When I am talking to students or experienced journalists about storytelling, much of them have the same questions: how to start their story and get it better.
Maybe you are setting your first steps in broadcast/multimedia journalism or you might have been creating stories for many years now, I think storytelling can be brought back to ten cliffhangers you can use when you are researching, shooting or editing your story. Storytelling is not only creating a short doc that touches people, it is also about rethinking what we, visual journalists, are doing every day.
1. What is the story about?
Seems obvious right? But it is so important to determine what your story is about.
Who are you going to interview? Write down in one sentence a pitch for your story.
In daily broadcast journalism you are facing tight deadlines. They force you to make choices. Be confident, trust your own judgement. When you have really hot news, it is obvious what your main focus is. Sometimes you have to create that focus. Rely on your experience.
Find an angle, find your focus. And stick to it.
One thought per story. In a story there can be many angles.
What is the most important one, the most compelling one?
3. Make a shot list.
When something is happening in front of your camera, you’ll film the story and while editing you can pick the goods shots and make a story out of them. Start with the most vivid image, the best scene, that will draw the viewer in your story.
But it also happens a lot that you sit at your desk, you have all the information, but you have to create the images and scenes.
What are the shots your really need, you have to have to tell your story. Write them down.
Be creative, what do yo need to show your viewers something. How can the connect with the text you will write.
A story is really interesting when there is a conflict.
- Somebody wants something, but can’t have it.
- A conflict of interest, different opinions.
Think of who your main character is and can he solves this problem. Of course these ‘conflicts’ are more important for a long story like (short) docs than stories you make for the evening news. But still. In the end it is all about people. The might win or lose something.
5. Try to find the Universal Connection
Something Bob Sacha reminded me about. Stories are about emotions we all know; happiness, try to overcome something, fear, hope, winning losing, loving, hating. What can you add to the story the viewer can ‘touch’. Show him or her a story he or she can connect with. A main character who elicits aversion or on the other hand who can inspire your audience. What is in it for me? What can I learn as a viewer?
6. Natural Sound
Let your character tell the story, avoid too much voice over. You, as a journalist are less important than you character. Sometimes people forget it… Besides that, there is a lot of natural sound; wind, cars, people chattering, doors open and close… everything around us….
While filming, reporters sometimes forget that. But what is the use of a sound engineer, if you don’t use him.
The use of natural sound is important for the pacing of your story, the rhythm.
7. An ongoing story
Nothing is more boring than a talking head (most of the times). But it is not easy to find an alternative. Sometimes you don’t have, certainly when you shoot a story for the 7 o’ clock news.
But whenever possible, let your main character do something. Let him show the problem, take him into the action. Again, show and (don’t) tell.
For longer stories you can be more creative; are you shooting some kind of road movie; it’s clear what your ongoing action is.
Is your character creating something…
But again, what is there what you character can do and show us.
How fast are you gonna tell your story? How do you spread your information, what’s the rhythm of your interview combined with voice over and the natural sound. Don’t give away all your information in the beginning. Think about it. And rethink.
How do you start? A compelling part of the interview or that one great shot you have.
Think about plot points, twists in your story.
Look at this story, found on the website of the New York Times. It is about a teacher, but…
Take your time to tell the story, but while editing, most of the time it is something you feel.
Ok, show, don’t tell. But still, if you have to tell ‘write for the ear’.
Avoid long sentences.
Avoid writing exactly what you see. First the image, than the text.
Avoid writing about something completely different than what you see.
One thought per sentence, short, no jargon, not too familiar.
Write as you would tell it to somebody.
10. Have fun
It is great to tell stories, journalism will never die -printm but there are a lot of multimedia alternatives.
Challenge yourself. Get to know the skills first and experiment.
Forgot all the tips above and be creative.