Here’s a guilty confession: when I first wanted to get into making videos, it was because I watched travel videos from influencers. Creators by the likes of Sam Kolder, Benn TK and JR Alli. I felt a rush while watching them, with all of the transitions, trendy dance music, teal-and-orange colour grades and hyperlapses. I loved watching them and for a while could only dream about making something like that one day. As I went for short trips and holidays, I would get my camera out and start filming random bits and trying to put together travel videos of my own. I eventually managed to learn a lot of these skills and put together videos that were great eye candy.
But they were missing something. As I watched more and more travel videos, it became clear that the best ones had something that most of the other ones didn’t: the ability to hold my attention and give me a reason to keep watching until the end. In other words: a story.
Over the years I’ve seen the power that stories hold: they can bring a person to tears, change minds, move hearts, spark a movement. If told correctly, your reward for telling a good story is a receptive audience to which to send a message. You can teach them anything, from the value of family, to working together as a team or the perils of fast fashion.
I’d developed these skills to make great videos, which had now suddenly they had taken on a whole new meaning. It felt like I’d gained a superpower.
Without any formal training or background in filmmaking, when I started I had no idea what storytelling actually meant. In order to find out, I took an online storytelling course called Crafting Moving Films, which gave me a fantastic education on what I’m sharing here. Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks and Dan Kennedy has also been a great resource.
I want to share it with you today because if you’re starting out, the whole ‘storytelling’ term can feel super nebulous because it gets thrown around a lot these days and it times can seem like a tough, complex beast.
1. Separate the end and the beginning as much as possible
A story in it’s most basic form, is a transformation of a character from one point (the beginning) to another (the end). This might be a discovery of their own talents, of the value of friendship, the meaning of family or the ability to accept help, to name but a few. The journey from this beginning state to the end is the story arc. This is a tip I learned from Storyworthy: the bigger the difference between beginning and end, the better the story. A great tip is that if you’re coming up with a story: come up with the ending first. Then flip that to the polar opposite to determine where your story should start. For example, if your story is about a woman getting back in touch with her roots, then the start of the story should show her as out of touch with them as possible.
This is why people tend to enjoy stories about the underdog. They’ve got a bigger change to make. There’s more to gain. A better story.
2. Desire matters most
Desire is something that a person really wants, beyond what he or she already has.
With the start and ending of your story determined, the next most important building block is desire. Every main character has to have this. Harry Potter wants to become a wizard and kill Voldemort. Iron Man wants to escape from his cave prison and live up to his father’s image.
When the desire is clear, it creates empathy and allows the audience to connect with the story.
3. Conflict: The fuel that propels the story
Once the desire in the story is set, the next step is for the hero to undergo conflict.
Conflict is a challenge or obstacle that the character must overcome to attain their desire
It creates engagement and gets people to pay attention. This is because it creates a question, something you want answered. So there’s no choice but to keep watching to find out.
4. Follow the 3 act structure
Nearly every story ever told follows this structure. You’ll do well to follow it too:
- Beginning: The story is set up and we’re introduced to the characters and their desire
- Middle: The character confronts their conflict and tries to work through it
- End: The story reaches its climax where the hero resolves the conflict. The bad guy is slain, the guy gets the girl etc.
After the third act comes the conclusion: this is where as a storyteller you get the opportunity to send the audience a message. This is your reward for taking the audience on their journey. If you’re making a documentary, this could be your chance to raise awareness about a cause or social matter. If you’ve spent the last 90 minutes telling a story about climate change, tell them what they can do to help.
There are many more nuances to storytelling beyond what I’ve covered here. Indeed, you can find entire books, courses and degrees related to the craft. No matter how great or small, stories always boil down to these building blocks. From a cute Pixar short to an Avengers movie, to a travel vlog, to a Mr. Beast video.
Just remember these things:
– Separate the start and end as much as possible
– Have a character with strong desire
– Give them a compelling conflict to overcome to reach that desire
With these guidelines in mind, you can now structure a story and think about the most important elements to make it a compelling and moving one. If you pull it off well, you might just be able to make somebody feel something.
Next time you watch a Youtube video or movie, try and think about these principles and how they’ve been applied well (or poorly).