5. Developing your narrative

So here’s the science bit…

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… now it’s time to get into your laboratory!


You should be thinking about your project obsessively and working on it everyday. This work will improve it. Here’s how to develop your idea towards a viable production:

  1. Develop your story:

Storytelling is an art. There isn’t a masterplan that will tell you how. But you will have heard hundreds of stories in your time. Instinctively you will know what makes a good story.  But your story needs a structure.

Here are 5 key elements to help you:


  • Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.13.44 PM.png .1 THE BIG QUESTION – is what holds the story together. It’s what you set up at the start & answer at the end. Who sets the BIG QUESTION depends on what sort of project you’re making. Could be the presenter/protaganist, or a contributor/secondary character, or you could use the subject matter.

A good way to find THE BIG QUESTION is to ask all the smaller ones associated with your topic. THE BIG QUESTION needs to big enough to encompass all the smaller questions in the story.

  • Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.15.18 PM.png  2. EMOTION – Identifying the EMOTION can help you set the tone of the story and then drive it. Think about how you want the audience to feel at the end will help you identify the emotional character of your piece.

Some universal themes which widen your appeal: hope, hate, jealousy, fear, self doubt, vulnerability, fear of failure, death

Meaningful storytelling requires vulnerability. Don’t hide behind hipster irony, humour, or shy away from emotion

  • Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.52.23 PM 3. BEGINNINGS – As as you know, openings are very important…20% of YouTube viewers click away before 10 seconds. That’s all you have to grab ’em. A good opening clearly sets up whose story it is, what it’s about and how it’s going to be told without giving everything away. A simple story tactic: put your best bit first, even if it doesn’t make sense and hook people in. Then explain what’s going on.
  • AND ENDINGS – A good place to start a story is at the end.. This helps you know where you’re going and gives you ideas about how to get there. Knowing your ending lets you know what you need to set up at the start. An ending should have a crisis, a climax and some kind of resolution (these don’t have to be dramatically defined but there does have to be a denouement)


  • Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.22.09 PM.png  4. CHARACTER/S– You need a main character and a supporting cast (fiction or factual).  Your main character needs to want something – this can be something simple or complex. If you can identify what that is this’ll help you find your ending. Every human, real or made up, is flawed (no-one is perfect) and some kind of inner conflict (even the most happiest of people). Reveal it in your story and you will touch your audience more deeply.

Often people in real life wear masks to protect their real feelings & vulnerability (what’s your character’s mask?) Almost everyone has a deep fear of some kind. And this will drive their actions or hold them back from acting.Peeling back the layers of your character makes for a more authentic and compelling story. Subtlety here is important again. Be careful though, if you’re dealing with real people – forcing someone to confront their inner fears requires tact & sensitivity (and you will need to ensure you have thought about ways to support them).

Characters also don’t have to be human. Animals, objects, weather, disease and technology can all be characters

  • Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.49.00 PM.png  5. INCIDENT – something always needs to happen! But it doesn’t always have to be high jeoapardy or drama, it can be something much smaller in scale. A good tip is to SURPRISE your audience – they love this! So surprise your audience early on and they’ll be hooked waiting for the next twist. There’s lot of research into this. The INCIDENT needs to be relevant to THE BIG QUESTION and not just interesting in its own right.

The classic formula for film is the basic three-act structure  (the setup, the problem, the solution) — or a variation of it, where we see a character thrust into a conflict, struggle through it, and then eventually succumb to it or work their way out of it. There’s immediate closure. More sophisticated audiences are demanding more nuanced storytelling and this has led to the 5 Act structure which has more subtle turning points and midpoints building to the final pay-off.

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Watch this –

LYNDA – Main character, meet brand persona . Written with business videos in mind but there’s a lot of good points here in Chapters 4 and 5 to get you started.

How to Structure your story : BBC Academy video 

And read this – Writing a 5 Act Structure the-screenwriters-guide-to-formatting-scripts/ and http://www.storyboardthat.com


2. Write your script:

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  • Using Celtx – start writing your script. From draft to final – there is likely to be several versions). Heres’ a useful guide to writing a script
  • Also use index cards or post-its to keep track of character notes,  individual scenes and more complex sequences
  • You can draw up your storyboards as you are writing or do this afterwards. Here’s a an explanation on Storyboards and why you need them and here’s a real example – Martin Scorcese’s storyboard for Taxi Driver.
  • Documentaries really need scripts too. Here’s a guide on how to write scripts for documentaries.


3.  Of course your story has also to work on screen. The audio and visual representation is a key part of your production. Now you need to develop your visual style and filming techniques:

  • Book a range of cameras and other kit from the Media Loan shop and test them out so you’re sure of what you are comfortable working with and/or delivers the kind of results you like
  • Go on several test shoots.  Film at your intended location at various times of the day so that you are used to filming in different lights. Shoot test footage with your actors and/or contributors to get them used to your filming style.  Test out a range of  camera techniques to develop your skills.
  • DON’T FORGET THE AUDIO. Nothing ruins a film like bad sound. Make sure you have a dedicated sound recordist on your shoots. Remember to consider sound on your recess (traffic noise, building works, trains or planes, other noisy environments that might affect your shoot)
  • Post-production. Use this play-time to improve your editing and colour grading skills so that you are sure on what style you want for your FMP and don’t waste time.


This work is essential! All great directors  (and other artists) spend lots of time developing and creating their work (you know Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling in a day – this oeuvre took  4 years!).  Worthwhile art, takes worthwhile time.

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Here’s what to do:

  • Keep on researching your story, be it for drama, documentary or entertainment, is obviously necessary in order to write the script.  It’s vitally important you are in charge of all the facts and they are accurate.  You will completely lose the confidence of the audience with mistakes and sloppy research.
  • Then write your script and then re-write and re-write and re-write
  • Test a range of cameras and sound recording kit.  Get out and about and try out different filming styles and techniques. Film in different lighting conditions
  • Casting and screen tests – find the contributors or actors for your project and do screen test them. Get better at directing contributors/actors – it’s the question you ask of them or the direction you give that will produce the best response.
  • Try out different editing techniques so that you are clear about on the final look and style of your project. This will help save you lots of time when you are filming.


Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.26.00 AM.pngPut your sketches, drafts, test shoots in your 360MC sketchbook/ blog.

Reflect on your work – what’s going well, what needs more development, set small goals for you to achieve over the next week.

Get feedback on your idea now. Don’t wait until the CW hand-in! Show your work to friends, students and tutors – this will improve you.


Further reading:

Library: C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T.: An Insider’s Guide to Storytelling in Factual/Reality TV and Film (Professional Media Practice)Paperback by Robert Thirkell  

Library: Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on ScreenPaperback – 7 Oct 2010

BBC Writer’s Room – scriptwriting-essentials

7 rules for writing short films – raindance.org

How to write a documentary script – http://portal.unesco.org

Storyboard software- http://www.storyboardthat.com 

10 tips for editing video (Ted) – http://blog.ted.com/10-tips-for-editing-video/

The psychology of film editing and other videos – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXKuHxwAeZZu_dg_qs8Z-9w

The Making of Super 8 – how to be a great director



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