Five pieces of the storytelling puzzle

According to videographer Nathan Thompson, there are five essential elements to every good story. The former National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Photographer of the Year thinks of them as puzzle pieces that the storyteller has to fit together.

1. The story open. Thompson says you need to grab the audiences’s attention, introduce them to characters and establish the setting or the mood. For this reason, Thompson says  he likes to rely on natural sound as a story opener.  “It engrosses people in the environment,” said Thompson. “Think of natural sound as the film score for your story.”

2. Story intrigue.  Thompson says storytellers need to shoot the unexpected, capture details and look for themes.  He says he seldom uses his best video at the very start of a story.  “Don’t give everything away right off the bat, each story needs to be a journey,” Thompson said.

3. Story development.  According to Thompson, you can’t settle for any old b-roll if you’re going to shoot a great story.  He says you have to take the time to get your story characters interacting with others and their environment — don’t just settle for head shots.  “Log everything,” said Thompson. “The more familiar you are with the content, the better your story will be.”

4.  Story climax.  When you’re out shooting a story you have to “stay perceptive” says Thompson.  Great storytellers anticipate moments as Thompson did in a story about a man who lost his home in a fire.


5. The story close. Just as important as that attention grabbing open is the story’s close, according to Thompson. Consider ending with negative action — movement away from the camera — or try the echo approach where your opening visual is echoed with a similar shot at the end.

And the most important piece?

“Find a way to care about the people in your story. If you don’t care, how the hell do you expect the audience to care?”


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