Collaborate’s Top 10 Tips for Storytelling!
11th April 2022
- Even if you aren’t working in a visual medium, try to imagine the stand-out beats of your story as an illustration or still movie frame. Visual imagery helps the human brain store memories, so the stories that stay with us are ones which feature the most striking imagery.Carefully choosing the weather, environment and lighting for key scenes helps each one to stand apart. Adding an unusual or out-of-place object is an especially good trick to make a scene memorable.
- For the biggest emotional impact, alternate your ‘up’s and ‘down’s. Take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride – this maximises the gut punch of sad scenes and the elation of happy ones.
- Start your story in a way that immediately shows the audience something unusual or unexpected! Open with a burst of action, conflict or spectacle for the biggest impact. “If you can’t hook people in within 8 seconds, you’ve already blown it.” – Mathew Luhn, Story Telling in Business
- Keep your audience’s attention after the initial hook by making it clear right off the bat that your protagonist needs to change, grow, or adapt. Promise the audience the pay-off, experiencing the vicarious joy (or catharsis) of a character going through a transformation.
- Find ways to endear your main characters to the audience early. A quick way to create a fun dynamic is to pair up characters who have opposite traits. Your main character is a bit of a perfectionist? Maybe their new friend is as laid-back as it gets. Duality accentuates both characters’ personality, making easy foundation for comedic or dramatic moments.
- Don’t get bogged down with the details or bombarding the audience with inner-workings of the world in which your story takes place. Only worry about the most essential parts to be able to follow the plot, and have faith that the audience can suspend disbelief where necessary. You can use background details effectively to build the world passively, without having to drop chunks of exposition.
- Consider a range of perspectives, not just that of your main character. Think about what drives each character – what is at stake for them personally? Give us reason to empathise with them. Try summarising your story from the point-of-view of another character and think about their journey.
- Never be afraid to rewrite! The first draft might look completely different to the final one. Sometimes you’ll see themes and ideas emerge as you work on an idea, that you never imagined at the start.
- Give your story – and your audience – room to breathe. Take time after an action-packed scene to show something quieter, something mundane, something not necessary to advance the story but which grounds the character as part of a living, breathing world. Hayao Miyazaki referred to this ‘space between’ as ‘Ma’, or emptiness.
- Practice finishing stories! You might have a Tolkien-esque epic on the backburner, but there’s no better way to improve your craft than to actually finish a story and put it out into the world (even if only a few people read it)! It will also help you to understand how your work connects with people, how they react to it, and to learn your strengths and weaknesses. Try setting yourself close deadlines or taking part in short-form challenges.