Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: how to structure your stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 23, 2012

There are just four days to go until Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best goes out to the world, in a bid to raise as much cash for charity as possible.

And today I’m psyched to reveal what the front cover of the ebook will look like, thanks to the brilliant people on the Inside The Story Facebook page. Last week I threw up three front page design ideas and over the weekend, they’ve all been voting on which one they like best. And here’s the winner!

Front cover of Inside the Story

It features a mesmerising image taken by visual journalist and contributor to the book Jonah Kessel.

On Friday, I let you have a peek at what advice the book has about how to prepare your stories. Today I’ll show you what the best digital storytellers in the world have to say about how to structure a story properly.

How to structure your stories like a pro

When it comes to creating a narrative in the most effective way, no-one knows more than the contributors to the book, who all have scores of stories under their belt. Amy O’Leary is one of them: she’s a reporter on the New York Times and has been a producer of This American Life.

For Amy, it’s all about the start.

“Don’t be afraid to confuse your audience; suck them in with one gorgeous moment and use the rest of your piece to explain what the heck it was they just saw.”

I’ve written before about those vital 10 seconds at the start of every piece – something Amy echoes on her page in the book. She’s got some great advice on other ways to hook your audience right off the bat and reel them in. Many digital stories I see suffer from a boring, irrelevant opens so it’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Amy, Poul and Claudio's pages from Inside the Story

So you’ve hooked them in. Now what? Poul Madsen is the founder of the Bombay Flying Club, a multimedia collective based in Denmark, but usually found in all corners of the globe. For him, it’s vital every moment of a film, article or multimedia story has drive.

“From the very first frame, everything in your story – audio and/or visual elements – must point in some direction that makes sense to your viewers. Usually this means forward!”

How to you achieve forward drive in digital storytelling? Poul goes into the details in the book. And once you’ve propelled your viewer through your story it’s time to wrap it up, and according to director Claudio Von Planta that is where resolution comes in. Claudio’s been making films for 20 years, including the hugely popular documentary The Long Way Round which followed Ewan McGregor biking through Africa. Claudio’s page is crammed with nuggets like this:

“It’s always wise to develop a human-interest angle as a secondary focus where you explore how the characters in your story deal with adversity. This approach can offer an exit if you miss the primary goal.”

Claudio also offers advice for storytellers developing investigative films, and longer feature films – all of which require a strong resolution.

There’ll be another preview tomorrow, and in the meantime get on board the Facebook page and the mailing list!

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Inside the Story and where are you?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 26, 2012

A few weeks after announcing it, I’m excited to reveal more about the storytelling book project I’m working on at the moment.

It now has a title: Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – and a website. It’s been tested in most browsers (and will look a bit different in some) so do let me know if you spot any problems.

UPDATE: there’s now a Facebook page for you to get involved in too – click here to take a look

Some of the best multimedia storytellers out there are currently working hard on their contributions for the book, and we’re going to begin layout next week.

So far, I can promise you will learn about how to structure and pace stories from award winning film makers Claudio Von Planta and the Bombay Flying Club, how to make people engage with complex issues from Catherine Orr, who helped create Coal: A Love Story, and practical advice on coming up with innovative ideas from Andrew DeVigal, Multimedia Editor at the New York Times and photojournalist Jonah Kessel.

And that’s the just the beginning! Every day I work on the book the more convinced I am it’s going to be a really useful resource for anyone who wants to be better at storytelling on the web. And all the money goes towards Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

If you’re even in the slightest bit excited by the book, please put your name in the email box at the bottom of the preview page. No spam, I promise, but a note in advance of the book being launched. And most importantly please share it with everyone who could benefit from it!

In a mission to learn as much along the way as possible I’ve designed the web site myself in HTML5 and I’ll post some lessons I’ve learned as a novice web designer in a future post.

So that link again: Inside The Story.

Over to you

I write a lot on here about the need for more starters, initiators, entrepreneurs and storytellers who are committed to quality over quantity. And I know there are lots of you out there, I just don’t know who you are.

Quite often I get offers of work which for one reason or another I am unable to take up, and my list of people to recommend is actually quite short.

So I want to build a database, if you like, of excellent multimedia producers, filmmakers, directors, photographers, web designers, who I might potentially collaborate with on an exciting online project or be able to recommend to clients. I might also be able to hook you up with other collaborators.

No guarantees on either of those, of course, but if you’re interested in collaborating with others then please drop me an email with a line or two about yourself and a link to your best work.

I should stress I’m only interested in working with people committed to investing time in ambitious, high quality work. If you’re about quick hits and talking heads, that’s fine, but not what I’m looking for. The email address is adam [at] adamwestbrook.co.uk.

In the UK or Europe (for direct collaboration)

  • Film makers
  • Photographers
  • Researchers

And anywhere in the world (where we could collaborate remotely)

  • web designers
  • graphic designers
  • interactive designers
  • motion graphics animators
  • infographic and data journalists

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!