- Shweta Raman
- storytelling, powerful medium, elements, character arc, conflict
We all love stories. From early childhood we learn about life and the world through tales. As we grow up, it becomes an indispensable way of communication.
“Whenever you find yourself laughing at a situation or shaking your head or saying to someone, ‘Listen to this,’ you’ve probably got a story.”
— Ken Fuson, a reporter for The Des Moines Register
Here are the 5 magic ingredients that can help you master the art of storytelling:
1. Know your character: All the characters in your story are leading it forward. The character may go through various events but do you know your character enough to know how they will react in any given situation? The actual story is what is going on inside your character, not the events taking place around him/her. What is really going on? What is your character hoping for? What is he/she fearing? That’s what we need to know. All the events taking place around are actually triggers of what’s going on inside the character. Events are the plot or the story line but not the story. So we need both the event as well as the character’s inner emotions. However, it’s how well you know the protagonist traits that determines your whole story. Human emotions can have innumerable shades and thus so can character traits.
2. Know your context: The fundamentals of Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity’ is not too far disconnected from the importance that context has in storytelling. Everything is relative and things only make sense when they are. Without context we feel disconnected and disoriented. In the same way, stories do not exist in a vacuum. They happen in a specific time and place, better known as a setting. The setting gives an audience much-needed context for the story. When and where a narrative transpires provides the audience with a crucial framework so as to not feel lost at any time; and thus not fall out of the storyline. After all, a story taking place in outer space (2050) will be far different from a story happening during World War II. Setting provides the internal context for every story. Stories also have two important external contexts – audience and medium. Audiences matter because who you’re talking to can change what you say. Always consider your setting, audience and medium when telling a story. Context is relative but without it nothing is relatable.
3. Introduce Conflict: Imagine a horse race with just one horse and no opponent. Conflict concerns struggle. Struggle is something that all living creatures face in varying degrees over time. We relate to struggles small and big because we naturally face them in our lives. In a story, if there’s no conflict there is no intrigue either. For example, in the movie Cast Away, there would be no story to tell if the character just had a perfectly comfortable life on the beach. Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. Conflicts in a story can occur at three levels; viz. conflicts between characters, conflicts between the characters and the outside world, and internal conflicts for the characters. A story – any story – is a tale of conflict. Without conflict, a story ends up being a list of events.
Inner: The inner conflict is the voice that plays inside everyone’s head, it is their thinking, decision-making, sets of beliefs, prejudices etc.
Personal: Personal conflict is the next level up and focuses on the conflict that arises from the interaction between characters.
Extra-personal: Extra-personal conflict is the final level of conflict and involves the protagonist’s interaction with a wider society.
4. Create Anticipation: There are three things people consume stories for; to be entertained, to escape or simply to feel. For any of the above to happen, the audience needs to be engaged. To be engaged means to continually deduce and deduct because that’s what we do in real life. Humans are born problem solvers, and sometimes it’s the absence of information that draws us in and keeps us engaged. It’s really this anticipation that the audience is looking for.
“The audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don’t want to know that they’re doing that.”
— Andrew Stanton
5. Draw from your real life experience: All humans experience the same emotions. When you have a certain experience in your life that has had an impact on you and the people around you, it ought to bring out the same feeling within the audience. Use this to your advantage while telling your story. Use what you know. Draw from it. Don’t plot scenes without sensitivity. It means capturing a truth from your experiences, expressing values you personally feel deep down at your core. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The audience loves to relate to subtle emotions of characters as it draws them further into the story.
On the whole, storytelling has guidelines but no fixed rules. While we say it’s important to ‘break the rules’ to be creative and innovative, one must be well aware of the technicalities and nuances of both human emotions and the craft of constructing a story. Be it documentary, fiction, branded content, or just a simple conversation, good storytelling is key to engaging audiences. We create documentary films about social issues along with engaging brand films and these 5 magic ingredients have always had us covered. We hope this article helps all the storytellers in putting powerful ideas into the world.