Lots of great movies and novels have been written using insurance plots.
But you’re not a novelist or screenwriter. What kind of stories can you tell about insurance?
Would you believe there are thousands of stories out there just waiting for you to find and use in your own articles? And they are all true.
I’m referring to claims stories. FC&S Legal is an excellent resource for property and casualty claims stories. You can also find all kinds of claims stories by Googling “claims stories” or a variant. Click on the footnote here to get more sources. 
The only problem with claims stories right out of the box, though, is that they are usually pretty dull.
You’ve probably read a few. They sound like those two- or three-sentence novel or movie synopses where all the passion and energy has been extracted. Reading them feels like walking through an empty house where nobody lives any more.
Here’s a claims story that was actually made into a book, then a movie. See if you recognize it:
Well, what kind of fun is that? Where’s all the lust, betrayal, suspense and paranoia of the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity? (The book by James M. Cain, who had actually sold accident insurance, was adapted for the screen by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.)
Here’s another movie plot involving insurance fraud (also directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, who seemed to have a soft spot for insurance scams):
Aided by a dishonest lawyer, a cameraman alleges a paralyzing disability from a work injury while covering a football game and brings a lawsuit. A claims investigator is instrumental in revealing the deception.
This is the plot of the 1966 movie The Fortune Cookie, which won a couple of Academy Awards. Missing from this summary is how the cameraman, played by Jack Lemmon, at first resists the scam concocted by his crooked lawyer brother-in-law but finally consents so he can win back his greedy wife.
Also missing is how the football player who accidently injured the cameraman becomes racked with guilt and in the end the two become best buddies.
I think you are beginning to see how a boiled-down movie plot is similar to a claims story — and vice versa. Their sheer brevity leaves a lot of potential for adding drama, tension and suspense.
Am I suggesting you write a movie script, a novel or even a short story based on a claims story? No. I’m just saying these simple stories of disaster have inherent drama and may be very useful if you can zap some life into them to help you make a point.
How to Bring a Claims Story to Life
Here’s a claims story I found:
Sounds like this family would be glad if they owned a personal umbrella policy, right? Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. We don’t know, but the story is grist for the mill. So let’s see if we can use it to make an insurance article that readers will want to finish reading.
Just as every movie or novel has structure, every article or blog post needs structure: an opening, main section and closing. Each section has its purpose.
With a claims story, the structure is very simple. The opening engages readers and makes them want to read on. The main section tells the claims story in a way that creates tension and suspense. The closing is much like the end of a fable, where there is a moral to be learned and readers are given guidance in case they encounter a similar situation in their own lives.
The Opening: pull the reader in
There are at least four ways to pull a reader into a claims story — or any other kind of story. Here’s a brief explanation of each:
- Engage the reader’s empathy by describing a problem or situation the reader can relate to.
- Put yourself or your reader in the story.
- Make a bold statement that’s surprising or controversial.
- Lead with a personal anecdote, observation or question.
We’ll cover these techniques in detail later in the book. For the opening of this claims story, I start off with Number 4, an observation.
Do you like bonfires?
A bonfire sounds like fun, but it has the potential to be a little frightening. We’re apt to think of bonfires that go out of control. Here I develop the idea of how bonfires, though dramatic, can also be dangerous.
The stage is set for the main section.
The Main Section: character, setting, suspense and anticipation
As we’ve observed, the biggest problem with a bare bones claims story is its lack of drama. How do you build drama? Add details. Details help anchor readers to a story and create involvement. To bring this story to life, I need to provide details about the characters and setting.
The original claims story only tells us the “insured” hosted a beach party for their daughter. By giving the daughter a name, Tanya, I make her a real person. We don’t know why or under what circumstances Tanya’s parents hosted the beach party, but if I say it was a graduation party at a rented beach house right on the lake shore, the scene now has specificity and readers can start to get a better idea of the setting. Most people have probably been to a party at a beach house on a lake themselves. Past experiences will help readers relate to the characters and setting.
I could go on and add scores of details, but I’m not writing a movie or a novel.
Besides detail, the other important dramatic element all good stories possess is conflict. The conflict in just about any claims story is the anxiety of knowing something bad is going to happen— just like in a good horror movie.
That sounds ominous. Disaster lurks just around the corner, but I build the reader’s anticipation by holding back and teasing out the details.
Details like these are the bread and butter of every mystery or suspense writer’s craft.
Of course, everything is always perfect until it isn’t.
And then, a friend of Tanya’s found a discarded propane tank near the house and decided to throw it into the bonfire.
You can imagine what happened next. The tank exploded, causing severe injuries to the guests. Soon after, a $20 million claim was filed, alleging that Tanya’s parents failed to properly supervise the party.
Now that you’ve finished telling the claims story, you step into the spotlight and wrap things up with your perspective, like Aesop after one of his fables or Rod Serling after an episode of the Twilight Zone.
The Closing: the moral of this story
What was Tanya’s friend thinking? Why would anyone ever do such a stupid thing? And poor Tanya’s family!
Unfortunately there is often no logic or justice to why things happen. We can only hope that Tanya’s parents had a personal umbrella policy — because no homeowners policy would ever cover a $20 million lawsuit. Fortunately, personal umbrella policies, even with limits as high as $20 million, are relatively inexpensive.
And the moral of the story is … Don’t let this happen to you. Protection against unforeseeable catastrophes is available. Maybe a few of your readers will be motivated to call and ask you for a personal umbrella quote.
In any event, you’ve told a good story and imparted a valuable lesson. Hopefully, too, your readers will look forward to reading your next article.
 The AIG Claims Archive Search “provides access to over 2,500 real-world claims scenarios …. Each claim scenario illustrates the event that triggered the claim, the general location, the policy limits and the potential liability exposure above the policyholder’s attachment point. http://www.aig.com/searchresults/US-claims-archive-search_295_195450.html
Adjusters International presents case studies of commercial claimsl. http://adjustersinternational.com/case-studies/commercial/ and residential claims http://adjustersinternational.com/case-studies/residential/
Many public adjusters use claims stories to promote their services, such as Insurance Claim Consultants: http://www.insuranceclaimconsultants.com/about/case-studies/
 (Galen Insurance, 2011)
 Policygenius has created a hybrid claims story/sales pitch. It posts case studies of various types of health and personal insurance, include renters insurance, at https://www.policygenius.com/renters-insurance/guide/real-claims-stories. For example, they use made-up claims stories to illustrate how renters insurance applies to the needs of different renter profiles. This is a very hip, consumer-friendly insurance website, a real surprised by insurance experience.