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Story                            The craft of stories is often hidden in the discussion                            storyte...
USE DETAILSLook for opportunities to use details to paint a picture in placeof an explanation.Why does it work?           ...
DISPLAY TRANSFORMATIONLook for opportunities to incorporate transformations(changes in aspects of the story) both to set t...
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Storyviz story design principles

Story Design Principles from StoryViz class taught at Stanford

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Storyviz story design principles

  1. 1. Story The craft of stories is often hidden in the discussion storytelling structure, but the tricks that are used to create good stories are valuable whether or not they accompany traditional narratives. The principles to the left can beDesign used in any and all types of communication (from a song lyric to a research paper).Principles None of this is particularly new, many of these tenets have been taught for decades if not hundreds or thousands of years, our goal is to break them into mini units to make them easier to put to use. That part might be new.StoryViz: Stanford me375a The goal of isolating these principles is to help us communicate in ways that are at once compelling and authentic: both are critical. Communication that is compelling but not authentic can be called melodrama or even propaganda. Communication that is authentic but is not compelling is boring and borderline useless as it often rests unengaged. Tip: Designing with an audience in mind is a surefire way to be both compelling and authentic. No one principle is more important than another––in fact many work best in tandem (e.g. the combination of omit + reveal connections can be fruitful)––nor should one imagine that all should be used at any given moment. Instead, just put them to use as needed.USE DETAILSCREATE TENSIONOMITBE AUTHENTICREVEAL CONNECTIONSDISPLAY TRANSFORMATIONSHARE EMOTIONHIGHLIGHT HOOKSESTABLISH THEMESSHOW ACTION
  2. 2. USE DETAILSLook for opportunities to use details to paint a picture in placeof an explanation.Why does it work? BE AUTHENTICDetails leave room for the imagination and force the audience to fillin the blanks (this is called closure). If I tell you what I mean you are Don’t include anything that feels manufactured or cliché,likely to get it and look no further. If I show you a bunch of details, anything that doesn’t feel true to yourself. Listen to youryou brain will engage to make sense of them. The latter is far more body on this, if you feel your skin crawling a bit exclude it.enjoyable.For more on closure, see a psychologist or check out Why does it work?Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud or Understanding Mediaby Marshall McLuhan. People can read BS easily. Authenticity = credibility. But, Pablo Picasso famously said, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.” Authenticity still leaves room for fiction. Sometimes the fictional content is more authentic as deep truths can be disguised in many skins.CREATE TENSIONUse the interaction between pairs of opposites and conflict toreveal meaning (rather than describing a situation through asingle lens).Why does it work? REVEAL CONNECTIONSWhether we call it tension, drama, or conflict, creating tension hasbeen proven effective––for literally thousands of years––in holding Show cause & effect relationships at the moment you intend toattention of an audience. The use of opposites and the tension create meaning.between them opens the possibility for a number of endings andkeeps audience members seeking solutions. Why does it work? In many ways, humans are pattern recognition machines. Journalist Jonah Lehrer describes that we have countless neurons in our brain that deal with new information (like a strange sound) and try to break it apart to try to relate other information so we canOMIT recognize its nature. Douglas Hofstadter posits that analogies--connections betweenMake sure everything you include has a place. Does a mental representations-- is at the core of cognition. The act ofdetail highlight a specific point? Is it connected to the revealing connections is the act of creating meaning for another aspects of your content? If no, then it should go. audience.Strive to trim down to just the bear essence. For whatever reason, it is satisfying to uncover the relationships between things. And so long as we care about the story initially,Why does it work? we’ll be riveted until and while the underlying relationships are uncovered.Bauhaus professor and architect Mile Van der Rhoe describesthis as “Less is More”. Really, less leaves us wanting more.Less also pushes us to make sense of what’s there ourselves.Timing helps––leaving out details at the beginning only tosurprise the audience at the end by revealing them when theconnection matters is highly satisfying: a fine cup of coffeeaccompanying a chocolate torte vs. a shot of expressoalongside a plate of lasagna.Omission also leaves room for questions in the audience’sheads. We strive to answer questions––preserving lingeringquestions is a great way to keep an audience intrigued.
  3. 3. DISPLAY TRANSFORMATIONLook for opportunities to incorporate transformations(changes in aspects of the story) both to set tension in motionand to bring tension to a meaningful close. How can theturning points and climaxes of your story be communicated astransformations?Why does it work? ESTABLISH THEMESTransformations are the inevitable solutions to the mathematicalequation of drama. For a conflict between two opposites to be Take time to articulate your intent. Use this point of view toresolved, at least one side must transform. guide all of the stylistic decisions that you make.Transformations are particularly satisfying because they naturallyreincorporate previous parts of the story into a meaningful Why does it work?conclusion. This helps the audience tie together the disparate partsand answer the lingering questions. If you know what your point is, an audience is far more likely to understand it as well. Coherent themes give an audience aTransformations also mark turning points when things change and framework for meaning-making and allow disparate elements tocan set a new drama in motion by breaking up the previously hold together under the umbrella of shared purpose. Often thisestablished status quo. In this case, they are the surprises that set operates on a subtle but meaningful level.the action in motion.SHARE EMOTIONDon’t be afraid to share honest emotion in yourcommunication. (Sharing emotional experience is the key toauthentic connection.)Why does it work?We experience life on an emotional level. Much of our internal SHOW ACTIONexperience is full of emotional content. Ask Freud. What separatesa friend from a colleague? Strong emotional bonds are at least part Whenever possible, display, describe or portray actions.of the equation, if not the bulk of it. When we share emotion, we Actions of a character, actions of a product. Something oropen the possibility for connection. That feels good -- we literally someone doing.get to see the human quality of people and actions. Why does it work? Action propels things forward. Every action has a reaction. When we view action, we wonder what is to come.HIGHLIGHT HOOKSShare your passion. Find those things that are compelling toyou about your subject and make them stand out, either byrepetition or emphasis relative to other parts.Why does it work?If something is exciting to you, if you believe in it, if you feelpassionate about it, sharing your passion is likely to be compellingto others. Both because it may be intrinsically interesting andbecause your personal interest will shine through and pique theinterest of others.