May 17, 2021

Cheat sheet #1 – Top storytelling tips for compelling content.

There is no right or wrong way to tell a compelling story, but over the years we've found some things work more than others. Here's our first Cheat Sheet on crafting great stories.

Art of storytelling.

In a fast-paced world, where attention spans are short and competition is fierce, compelling storytelling is more important than ever. It is even more important for organisations working in the Third Sector who want to tell a story of change and convey a new insight on the world. At Reelmedia Film, we love crafting stories for change. Here’s our top storytelling tips for compelling Third Sector communications. 

Compelling stories are universal.

Stories can affect us in very personal ways, yet have broad appeal at the same time. Great stories that move us to take action, or change the way we think, take an element of the human condition, which we all experience, and convey it in a unique situation.

Even when told from an unfamiliar context, perspective or person, stories that (for example), convey birth, growth, aspiration, loss or conflict will resonate, because of their universality. They are part of the human condition and audiences will instantly be able to relate. 

Stories can affect us in very personal ways, yet have broad appeal at the same time.


Compelling stories have a clear structure and purpose.

Structure A straightforward way to develop a compelling narrative is to use the story spine formula, created by the playwright Kenn Adams.  The Story Spine is not the story, it’s the spine. It’s nothing but the bare-boned structure upon which the story is built. You can find out more about it here. The story spine formula uses the following structure:
  1. Once upon a time ..
  2. Every day ..
  3. But one day ..
  4. Because of that ..
  5. Because of that ..
  6. Because of that ..
  7. Until finally ..
  8. And ever since then..
Purpose A compelling story must have a strong intention at its heart, so I always ask the question, ‘Why must this story be told now?’ But, for us at Reelmedia Film, that’s not enough. We believe a story should have occupy part of the moral and ethical fabric of our society, so for us we also ask, ‘What greater purpose does this story serve?’ and, ‘What does this story teach us?’ By crafting a story that we are passionate about, it serves a wider purpose, and will have a positive impact on the world.
Critical documentary

Compelling stories appeal to our deepest emotions.

There are six basic emotions which we all share: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Without oversimplifying a story emotionally, it is important to recognise when and how these emotions are at work in a story and to carefully utilise them to enact a response in the audience. By questioning why we feel a certain way we can start to understand emotional response and build a stronger story. Questioning my own emotional reaction to a story  teaches me to tell more authentic stories and move people, at a point in the story structure when it really matters. 

Compelling stories are surprsing or unexpected.

Stories are compelling when our perceptions of reality are challenged or changed in some way. This is particularly important in the stream of storytelling that social media has created. However, whilst social media stories often appeal to the unexpected, they fail to uncover issues in depth, do not relay a deeper sense of change or transformation and so don’t necessarily leave the audience thinking about the story after it is over.

Compelling stories are simple.

As storytellers we often want to include as much information as possible in our stories. We want to pack the story full of information, detail and layers. Never settle on the first iteration of a storyboard or script. Be ruthless and aim to get at the essence of the story – in the end it will set the story free and allow the audience to focus. Simplify and go deep. For inspiration, read JA Baker’s, The Peregrine, a fierce, ecstatic, account of one man’s obsession with this beautiful bird, that has held readers in its talon-like grip for 50 years.

Recent journal entries.