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How to tell great visual stories

November 28, 2017

It's not always obvious what makes a great story. Something that seems ordinary at first sight can turn out to be really interesting.


It's all in the way you look at it.


We were recently asked to make a university Complaints Choir video. 'What's a Complaints Choir?', I hear you ask. Well, it's in the name - people singing about their complaints! On the face of it, not obviously thrilling - just a handful of people meeting in a room to practise a song. But where there are complaints, there are strong feelings. And where there's strong feelings... there's usually a story!


We used 4 simple steps to tease out this amazing story. If you follow them then you'll be on the road to telling great visual stories too.


1. Find the Passion

People don't give up free time unless something's energised them. It's not so much finding out what they are doing as WHY they're doing it. It's important to get to what's motivating people - find the passion in the story!

Everyone in the Complaints Choir had a reason for being there - tapping into that is step one.




2. Set the Context

Every little story is part of a bigger story - part of a context. It's the way these two elements interact - the personal with the cultural, the individual with the institutional - that make things interesting. You don't need to make a song-and-dance about this but just set the scene - the contrast will give your story a backdrop and perspective.

Our choir were stuck in one small room for a few lunch breaks but the University of Bristol is massive - one of the complaints is that people can get lost in the system - so we needed to show the bigger context. We did this by including time-lapse shots of students milling around and also by making sure we interview a member of student senior management.


3. Highlight the Suspense

Ok, so not everything is a literal cliff-hanger but it's not facts that keep people watching, it's wanting to know what happens next - suspense. Even a little bit of jeopardy can turn something from 'Meh' into something 'Ooooh'. Try to find something about your subject that is unpredictable and build your ideas around that. It makes a big difference.

 The complaints choir had a performance to build up to - there was some anxiety as to how that would go? That little worry was enough to carry the story through and keep the audience with it.


4. Find the Characters 

We need to see people and we want to see their personalities. What are they like and can we relate to them? It just takes a little bit of patience and skill to find the moments which show them off and help us get really into the story. But it's worth the effort. Search out the key players in your subject and also get them talking about what interests and animates them.




So there you go, I hope these simple steps will help you with your storytelling!


And finally, here's our finished Complaints Choir film -









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