Whether you’re crafting a story for story’s sake or making a video to support your business or cause, using the basic tenets of storytelling adds emotional components that are integral to getting viewers to care as much as you do—or at least watch all the way through. In a recent content workshop at Adobe HQ Change.org petitioners gathered to create videos about their cause using Spark Video. Change.org’s senior producer Christina Frenzel kicked off the workshop by showing a clip of Disney Pixar’s award-winning animated film Up. Nominated for best motion picture and best screenplay, this tearjerker has loads of universal appeal and dazzling visuals, but many point to the first ten minutes, which act as a story-within-a-stroy, as a shining example of how to quickly draw viewers in. It certainly has the classic components of storytelling, which Frenzel and most screenwriters define as: structure, character, and stakes. Take a few minutes to watch the beginning and see if you can spot these three basic elements.
Structure: Classic story structure follows the journey of someone who wants something badly but has trouble getting it. Screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (known for Night at the Museum) sums up this same principle in three acts, present in most stories:
- Act I: Put your main character up in a tree.
- Act II: Throw rocks at him.
- Act III: Get him down
In the case of Up, audiences immediately know what these characters want (to get to Paradise Falls), but very quickly in a montage, we see life starts getting in the way:
Character: At the core of every good story are characters that viewers can relate to. Frenzel recommends showing characters that aren’t just struggling, but are seeking solutions. Characters who work toward goals against the odds invoke empathy from viewers, which inspires audiences to stick around long enough to see how it works out for them. For more on character development, YouTuber Critical Hit has an interesting discussion on how to pinpoint characters’ motivations and desires, using the same Up example:
Stakes: It’s not enough to have characters that want something badly; viewers need to have a sense of what will happen if they don’t get it. Here the stakes are raised as we see Carl and Ellie age and grow weaker. Viewers experience the same sense of regret and loss that Carl and Ellie do for not accomplishing their dream.
What this means for you: Before writing a script, it’s helpful to identify these key aspects of story, ignoring for a moment your business goals—increased sales, page views, or more signatures on a petition. That can come later. First, start at the theme level and ask yourself: What do I want my viewers to feel when watching this video? Then delve into establishing the who, what, and why of your story: Who is the main character in your video? What do they want? How are they trying to get it? What’s in their way? And what will happen if they don’t succeed? Once you’ve written this down, capture your answers in one simple sentence. Distilling your message in one sentence will ensure every decision you make after will enforce your core message. Focusing on the emotional components—and there are emotional components in every cause or business—will help you craft a narrative that inspires viewers.