The Narrative Arc in Online Video

INFO: 12 Jun 2015 Insight

Essential to good journalism, feature films and novels, the narrative arc is no less important in online video. The arc is the point at which all productions should begin, and return to when things get tricky.

It means planning and structuring your idea around a central thread but does not always mean a three act structure; problem, conflict, resolution. Nor does it necessarily mean fictional storytelling with characters and dialogue.

An arc is simply a direction – it means there is progression and cohesion throughout the video. The Content Marketing Institute neatly refers to it as “editorial focus”. 

The need for a clear editorial focus is often either neglected, or misconstrued as necessitating an epic three act structure (or hero’s journey). A recent Forbes article distinguishes content like customer testimonials, (which they say needn’t have a story arc) from what they call ‘brand stories’ in which story design is integral. But this restriction of narrative arc to a certain type of video is too narrow an application. A narrative arc should be intrinsic to all video content that is intended to engage a user, not merely the problem, conflict, resolution sort. In the two examples below we identify the narrative arc and show how it contributes to the success of simple promotional videos.

This is a short promo by the V&A for their exhibition Heatherwick Studio: Designing The Extraordinary.  It’s very simple and not what might conventionally be referred to as ‘storytelling’, but the video’s effectiveness is rooted in its narrative arc.

The film quickly establishes the subject as a designer at work on a scale model. The pace and editing tell us that we should anticipate the fruits of his labour before the end, immediately giving structure to the film. We are shown the completed design intermittently which tells us that like the video, the exhibition will explore the design process from modelling to installation.

In short the video has a progression; rather than simply showing a designer at various stages of work, we are taken on a cohesive journey about the design process.

In this short by Museum of London, clothing exhibits from the 1920s are explored by way of an imagined night out and some simple motion graphics.

This is much more than a show-and-tell exercise as the head curator puts the items in context and brings them to life through the narrative.

Without any problem, conflict or resolution we have a tight narrative arc that holds our attention in both videos.

Good video content is always memorable and often share-able, and both are enhanced by the narrative arc.

We find it much easier to recall an overarching message or feeling than a series of statements, no matter how interesting at the time. So too users are more likely to share content that can be boiled down to a simple arc.

Finally, the all-important emotional hook is always rooted in the narrative arc.

Creating a satisfying arc is a specialist skill and when scaled up it is arguably as difficult as developing a screenplay. This is why big brands employ teams of experienced writers to script their brand stories. But creating a narrative arc in its most fundamental sense simply means coming up with a strand that gives progression and cohesion to your idea, and should be intrinsic to all online video productions.

Get in touch with  to discuss how Impact Video can help you create narrative arcs that captivate your audiences.


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