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.

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