Dissecting a Story


Stories are content objects that appear on your news feed or web page. If we lay a STORY on an imaginary operating table and dissect it, we will discover its entire life’s journey as digital stories are easy to dissect and analyze. Before we begin our imaginary autopsy, we will need to fill out the top section of our examination report:


  1. AUTHOR: A story always has at least one (1) AUTHOR. If the story you are examining is a “shared story”, the author is the SHARER (not the original author). This is true if they add commentary to the story or not.
  2. TITLE: A story TYPICALLY has a TITLE. If the story does not have a formal title, as the examiner it is your responsibility to give it a title.
  3. CLASSIFICATION: A story always has one of the following CLASSIFICATIONS:
    1. photo/video story
    2. linked story
    3. status update
    4. structured story:
      1. life event
      2. event
      3. review
      4. offer
      5. other
  4. TYPE: A story (under examination) always has ONE  of the following TYPES:
    1. pin
    2. snap
    3. post
    4. tweet
    5. moment
    6. article
    7. message
    8. email

Once we’ve filled out these 4 fields on this imaginary form, we can begin the autopsy. Stories have two fundamental components:


  1. ART: A story TYPICALLY has ART. The art may be (a) a single still image or video (b) an album of images and or videos or a combination of both. An image may be a logo, graphic art or photo. The video may be LIVE or recorded.
  2. COPY: A story TYPICALLY has COPY. Copy is the written word. If it is a photo story, the copy is called a caption. If it is a blog post or article, the copy is called the body. A video or live broadcast’s story may have the copy embedded in the video in the form of written words on posters, walls, index cards, etc.

As the medical examiner, you will want to perform some or all of these tests on the story lying on your imaginary operating room table.

  1. What is its purpose? Why did this author publish this story?  Start by classifying it as either ENTERTAINMENT or INFORMATIONAL. Rather an entertaining story or an informative one, what is it trying to make the reader/viewer do …
    1. smile
    2. laugh
    3. think
    4. question
    5. cry
    6. take action
      1. click through
      2. approve / reject
      3. respond
      4. transact
      5. other
    7. learn
    8. other
  2. What’s the lifecycle of the story? Every story has a birth. Many stories have an afterlife. Was this story created to live a few seconds or forever?
  3. Was this story an accident or well planned? How much time and energy went into the production of this story?
  4. What’s the target audience? Is this story intended for
    1. one
    2. 2-9
    3. 10-100
    4. Hundreds
    5. Thousands
    6. Tens of Thousands
    7. Hundreds of Thousands
    8. Millions
    9. Billions
    10. Trillions
  5. Did the story do its intended job? Did it make its target laugh? Did it motivate its target to take action? Did it make its target think? At this point in the examination, you may want to SCORE the story from 1 to 10 on its performance.
  6. Analyze its engagements. Is it an engaging story (or not)? Who is engaging with the story? An engagement occurs when the reader/receiver/viewer:
    1. CLICKS on the story.
    2. Reacts to the story using a button attached to the story:
      1. like
      2. dislike
      3. favor (heart)
      4. haha
      5. wow
      6. angry
      7. sad
    3. Comments on the story using a button attached to the story:
      1. reply
      2. comment
    4. Shares the story using a button attached to the story:
      1. retweet
      2. share
    5. Saves the story using a save button attached to the story.
    6. Hides the story using the advanced menu feature.
    7. Reports the story using the advanced menu feature.
  7. How INTIMATE is the story? Intimacy can be scored from 0 to 10. A zero score means that this story does NOT connect with the target on a personal emotional basis. A video of a puppy dog may put a smile on your face but you might score it low on the Intimacy Scale because it does not “feel” personal. Stories that make you FEEL like this story is about YOU or RECALLS a memory or VERIFIES YOUR thoughts are stories that rank high on the Intimacy Scale. As the examiner, use your judgment to estimate the percentage of the target that would rank this story high versus low on this scale.
  8. What is the QUALITY of its AUGMENTATIONS? An augmentation is when the author or sharer ADDS hyperlink(s), tag(s), location(s), hashtag(s), mention(s) or other ACTIONABLE functionality to the story. An example is when a user on Instagram ADDS LOCATION to a photo. Both unstructured and structured stories can be augmented. Structured stories such as an event or review REQUIRE the author to augment the story in very specific ways typically through drop-down menus. As the examiner, exam the QUALITY of the augmentations NOT the quantity. Do the augmentations ADD VALUE to the story? Keep in mind that some augmentations create value AFTER the story is consumed. For example, an event story that is augmented with a navigable location can provide driving directions just-in-time to drive to the event.

2 thoughts on “Dissecting a Story

  1. Murphy Pitts says:

    Thanks John. You are very much like my Lama. Once I grasp what you have taught me, you show me there is mountains more to learn. I love this experience! Peace! Great stuff!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: