Since before anyone can remember, human beings have been telling stories to each other. Stories have the ability to capture the imagination while passing on important information. Storytelling can entertain and educate, inform and inspire. Even Jesus used storytelling (or parables) extensively when teaching the multitudes. How else could one expect hungry crowds to sit on the hard ground for hours on end listening to a sermon? Most of us can barely last thirty minutes on a cushy chair. We owe much to Aristotle who formalized storytelling with the three act structure commonly used in theater. Storytelling has evolved from oral to written and now visual through the medium of film and video.
“Story is the equipment of life.” – Robert McKee, Story
Six Points Of Story
Imagine you want people to understand how important your church’s alms program is to your community. You could just have someone get up and read off some stats and say “it’s important.” Or you could tell a story. But how would you begin to tell that story? I want to share six points of story and plot as seen in many Pixar films that will help you structure your tale for maximum impact. Let’s examine the Pixar film, Toy Story, to see how these work.
The beginning of every good story should have exposition. The hearer needs to know the “landscape” of your story: who, what, where, when. Sometimes exposition is scattered throughout the story or its a line of text before the story begins, but for the most part we need to get the audience up to speed so we can get started. Sometime movies do this by creating adding narration or creating a news footage montage during the opening credits to give the viewer a sense of what is happening as the story begins. In Toy Story, we get introduced to a world in which toys can talk and move but pretend to be lifeless when around humans. We meet the main characters including Woody who is Andy’s favorite toy. We also learn that the family is getting ready to move in one week.
2. Inciting Incident
The story truly begins when something happens that upsets the balance of the world we are learning about. This is the conflict or problem that the characters in the story strive to resolve by the end. In Toy Story, Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. Being the new toy and more technologically advanced, Buzz is showered with attention while Woody is threatened he will lose his special place with Andy.
3. Compounding Problem
As the story progresses, the problem gets worse. Conflict increases causing the tension to continually build and the audience to become more engaged wondering how the characters could ever overcome such odds. For Woody, his attempts to to secure his place as Andy’s favorite toy only further alienate him from the other toys. This results in both Woody and Buzz being lost and needing to get back home before the moving truck leaves and they are lost forever. But they are kidnapped by the evil next door neighbor boy, Sid.
This part of the story is the absolute pinnacle of the problem, it is the worst it could possibly get. At this point the audience has sufficient time to be weighed down by the conflict our hero is facing and is in need of something to happen to bring things back to order. When Woody and Buzz escape from Sid’s house and finally return home, the moving truck is pulling away. They struggle to catch up when they light a rocket that carries them over the truck and they see Andy in the car in front of the truck. Buzz cuts the rocket off just before it explodes and they begin falling from the sky.
This is the part of the story where all the tension that has been built up since the Inciting Incident is relieved and things can go back to normal. This is where all of the problems that have been compounding are resolved and all the loose ends are tied up. In Toy Story, Buzz and Woody glide safely into the car and land in the toy box next to Andy. They are safe, no longer lost and well on their way to a happy life with Andy at the family’s new home.
This is often where most stories end but there is one more point that will help your audience feel satisfaction and solidify the message or theme of the story.
Often at then of a story we hear, “And the moral of the story is…” That is because as viewers, we want to fully understand what we just watched and how it impacts us and the characters in the story. This may be implied or can be a point in a story where the storyteller tries to advance his or her agenda. But, agenda is the enemy of story, so we just want to show how the characters have changed (positively or negatively) because of this story. At the very end of Toy Story, the toys launch a reconnaissance mission to see what Andy is getting for Christmas. Woody and Buzz seem concerned when Andy gets a puppy. As they look at each other with a concerned smile, we are meant to feel that whatever trouble comes, Buzz and Woody will face it together.
So, how could we apply these story points to the alms program at your church? We could employ a documentary style and begin by finding someone who has experienced the program and benefited from the alms. We could then conduct an interview (learn more about interviewing) in which we ask questions that elicit responses that would touch on these story points and then capture b-roll that illustrates the interviewees’ statements. For example:
“We were having a hard time making ends meet and winter was only a month away (exposition). Our furnace broke (inciting incident) and we didn’t have enough money to fix it. Because of our heater issues, our pipes froze (compounding problem) and we lost running water. We tried everything, we even filled out an alms application but we had to stay at warming shelter for a couple of nights (climax). Then someone from the church gave delivered a check from the alms program. That helped us get our furnace repaired and with the help from a plumber in the church, we fixed the damage pipe in the basement (resolution). I am just so thankful that God uses people to meet needs of others (moral).”
Even though this is a fictional and over simplified example, you can see how using these points could help convey the importance of the alms program while connecting people’s hearts to the human element of the story. All you would need to do is add a call to action at the end telling people how they can give to this program.
Try hitting these point the next time you want to entertain and educate through storytelling and video.