Strict chronology is not always best to tell a story

The video below is a project I did for my first digital storytelling class.  We were given the assignment: Create a video, using photos, images, and sound that tells a story – a personal story.

That seemed easy enough.  But then we got the final instructions: “You have to tell your story in 150 words or less.”

“What?  150 words?  This is a joke, right?”  No, it wasn’t a joke.

After regaining my composure, I created a story outline about my father, with the events unfolding in a strict chronology, starting with his childhood and ending in his elderly years.  The instructor had us present our outlines to the class and when I read mine, everyone looked really bored until I got to the very last outline item and then everyone got really attentive.

While my chronology was, well, chronologically correct, it was really boring.  But the last outline item – my 80 year-old father being arrested – was interesting to my classmates.  Enough so, that by moving that item to the beginning of the story, the rest of the chronology kept people’s interest high enough to maintain their attention to the very end, to find out why he was arrested.

What’s interesting is that I had to be told this, something that I already knew:  That every story needs something, a hook, to motivate people to stay attentive. This is an important lesson, especially for those of us who happen to be analytical in our approach to communication.

The other lesson is to be artful in how information is revealed in a story.  For my assignment, changing the order wasn’t enough.   The original outline item regarding my father’s arrest included the reason for his arrest.   By revealing that he was arrested at the beginning of the story, and finishing the story with the reason for his arrest, it provided for a more engaging experience for the audience.

Anyway, here’s the video.  I did exceed the 150-word limit by a few words, but the instructor said it was fine.   Let me know what you think about it.  Gary.

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