Have I got a story for you! You’re intrigued right? As humans, story is as intricately entwined in our fibre as our need to breathe. We’re hard wired to tell stories, as Seth Godin puts it, ‘It’s how we make sense of the world.’

According to Matthew Winkler, author of Mentoring Teenage Heroes: The Hero’s Journey of Adolescence, it comes down to the fact that as humans we really aren’t that different from one another, hence certain formulas just work when it comes to conveying meaning or making connection.  “Because we all share the same brain – the same psychology, some things tap into all of us universally.” We’ve seen this repeated through time, many of the themes explored by Shakespeare are as relevant today as they were when he wrote about them several hundred years ago. Love, war, jealousy, anger. From renaissance literature to Netflix 2017 it is both comforting and unnerving that for us as humans – nothing much has changed.

Robert McKee, storytelling expert and author of Dialogue, The art of verbal action for page, stage and screen puts it beautifully, “Storytelling is as old as time itself. It’s the way in which the mind organizes thought. Story is about trying to make sense out of the chaos, confusion and terror of being human.”

It could be one of your most powerful skillsets in your kit, so let’s break down this mystical idea of ‘storytelling’ and then add into the mix why doing it visually is so damn powerful.

Generally speaking narrative has a fairly standard set of ingredients. There’s characters, the setting, there’s a conflict or some form of imbalance, there’s progression forward and whether implied or overt there’s a point to it all. But just as you can take the same set of ingredients in your kitchen and prepare and cook them into different meals. So too can a story be a roast or a stir fry, depending on how you cook it.

So let’s talk about narrative form. Stories can take many forms, you would already be familiar with many of them. In fact you probably already use them in your spoken or written stories as they are so ingrained in the way we communicate they are almost instinctual. But like any skill, if practiced with purpose it can be grown and improved.

The most common narrative form is the linear narrative. You will be familiar with this from many children’s stories and classic fiction. This is where the story is told from beginning to end through a series of events. And then…and then…and then…

The fractured narrative or non-linear allows the storyteller to jump back and forth in time. Like through flashbacks or the telling of multiple or parallel stories. 

Framed narratives are stories within other stories. Such as the movie The Princess Bride. The story starts with the Grandpa reading a book to his Grandson but as the audience we are quickly transported into the book, occasionally being reminded of the larger story with cut backs to the Grandpa.

The circular or epic narrative is commonly known as the hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell is considered one of the foremost authorities on the topic. There is a basic formula to this style of story – but I warn you, once you know it you will see it everywhere. So many of your favourite books and movies have it at their heart. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Karate Kid, just to name a few.

Through all of these narrative forms, there is a simple rule that guides almost all stories, the three act structure – exposition, confrontation and resolution. This is the basic formula that says the first part of your story will set the scene and introduce characters, the middle will house the tension – the good stuff that makes a story enjoyable, the stuff that throws in the imbalance. Then finally it has to resolve in some way.

So once you know your ingredients, and you have baked them into a suitable structure be it a slow cooked risotto or a smoky barbecued something-or-other, there’s a final layer of scrutiny you should apply to your creation. Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, has a simple recipe for making sure you’re cooking with a kick-ass secret ingredient – or five.  Jonah’s five markers of a great story:

M – memorable, use images and metaphors that people can’t forget and that will stay in their head

E – emotional, make sure your story isn’t just about thinking but feeling too, connection between characters makes connections with your audience. Ask yourself ‘what am I trying to get them to feel?’

R – relatability, you want your audience to think ‘that could be me’

I – immersive, trigger all the senses of your audience, start with some micro detail to allow the listener to feel like they are there seeing it, smelling it and hearing it

T – tangible, how things play out needs to have the right amount of ‘human-ness’ to it, too far-fetched and you might lose people

So what happens when we take a powerful tool like storytelling and we add to it with visual impact? In short, magic. According to Neoman studios as humans, we are visually wired too. Almost 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing and a whopping 70% of all our sensory receptors are in our eyes. This means we can get the sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second.

Put simply, our brains process visuals more efficiently than text alone. So I shall leave you with this tasty visual of what you’ve just learnt. Enjoy.