The essence of storytelling

Voight Thornton
3 min readJun 10, 2021

Whether you’re making a feature film or presenting a product review, it’s all about how you tell the story.

Many ways to tell a story

When planning visual communication, some of the most important questions to answer are about storytelling. Whether you’re working on a film or a live presentation, or using techniques like nonlinear editing or motion graphics, the principles of storytelling are the same.

Build a narrative

You may have heard the saying that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end — but not necessarily in that order.

Here’s a common narrative arc and key questions to answer that will help you develop your own story.

Our hero needs something, and it’s important

  • Who is the hero of the story?
  • What do they want and why do they want it?
  • What happens if they don’t get it?

The stakes should be as high as possible to connect with your audience.

Our hero encounters an obstacle

  • What’s the obstacle?
  • Why is it there?
  • Can they overcome it?
  • If so, how?
  • If not, why? And what must they do instead?

Overcoming the obstacle

  • How do they approach the obstacle?
  • Is this plan going to work?
  • How do they succeed?

Even if you’re working on a project with no clear narrative, you’ll probably still find those key storytelling stages to be relevant and helpful to review.

For example, if you’re creating a marketing video for a new product that solves a common problem, you can think of the audience as your protagonist. Their story begins with them facing a challenge, unaware of your product and how it can help. From there, your audience takes a journey from discovering and learning about your product to using it to solve their problem — the middle and end of this narrative.

Connect with your audience

The most important way to engage your audience is to add human emotion to the story. You may be showing the origins of a company, the transformation of a character, or your own story of personal discovery — if you can find the human emotions that drive the events in the story, your audience will have a powerful reason to engage.

The characters that your audience will care most about will be the ones that seem most human. Pixar demonstrated this with their famous animated lamp playing with a ball. If characters respond to events with human emotion, audiences will connect with them.

Be clear

Avoid presuming that your audience knows anything that you haven’t explicitly shared with them. If there are gaps, you will need to fill them because audiences disconnect when they don’t understand what is going on.

Inform, educate, entertain and empower

The goal of the storyteller is to give to the audience — and the audience needs to feel it. If your audience learns something new, gains a deeper understanding, or is engaged and entertained by your project, they will feel it was time well spent and perhaps they’ll come back for more.