It’s Called Story Arc

Feb 14, 2012

The average American is inundated by media messages constantly. Whether it is electronic billboards, facebook targeted ads, or the television commercial, there is an ongoing competition for our attention. The non-profit world faces a similar dilemma. The need for donor support is unwavering and the causes are many. Thus there is a specific need to communicate to potential supporters the impact and mission of today’s non-profit in a visually effective and concise way.

In the midst of the media landscape, there are a few programs that stand out. NPR’s This American Life, HBO’s documentary films, and The Moth live storytelling podcast all are examples of radio, television, and web based media that has a devout following and turns people to tears on a consistent basis. While the programs named above all have different stylistic treatments, the common thread is the emphasis on the craft of story. Once a viewer gets emotionally invested through a strong story, their attention will be held until the very end. The following building blocks are common story-telling elements used in both radio and film:

– Anecdote- The sequence of events in its purest form. By beginning our story with an emotional sequence of events we will draw in viewers instantly. The anecdote also brings momentum to a story, so the viewer feels they are going on a moving train that has specific moments in time and an ultimate destination.

– Reflection- Without moments of reflection our anecdote means nothing. Throughout major turning points of the story, we will ask our subjects how the felt, and what they thought at these moments in time. This tool essentially tells the viewer, “This is why you are listening to this story.”

– Question/Answer- Throughout our piece we will be creating a series of questions and answers within the viewer’s head. For example, if our subject were going to be evicted, we would start with a sound bite like “I was counting up quarters and it didn’t add up. As my hands begin to shake, I looked around my apartment and began to weep.” This is much more effective than beginning with “I was broke and going to get evicted.” This style begs the question- “why were you counting quarters?” We then provide the answer through the anecdote. By withholding information thoughtfully we create a story that has a journey.

Here’s a sample of a short piece Corduroy Media produced that uses some of these techniques –

– Sean Donnelly