Telling great stories is all about making good decisions. What stays and what goes, and why? Who wants to hear it? How should I tell it to them? These can all be hard choices to make, especially when the story is close to your heart. Here are four story essentials to help guide your creative decision-making.
Know your audience
Who is your story for? The more clearly you can imagine the kind of person you want your story to resonate with, the easier it will be to craft your story to suit them. How do they speak? What do they like and dislike? What do they care about? How do they think? What other stories do they like?
Write down some answers to these questions and keep coming back to them as you go. Give them a name. Talk to them. They should inform every decision in your story—the tone, style and medium, the language and/or imagery you use. If you feel your story getting away from who it’s meant for, revisiting these questions will help steer it back.
Own your message
What are you saying? There’s a fine balance between providing enough detail to make your story interesting and giving away too much or getting off track.
Start by coming up with a few simple sentences that explain what your story is all about. Pretend you’re telling your mate who has no understanding of the topic. Put your story through our pub test. How would you get them interested? Then think about these sentences in the context of your audience. Play with the tone. How would they want to hear it?
If you’re pitching your story for publication, these few sentences should be the meat of your killer pitch, which tells the editor exactly what they can expect from your story.
Being clear about your true messages will be the anchor that keeps your story close to its meaning as you expand on your ideas and colour in the detail. Keep coming back to them as you’re creating to make sure you’re hitting all the right notes.
Nail the medium
So you know what your story is, but how are you going to tell it? Stories can take hundreds of forms, from the written word to video, audio to photographic, graphic to illustrative, and many more.
Think about what creative option will capture your audience’s attention. But it’s also important to make sure that the medium you choose suits your message and speaks to your audience. For instance, place and setting might be super important to your message. So if your audience is young people, making a video that you can publish online might be more engaging than a written article.
Tip: Try multimedia!
Your phone is the only tool you need to create great video, photo and audio stories. Check out these technical tips for shooting on mobile. Use apps like InShot or VSCO to edit videos and photos. Record, edit and publish an audio story or podcast with PodBean. Raw stories suit raw mediums. You don’t need to be a polished filmmaker or creative producer to nail it.
Call for action
A call to action (CTA) is how you ask your audience to do something specific as a result of engaging with your story.
Call-to-actions can be direct, like ‘join our community’ or ‘share this video’ or ‘sign this petition’. These are usually at the end of stories that are part of campaigns or in support of a specific cause.
But not all stories have a physical thing for people to do. Sometimes the call is emotional. How do you want people to feel? What do you want them to think? What key lessons or takeaways do you want them to leave your story with? A great story makes these intentions clear to the audience throughout, from the title and right to the end.
Try writing down your answers to these questions:
What do you want your audience to think/know?
What do you want your audience to feel?
What do you want your audience to do?
Define these answers upfront and refer back to them as you develop your story. Ask yourself whether it’s shaping up how you intended. If it isn’t, that’s okay, just make sure you can justify the changes with respect to your audience, then go through the process again.
If there’s one key ingredient for making good stories great, it’s being able to answer questions like these. The actual answers are less important and can change, but as long as you can stand by the creative decisions you make in your stories then all there is left to do is to make more of them!