GUIDE – Borrow Cinematic Strategies from the Big & Small Screens

Before you start thinking about how to bring your story “alive” via multimedia, make sure you actually have a good story to tell. A compelling story told through stick figure animation is much more powerful and engaging than a bunch of whiz-bang special effects that have no purpose.

You can probably get people to watch up to about 60 seconds of something “cool” just for the sake of being cool. But if you promise them a good story — that something interesting is going to happen to someone they have reason to care about — then people will watch for much longer. And more importantly, they’ll watch it again. And they’ll remember it.

Your goal: to use multimedia to tell the kind of story that people will want to watch more than once. And remember.

Borrow from the Big (and Little) Screens

How do you do that? Start with your own personal experience, but then use techniques from the multimedia format we know best, television and movies, to turn it into something “based on a true story.” That’s the art of storytelling.

Not sure how to work the details of your own personal experience into a compelling plot? Borrow one. That’s what all great storytellers do. You might start by picking the genre that best fits your story: is it a mystery, action, drama, horror, thriller, fantasy, romantic comedy, Disney story, or what? (Or could you make it into one?) Then pick a plot: either a common one for the genre or one you’ve encountered elsewhere. You can also borrow elements of characterization and dialogue.

For example, maybe you want to tell the story of something unusual that happened to you when you were in fifth grade. Which would be more interesting for your audience: (a) listening to you read a personal essay aloud while we see childhood photos on screen; or (b) watching a re-enactment of what happened in the style of a Hitchcock movie or Twilight Zone episode?

Want to tell a relationship story? The obvious genre would be romantic comedy, but relationship stories can be told a variety of ways, including as mysteries, thrillers, or even horror stories. If your story would best fit into the romantic comedy genre, is it more like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “500 Days of Summer”?

Hopefully you get the idea.

“As Seen on TV”

The wiki has loads of info and examples about common methods for multimedia storytelling. Like most wikis, this one is the result of hundreds of contributions by different people, but all with the same goal in mind: to collect examples of the conventions and devices (i.e., “tropes“) used in storytelling. Most of the examples are drawn from movies, TV, video games, and comic books, but the techniques apply to any kind of storytelling.

Here are a few pages to start with, but let your own curiosity drive you to explore further. Also browse other pages on this site that feature tips on using the language of the screen.