Visual storytelling must captivate for today’s audiences to maintain engagement. People say that millennials have short attention spans.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but it does mean the stories we tell must resonate and capture attention now more than ever, especially when it comes to digital storytelling.

Nonsensical video ads, annoying pop-ups, and promoted posts bombard users (viewers). Make your content worth watching.

There are storytelling podcasts, storytelling games, storytelling books, storytelling workshops. Storytelling has officially become a buzzword.

It seems that everyone who works in marketing is a storyteller. But they’re not getting it.

To create something people will truly want to watch, it has to fall within one of two extremes: it either has to matter, or it has to be so ridiculous that it does not matter. If your characters kind of care about something, your viewers will not care about anything.

But if they care about something passionately, or, on the other end of the existential spectrum, if they passionately do not care about anything, viewers will be interested.

As a writer, a director, and/or a producer, you have to figure out how to tell a story about which people will give a damn. My short film “Son of Blackbeard” puts forth a completely ridiculous concept.

But it matters because it touches upon classic themes of legacy as well as a strained father-son relationship. People relate to this.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, take a moment and check out the 22 Storytelling Rules from Pixar below.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You have to keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on. It’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

via Pixar Touch Book.

Let’s reduce these rules down even further to one key concept: inject yourself into the story, and make it interesting.

Do the unexpected.

But what about the stories that don’t matter? They can be even more fun.

What do I mean by this? Sure, every good story matters in some way. But the subject itself can be completely inane. Like a story about a blood-thirsty talking dog. Surely in the context of politics and society, this story would not matter. At least on the surface. You could make any story matter, regardless of how ridiculous it seems at first.

And that’s why the stories that seemingly don’t matter are the most fun to me. You can do whatever you want, including making the story meaningful.

For example, I love dogs. Perhaps the owner’s dog contracts a disease and then becomes a mutant, killing the protagonist. I see a story and themes that matter right there–love. betrayal, reverse animal cruelty. All from an inane premise that didn’t matter.

Enter a meaningful or ridiculous premise for a film in our film funding contests for a chance to get up to $10,000 to make it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *