most of the time an emotional appeal is going to come in the form of a testimonial from someone in your field or someone who was impacted by your work. Many times, that could be a video of them telling their story, but it could also be an audio testimonial on a public service announcement on the radio. It could also be a written story that on your website, or social media, or blog.

An easy way to visualize a story arc is by imagining walking up a hill and down a hill. Each piece of the hill contains a different part of the story. The hill starts on the ground level with something called setup (the person that’s giving the testimonial and telling the audience why they’re there). Then, the next step on is the inciting incident.

In the context of community health, it could look encouraging parents to talk to their kids about alcohol and risky behavior. You could feature a parent talking about a child who had a negative instance of alcohol use and what the outcome was. In this case, the inciting incident would be something that sparked the use or the start of using alcohol. Let’s say the child tried drinking at a party and now they’re sneaking liquor from home. This is the rising action.

Now, we have a jumping off point for the issue and the occurrences leading up to what we call the climax of the story. In this case, maybe it’s the child got help and was able to support others in their school that were struggling with alcohol. Or maybe for them it’s hitting rock bottom by getting into a car accident in trouble with the law. This is the climax to your story. It can be a success or a failure. Both are very emotional and will move people to action.
Then we go to the falling action of the story. We never want the story to reach its climax and then abruptly end without wrapping up the story. In our example, the falling action could be the child got help and then was able to give back to their community. Or, it could be the child got in trouble with the law and then got into a program with your behavioral health organization that helps them get out of trouble.

Finally, we want the resolution. So, what was the result of that story? The key piece to this arc for marketers is that the end needs to have a call to action, like how to help a child using alcohol, or what programs your organization offers. We need to tell people how this resolved and how it impacts them.

To review, a complete story arc has the following:


Inciting incident

Rising action


Falling action


Go forth and use this magical formula to create emotion in your marketing that gets the public to look, pay attention, listen, and then act. Click here for more free community health marketing advice or contact us to see how our team of experts can help.

Sign up for our newsletter

"*" indicates required fields