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Tools to develop your story

Gary Hoff gives you three simple and practical tools to help shape, develop and tweak your narrative.
Now that we’ve got to grips with what storytelling means in the design and advertising space and why we should be using this, this week we’re going to look at a series of tools and techniques that you can use to help shape and develop, enhance your stories.
To do this we’re going to look at three techniques: narrative maps, storyboarding, and narrative structure diagram. Before we start any of these exercises, you need to make sure that you know what your idea is. Think back to the bear. The idea, the truth, was that Canal Plus can make you fall in love with the cinema. So what’s the insight? What’s the message you’re trying to communicate? Just go back and sort of question that. Remember, this always comes first. So write this down. Keep it near to you. This might change and evolve over time. But that’s fine. It can help you shape the story going forward.
Keep referring back to it and ensuring that your idea and your story are communicating what it is you set out to do. First exercise is a narrative map. Like all our exercises, it’s really simple. All you need is a pen and a sheet of paper with some post-it notes. Start by drawing your axis from the narrative map. You’ve got time along the bottom and location on the side. This could be the year or could be a hundred years. Or it could be just a day. So you could use whatever stretch of time and place you want.
Using the post-it notes, you can just start to write down little parts of your story, like little mini events, and start to plot out what happens over time and place. You’ll start to build up a picture of the landscape and events in your story. It’s a way of going over the story, making sure you understand how it evolves and flows across time and place. If you decide to change anything, you can just move the post-it note around on the map. So it’s a way of editing your story, and it’s a tool that writers use. Another tool that’s used in filmmaking is storyboarding. It’s an easy way to begin to visualise the story.
But the whole idea of the storyboard is to draw out specific location events that happen in the story. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a professional storyboard artist or if you’re just drawing it out yourself with stick men. It’s all about getting your ideas down on paper as quickly as possible. The whole idea with both of these activities is to make all your mistakes on the page before you go anywhere near production. So don’t worry about any of these things looking perfect. You can redo them. It’s all about the idea. Change them and perfect them over time. A quick and simple way of mapping out your story is also to draw a narrative structure diagram.
I like to use this model by Kurt Vonnegut that Emma Lightfoot from R/GA sent to me.
All you need to do is sketch two axes: ill fortune, good fortune, beginning, and end.
So similar thing: time, effect. You can use the narrative map to help draw the plot you’d like to show, whether it’s good luck or bad luck, happy endings or bad endings, and where the protagonist might be within that shape. It’s a good way of saying, “Do I want to tell a story that’s really sad? Or do I want to start with bad luck and then introduce something that makes it become a good-luck story?” It’s a good way to check in and make sure that your narrative is the correct tone for the message. A classic narrative diagram would be ‘man in a hole’. It’s been used thousands of times in Hollywood.
And it doesn’t have to be about a man in a hole. It’s effectively about someone getting into trouble and then escaping and leading a better life. An example of this in an advert could be a man walks and falls in a hole and it’s dark. He reaches for his torch. He pulls it out. He switches it on. Add in product name here. He looks around. He finds a skeleton - obviously, the last person that fell in the hole. He jumps back. He then sees a rope, and he climbs out of the hole. But as he gets to the top, you add a twist in here. Does the rope snap? He falls back in the hole.
And then you have some sign-off line saying, “If only anything was made as well as our torches.” But then with the twist, then he could say, “Is anyone there?” He switches the torch on again, and there’s a beautiful woman with a ladder. Man in a hole. No matter which of these techniques you use, make sure you test your story out on people, whether it’s people at work or family or just random strangers. Just tell them your story and explain your idea and see what their reaction is. Are they sitting on the edge of their seat or are they running away from you? The random strangers probably will be. It’s really important to gauge how good your story is.
Make sure you use people who will be really honest with you. They’re the ones that will help you make the story better.
Now you have an understanding of the importance of storytelling, we’re going to look at three techniques for shaping and structuring your narrative effectively.
Make sure you know what your idea is before you start! You need to be able to answer this question confidently and concisely: What is the message you are trying to communicate?
Grab a pen, a piece of paper and some post-it notes, then press play…
If you haven’t already seen it, you can watch the full version of The Bear by following the link below.
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Storytelling in Advertising

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