Part One: a theory of storytelling…

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What makes a story memorable? Is it the plot; the setting; the characters; use of imagery and figurative language? Although these are standards in written stories, there are additional elements in visual storytelling that must be taken into account.

Stories originally were told orally – through words and gestures by common folk and master storytellers. The master storyteller used pacing of words and sentences, choice of words, facial expressions and gestures with arms and hands and even whole body movements to hold the audience’s attention.

But a story told by a master storyteller could be trumped by a common person with compelling news or information. Such “stories” were fact or event driven – they had information the public wanted to or needed to know.

Although master storytellers are still with us, technology has advanced how stories can be “told.” We moved from oral to written stories (newspaper/books) to visual (silent movies) to audio (radio) to audio-visual (talkies) to more audio-visual (television).

To where we are today – storytelling on the Internet using words, audio, and visuals. Although it may seem that technology has made storytelling more complex, today’s visual stories still have many of the same elements as those told the old-fashioned way.

Stories are told using sound – orally. Narration, interviews, music, natural sound are all used to “tell” or enhance stories created using technology.

Stories are told using words/print. Today’s technologically-created stories use titles, supers, pages of information, overlays to convey information. They also use graphs and artwork, maps, etc.

Body language and gestures helped the master storyteller convey information. In today’s language, that means photos and video: what the audience sees that helps them understand the story.

Let’s look at the progression of complexity in telling a story using visuals:

1. Silent still – Series of stills with no sound (also called a slide show).
2. Silent video – Clip or series of video clips with no sound. Not used much because audio and video are recorded simultaneously with most cameras.
2. Music added – Music added and visuals (still/video) are edited to match the mood of music. There are ethical questions about adding sound that was not part of the original event that must be dealt with on this type of story.
3. Natural sound – Sound recorded at the event is added and visuals are edited to follow audio/with video sound recorded with clip is played back.
4. Interviews – Interviews are edited down to include essential information and visuals are edited to follow/match information in interviews. Natural sound may also be used to help tell the story.
5. Narration – Narration is written and added with visuals edited to follow/match information in narration. Natural sound may also be used to help tell the story.
6. Full package – Natural sound, narration, and interviews are mixed together and visuals edited to follow audio.

The beauty of storytelling is you can choose which elements to use or not use – and also which elements to lead with and which to use as background noise/information.

Next we’ll look at what drives stories – which elements to choose to best tell your story. These include visuals, audio, event, fact, chronological. Stay tuned.

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12 thoughts on “Part One: a theory of storytelling…

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  6. Despite the modern and sophisticated way of telling stories, I still think the most thrilling to tell a story is through oral narration. It is captivating the manner in which a mater storyteller brings characters to live with their words. It will be a sell out if there is a theater show like that.

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  7. Also, there are some situations where simple words (or even pictures) are enough to convey what someone is trying to say. For example, operas use music to “talk” and communicate with the audience. And we, the audience, understand what they are trying to convey through simple body motions and music. There are also times when silence is the only way we can truly express our own emotions.

  8. No, what I meant was “total silence”. While it is effective on operas (to emphasize a “dramatic” mood”), you wouldn’t want to use it on your children, would you? They would feel a little, bored (then again, it can be used to your advantage, as being bored can mean fall asleep, right?).

    Robert – Pool Covers

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