10 rules of visual storytelling

Nastya Bulavska
Nastya Bulavska, Content Manager at MakeStoryboard
ยท7 min read

It is not for nothing that visual storytelling has become an important trend in graphic and web design, various types of marketing in the digital era.

Visual material evokes emotions more effectively than textual and inspires the audience to active actions. This is exactly what we, public organizations, expect - feedback, reaction, result. Fact: after 72 hours, a person on average remembers 10% of what he heard. If you add a visual component, this indicator increases to 65%. So:

Don't tell, but show

This is the very first lesson in writing or video mastery courses. Don't tell your audience what can be shown through a vivid illustration. The same principle can be applied to visual storytelling in the digital world.

When presenting a product, don't tell how it works if you can show it in action. Before you finally decide on the dialogue for the video or the text to accompany the picture, imagine an old silent film from the time when sound cinema did not exist. What would you do if you could convey a message only through visuals? How would Charlie Chaplin present the information? Through the magic of visual storytelling.

First impressions are the most important

The human brain is programmed to react quickly. In today's digital world, first impressions are formed very quickly. If the audience misunderstands your idea or loses interest in the first few seconds of viewing, it is likely that the effect will be lost.

The first image that opens the visual story should not only touch the audience and attract their attention, but also form a certain impression. For example, your message may create fear or a sense of safety. Audiences will mostly react differently to seeing a ferocious dog and a cute puppy. And although both illustrations depict dogs, each of them forms completely different impressions of the future story.

Add dynamics

Changing the angle of view, distance, as well as additional digital effects keep the audience's attention much longer, even if the subject of the story does not change. Viewers are more likely to hold their attention until the end of a story if the images move consistently from start to finish and follow the story arc.

Good stories move smoothly: beginning-middleend. Images in a visual story must also move. It doesn't have to be a video or GIF format. A video, like a single photo, can also lack movement.

An image of a university professor speaking in front of an audience may lack dynamics, while a photo can convey movement with dramatic shots and angles that make the eye move across the image. Therefore, even material with a shot of a building or a mountain can "move" by panning or moving the camera closer or further away from the subject.

More and more digital marketers are adding motion to their visual stories with special effects, using apps and online resources.

Freytag's pyramid

Freytag pyramid

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

Think of the story arc as a journey. The exposition at the beginning describes the place of events: who, what and where. Then something happens (think about why and how) that prompts action and drives the story to a climax, often preceded by obstacles and complications. Once at the top, the audience should see something that was worth coming all the way for.

The climax, which is in the middle of the story or closer to the end, is the top of the arc, it occurs at the moment of fateful change or revelation. For example, a character who went on a quest reaches his destination or learns the truth.

The story arc comes to an end and the audience learns the results that the climax has caused. What happened after the fateful change or revelation? Sometimes in the fading phase there is also a moment of tense anxiety that will call into question the conclusion of the story. At the end of the story, the denouement puts everything in its place.

A visual story, even one that consists of only one image, should resemble an arc to some extent, but in a simpler version. For example, graphics showing the flow of time or space or the interdependence between different components. The longer the story, the more important it is to use an arc in organizing and structuring the message.

When choosing illustrations for a visual story, it's crucial to keep each part of the story arc in mind and choose images that will evoke the right mood in the audience. The images that are used during the development of events often evoke feelings of excitement or anxiety. The final image often creates a sense of hope or hopelessness in the audience, depending on the purpose of the story.

The story is about a conflict

Without conflict or obstacles to overcome, there is no story. In stories, conflict often explains the value of a product to an audience. What problem does it solve? Why is it interesting to the audience? The culmination is the decision to choose this product/service. The story ends with a call to action.

People love people

People are more receptive to stories about other people than they are to stories about objects or ideas. Therefore, to get to know your organization, tell about its people: team, customers, partners. Relatable characters are the most relatable, so choose characters that are similar to your target audience.

By telling stories of people close to your audience, you establish a sense of trust between your audience and your brand or message. The best directors know that to build trust in a character it is important to focus on the eyes, because from birth people are used to receiving information by looking into the eyes of others. Therefore, eyes are extremely important for building a successful story in any format (it can be film, photography, animation).

Facial expressions can also be useful for attracting an audience. After all, everyone can understand it. A smiling face will be interpreted equally in Beijing, Brussels, and Boston.

Educate your audience

How to make your story stand out among the turbulent flow of information in which the audience finds itself every day? Forget faceless, inexpressive stories. Show your position, prepare a meaningful message or prepare a lesson. Make your audience think.

From the earliest days, stories were created for learning. Why have some stories (like Aesop's fables) stood the test of time? Unexpected turns of memorable life lessons are imprinted in the mind of everyone who has read them.

The technique of visual storytelling is successfully used in many schools around the world. Teachers find that they can often use visual media to engage students. If presentations made according to old models will only make students yawn, presentations with animation and interactive media will help present the material in a more exciting way.

Attract views and enjoy yourself

A well-chosen image is not only pleasant to look at, it stimulates all the senses. Images in a visual story can affect feelings of warmth, nostalgia, anxiety, and even convey smells, sounds, or tastes.

A powerful image can sometimes tell its own story. Certain images cause a wow effect, they immediately attract the attention of viewers. Other images can capture the audience's attention because they remind them of hopes and dreams. A master storyteller will keep all of these characteristics in mind when choosing between powerful and ordinary imagery.

Keep focus

The most important thing is the message, so don't get lost in the details. Visual storytellers can help audiences stay focused with structured images that highlight the most important elements of a story.

Visual storytellers can help audiences stay focused with structured images that highlight the most important elements of a story. Also, when determining the length of a visual story, try to keep the message to a minimum. Get rid of unnecessary details, don't make a 30-second story a minute long. If you have five seconds, don't waste ten.

The Hitchcock Rule

A rule named after one of the greatest visual storytellers, Alfred Hitchcock, is that the size of everything that enters the frame should be proportional to how important that character or object is to the story at that moment.

In other words, it is necessary to emphasize such images that are of great importance in history. Of course, a close-up image can add movement, but it can also capture the audience's attention. If the image doesn't relate to the story, they will only distract.

Hitchcock's rule can direct a visual storyteller to the most effective and powerful images. By first understanding your story and its components, with the help of Hitchcock's rule you will be able to present the story in a way that is understandable and relatable to the audience.

So, storytelling is a whole art, but after mastering it, you will get a superpower that will help you not only present information well, but also manage the emotions and feelings of the viewer. Sounds incredible doesn't it? In the following articles, we will definitely consider trics and techniques using examples of iconic works, and in the meantime, you can find more information on our blog! See you again in the MakeStoryboard!

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