Visual Storytelling

What is a story and how do I know when I have a good one?

StoryGreg Nuspel

Our lives are awash in stories. You can’t have a decent conversation without coming across at least one. Spiritual practices are shared through stories and so are current events. We love stories in movies and books. We learn to read sitting on our parents’ laps listening to stories.

Anyone would think with all these stories it’d be easy to create a good one. Christopher Booker has an excellent book called “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories”. Ronald Tobias seems to disagree; his book is called “Twenty Master Plots and How to Build Them”.

We could spend a lot of time arguing about how many plots there are and never begin to learn how to create a single one. My screenwriter, Debbie, loves these books. She can’t get enough of them. Any time we watch a movie or read a book, she tries to pigeon hole the plot structure. Okay, I admit it, I’ve been known to enjoy those conversations too.

But the other day I asked her to make my life easier and give it to me in simple terms. What is a story? How do I know when I have a good one?

I’m pretty sure she got it from someone else because that’s what writers do. She said, “story is character change through conflict.” It doesn’t have to be head-to-head combat. The conflict can be as simple as a problem. The important part is that the character must change. We all hope for that, the possibility of positive change and we love watching it happen.

So what does that mean in terms of business videos? Start with a character people can relate to and give that character a problem. Let the character struggle a little before finding the solution because that’s the emotional hook. Then show the character overcoming the problem. This is the change: from frustrated to triumphant. Who doesn’t want to experience that?

I like using a truck commercial as an example. The truck is shiny and red. You had a toy just like it as a kid, so you instantly like it. The truck faces an incredibly rugged road on a precariously steep slope. We see its wheels spin and the mud flying. We hear the growl of its engine. The truck makes a hairpin turn, zips down the steep slope, and arrives at the destination with its windshields gleaming.

Stories about a character overcoming a challenge stick inside our heads. The reason is simple: they evoke an emotional response. So to answer the second question, you’ll know you have a good story if it makes your audience care.

Visual Storytelling

The Talking Heads were an awesome rock group

Debbie Bateman 

I enjoyed “Burning Down the House” as much as anyone. It’s a great song and the Talking Heads were awesome as a rock group. But if that’s all you have in your video, you’re missing out on the key advantage of visual storytelling.

Videos are stories told through moving pictures. With the best ones, you can turn off the sound and still follow the gist. Exciting things happen and they take up most of the screen.

When all a video has is headshots of people talking, the only thing in motion is their lips. Once you know someone is talking, seeing their lips move is not very interesting. It might as well be radio. Plus, the rest of the screen is wasted. All that wonderful potential is lost.

Yes, it’s often a good idea to include headshots in your video. Good videos often focus briefly on people, especially the first time they speak. We all trust information more when we know who is giving it. But 5 seconds or less will do it.

Once we know who’s talking, the visuals can switch to whatever illustrates the subject under discussion. For example, we recently did a branding video for Gelinas Carr Furniture. We started the video with headshots of Sandra and Joe, the furniture makers. But once they’d been introduced, we quickly switched to the real star of the piece, which is the high quality furniture they make. As you hear them describe their process, you get to watch their work coming to life.

If you take a moment and watch the video, you’ll see that the shots involve movement and not just the movement of the machines they use to make furniture. We’ve included camera moves that mimic the experience of discovering objects with your eyes.

Because that’s the beauty and the power of strong video. It lets you see the world through fresh eyes.