How should we structure stories in Virtual Reality?

Photo by from Pexels

Let’s establish one thing: VR films and 360 videos allow for viewers to have an unrestricted viewing angle of a scene (in 360° degrees).

Now take any movie for example. If the Titanic was filmed in 360°, people could’ve been looking the other way, counting the number of other survivors in the vast sea instead of focusing on Jack slowly slipping into deep waters. They might spin their head around only to entirely miss the entire tragic and crucial demise of the protagonist.


The filmmakers would be shook to hear that people didn’t see Jack die. Some may not even know he did. Maybe he just vanished. But of course, this is all hypothetical if the Titantic was a VR film.

The point is, a story, when shown in 360° may end up being understood very differently than if it was just a traditional film.

People may end up missing key details of a story if they were looking at another part of the scene.

So if you are intending to create a 360 film and have the technological means but are lacking in some strategic content, here are some key points that may help VR filmmakers and 360 video creators to enable people to understand their story.

1. Capture attention in specific frames of a 360° scene

Within a scene, draw attention to a particular frame where the action is happening, or at least, what you want people to pay attention to.

Here’s what I mean by “scene” and “frame”.

I used a panoramic photo for simple elaboration but VR scenes are usually shown in an equirectangular format.

Here’s three common ways to draw attention:

  • Motion — The action is only happening in that one frame. The people/objects/things in that frame are moving, talking.. etc. Everything else outside of that frame stays inanimate.
  • Light — As you may have heard, lighting is everything! Well… not necessarily. Perhaps shine more light on the action, and dim the rest of the area outside that frame. Like moths, people are attracted to lit areas especially when the other non-important parts of the scene are hard to see.
  • Color — Brighter and bolder colors attract the eyes. Have the protagonist wear a red shirt or something noticeable and memorable.

There are more ways and you can look up traditional film guides too.

The point is to make sure people are looking at key events in the story so they understand what is happening. Decide what the key events are, what essentially makes up your story. Feature that.

2. Have a common plot

I dig arthouse films. I dig indie films. I even dig Dogtooth.

However, try to keep the plot simple. Easy to understand. Socially conventional. A Hero’s Journey. Familiar conflicts like love triangles.

Bear in mind that this narrative medium is still rather new. It’s not the mainstream way of consuming entertainment, yet.

So most people still take significant time and thought to navigate themselves through the experience… leaving little to no capacity for deep thoughts with artsy-fartsy interpretations.

Personally, I love Google Spotlight Stories’ Pearl, because it follows a simple story of a girl growing up and the usual ups and downs of a father-daughter relationship. It also has fantastic visuals.

3. Start with the Introduction, end with the Resolution

While there are plenty of ways to structure a story, try to keep the Introduction as the first scene, and Resolution as the last scene.

Introduce characters in the beginning, have closure at the end.

This provides sufficient time and information for people to understand links between events and scenes. Let people make sense of your story easily and how it ends.

Reduce their confusion.

These points are a condensed summary from my research done at the National University of Singapore. It is a non-exhaustive list and I’m sure there are more things to look out for when creating a narrative for VR. If you love stories and VR stuff and chocolate, let’s connect! —


I would also like to give credit to Dr Lu Weiquan from the National University of Singapore for mentoring me during my research :-)))


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