Ryan's Blog

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tips for storytelling

I was at the Belfast Media Festival today, and one of the sessions was on storytelling, presented by Frank Ash. An inspirational session talking about how to tell good stories in Factual programmes. Frank sped through lots of useful tips and gave us a good framework for thinking about the story our production is trying to tell. It was probably all common-sense, and normal practice to those who make TV, but coming from outside, I found it all quite new (at least I hadn't thought about it before). This is a bit of a brain-dump of what I can remember. A story needs to be a journey. The start needs to be intriguing, we need just enough information to make us curious. The rest of the story needs to answer the questions raised by the start and we need a good conclusion that completes the narrative arc and resolves the main question. There are universal themes that any good story needs to cover, though not always explicitly. We the audience need to identify with those themes even if we aren't familiar with the specific incidents. We need characters we can care about. Not too many, just enough to give us all the information we need to resolve the narrative. The story needs to have events, incidents that cause a conflict for the character, that force him to consider his position and to make a choice. So how do we apply this to storytelling on the web? Well, I'm not sure. I think that potentially what we are considering stories on the web aren't actually stories. Experience tells us that our audience won't enter a site by the front door, so we might not get the chance to introduce the story properly. How do we ensure that we answer the right question then? If the audience has a different question in mind they will be dissatisfied with the conclusion of the story (because they won't get an answer). Of course, the flexibility of the web allows us to provide lots of endings for the story. We can allow the audience to choose where to go, so the incident that causes a conflict for the central character could easily become a choice-point for the viewer. The opportunity of the web is it's freedom. We aren't limited by how long our programme is. The audience can experience our story in multiple sittings, and can choose to leave at any time. The humble link gives us endless possibilities for changing the direction of the story. We can choose to provide a quick and simple version, or an in depth, complex one; one with a happy ending or a tragedy. The best online storyteller is possibly the one who knows when enough is enough.