What is the Downfall story tactic?

Macbeth, Lance Armstrong and Nokia: they all had a hidden flaw that brought them down.

How the mighty have fallen! We love a good Downfall story almost as much as Rags to Riches. This is partly Schadenfreude-taking joy in another's misfortune. But Downfall stories are also instructive: "let's not make the same mistake they did!"

How to use the Downfall story tactic

You can use a Downfall story in two ways:


a. Defend: you are the "mighty" one, you're trying to hold onto your position.

b. Exploit: you are the upstart, you want to take customers from a big rival.

Either way, the beats of the Downfall story are the same:

Downfall chart


  • Flawed power: with Macbeth it was ambition, Armstrong - vile cheating, Nokia - complacency. There's always a flaw, it is always selfish and hidden.
  • Desperate denial: flaws begin to show, but the tragic hero covers up and doubles-down, rather than change.
  • Deserved disgrace: flaws are fully exposed, the 'tragic' hero comes crashing down (to everyone else's relief).

Defend Against Downfall:


  • What are your flaws and weaknesses? How might they be exposed?
  • What can you learn from criticism? How might you change?
  • If you do come crashing down, what benefits might there be to others? What kind of story could you tell? (See Epic Fail).

Exploit Another's Downfall:

  • What are your rival's flaws? How can you expose them?
  • How can you show your target customers that they deserve better?
  • How can you show your values in a positive light by comparison?
  • How would the world be a better place if all your rivals flaws were exposed?

You might like these Storyteller Tactics

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Downfall is one of 54 storytelling recipe cards inside the Storyteller Tactics card deck.

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