The Storytelling Formula: How Writers Create Interesting Stories that Connect with Audiences

Our culture is driven by stories.  We spend our free time watching movies and television shows consisting of a variety of stories, with the hopes that we will be entertained and inspired.  In-between the big stories, savvy advertising agencies integrate short stories into commercials, so we are compelled to pay attention. We read news and magazines written by columnists that understand the key to hold your attention is to tell you a story. The storytelling structure used in film and television today borrow basic principals of storytelling from books.

To understand story, you must understand writers

A writer is tasked with holding attention with the simple written word. Great writers understand the basic storytelling elements, and can use them to not only get readers to pay attention, but transport them to fantastic worlds, get to know rich characters, shift perceptions about life and inspire.  Good stories lead to a final resolution.  The length of story delivery can be expanded depending on the layers of complexity you can apply without becoming redundant. Whether it is a poem, play, short story, novel, or series, writers rely on a general storytelling framework to help keep the story moving and digestible for audiences.

Story transcends narrative film

At Cognitive Films, even though we primarily concentrate on documentary video production, we do our best to apply these principals in both the planning phase and the editing room after the shoot. By building to a resoultion (AKA Theme) and layering the information in logically, a documentary can edited to follow basic story structure. Even when relying on unscripted interviews, a skilled interviewer can craft questions that help the “characters” collectively tell the story in the editing room. If you examineaward-winning documentaries, you will find that most of them are edited to allow events to unfold logically toward a resolution.

Digging deeper into the storytelling craft:

I recently stumbled across this great little collection of video lectures from the Life, Universe, and Everything Symbosium, a conference for fantasy/science fiction writers in Utah. Although the content is geared toward writers, the content is useful in a multitude of storytelling scenario. Any filmmaker, presenter, or business owner that is interested in learning to tell better stories will consider these lectures very interesting. Warning: Long attention span zone ahead. These videos are lengthy and detailed…

Dan Wells on Story Structure

In this presentation, Dan Wells ties his simplistic storytelling formula to popular books and movies to prove that many of the best stories are based on a common structure.  To build a story using this formula, you have to start at the resolution, and build up from there.

How to Write a Story that Rocks

This is a great workshop where John Brown and Larry Correia, both horror writers, share their story-building process.  Check it out to get a nuts-and-bolts look into writing a story.  I’ve embedded part 2, because I recommend starting there to get going quickly.

Story Structure and Plot – Advanced Lessons


Bonus: If you have another hour to spare, dig into an advanced storytelling tutorial on story structure and plot. This 12 part youtube series by MasterEdit.net

I hope you liked this information. I’ll be posting more storytelling videos soon. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know below or by emailing me at carson@cognitivefilms.com.

-Carson