My 6-year-old niece is annoying.  Every time we meet, she wants me to tell her a story. I love her to bits, and reluctantly, I agree to make up a story for her. Surprisingly, it doesn’t need a lot of effort from my side. I simply stick to one simple format. 

We want to tell stories, but we start overthinking them and get entangled in complex storytelling structures. What if there was a simple story structure to create stories that you could use in your LinkedIn posts, blog articles, and Emails?

In this article, we will look at the Underdog story framework. It’s possible that you find this article overwhelming the first time you read it. Re-read it because I promise you that by the end of it, you will be able to create stories that are impactful. 

Let’s dig in.


1 The Character:

The protagonist/hero of the under-dog story is…well, an under-dog. He is usually under-estimated, sometimes ridiculed, and most of the time, ignored. He might not be the best-looking and usually doesn’t have money or social status. 

In the underdog story, we need to make sure that we don’t make our character powerful, know-it-all, and invincible. In fact, we go the opposite direction. The audience empathizes with a character that is being underestimated. 

(For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the Protagonist/Hero as “He”, but please know that this is gender agnostic.)

The under-dog Panda

A good example of an underdog hero is Po from Kung Fu Panda. Po is overweight, doesn’t possess any special talent, doesn’t seem gifted or athletic. Content with his life, Po is happy to put his head down and help his adopted father in running the family restaurant. 


  1. The Complication

Once we’ve set the stage for our character, we bring in the Complication. This is where our underdog is pushed into a situation he really doesn’t want to be in. There’s a lot of reluctance here – he has no desire to be there and would much rather go back to his normal life.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that there are stories where the underdog willingly embraces the challenge. That’s a viable route, too. But for the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on the more traditional, reluctant underdog.

Show the struggle

The complication phase is characterized by a massive struggle. The Hero is trying to get out of this complication, but despite his best efforts, is failing miserably. There is little hope. 

Internal and external difficulties

While showing this struggle during the Complication phase, it’s important to note that the Hero is NOT just battling external difficulties like –

– My company was losing money.

– the tiger was coming to attack me.

– My boss asked me to work during the weekend.

– The King Kong was going to destroy the city. 

He is also fighting internal emotional battles – his inner demons and tremendous self-doubts. 

Take a pause and re-read this because this is crucial. A lot of times, our stories focus on external challenges, with little regard for the emotional challenges faced by the Hero. The internal challenges are the ones that grab the audience and make the story captivating. 

Po’s internal and external battles

Po is hopeless at Kung Fu, and despite his teacher’s best efforts, there has been no progress. He is underestimated by his teacher and his colleagues. Po was worried about Tai Lung, the evil snow leopard who would bring violence to the world. (External difficulty)

But most importantly, Po is worried that he has been chosen to be The Dragon Warrior, who needs to step up and defeat this snow leopard. He has zero confidence, no abilities, and tremendous self-doubts. (Internal difficulty)


  1. Insight and Transformation

When all the hope is lost, and the hero is pushed right against the wall, an event takes place in the Hero’s life, which gives him a moment of epiphany. This powerful moment brings the Hero face to face with a false belief that he is holding on to. The Hero is forced to acknowledge this misbelief and change it. 

With this new insight, the Hero takes the leap, defeats the villain and peace is restored. The worldview of the Hero is altered forever. 

Po’s moment of epiphany

There are two crucial scenes in the movie –

  1. When Po opens the Dragon Scroll. It’s blank. All he sees is a reflection of himself. 
  2. Po has always believed that his father, Mr. Ping, has a secret recipe for his noodle soup. Later, Mr. Ping reveals to Po that there is no secret recipe.

This is the moment. It hits him like a truck. “There is no secret,” he understands. “I am enough,” he realizes. 

With this new insight, he goes to battle the Tai Lung and defeats him. The tension is released, peace is restored, and Po’s worldview is changed forever. 

Let’s build a quick story

Let’s put what we learned into practice. Before we move ahead, a word of caution – I am not suggesting that you make up lies or false stories. If you are openly claiming that it’s a fictional narrative, go for it. But don’t make up stuff. 


The story of how you closed a Sales deal

  1. The Character and Context

You have been an average student all your life, and somehow you made it through Engineering. Barely. Your below-average scores were unsuccessful in getting you a well-paying job. Finally, with the help of a distant Uncle, you get an internship as a Sales Executive. 

  1. The Complication

Nobody respects you in the job, nor do they expect anything from you. Your role is simple: just gather leads and set up calls for prospects with your reporting manager, who’s the one actually running the sales calls. 

So far, none of these calls have turned into actual sales, and it’s really starting to get to you. Those self-doubts? They’re crippling. And it doesn’t help when your manager and the CEO keep sending angry emails your way.

“I wish I had more experience to get on the Sales calls and close them myself!” you say to yourself. 

  1. Insight and Transformation

Then, something changes. You see your 10-month-old niece taking her first steps. She keeps falling, and yet she persists. She wasn’t ready and yet she took the steps anyway. You realize that one can never be ready. 

You get on your first Sales call. It doesn’t work. The next 3 calls are even worse. On your 4th call, you close your first Sale.


To summarize

The under-dog story is one of the easiest frameworks to tell a story – Context of the character, Complication, and Transformation. You can use it in your articles, social media posts… and also while telling stories to your persistent niece. 😉