A lot has changed since Aristotle proposed his six elements of drama. For one thing, people who were once thrilled at any opportunity to distract themselves from the drudgery of everyday life are now bombarded with distractions. So many, in fact, that modern storytellers have less than 9 seconds to captivate their audiences.
Given that, do Aristotle’s six elements still hold up? If you’re working on weaving a visual story, they do. Here’s how.
Even a single frame advertisement is more effective with characters in it. We’re wired to not only recognize and remember human faces, but to identify, relate and respond to human emotions on faces. As a shorthand for very complex human circumstances and responses, human faces are an immediately understood language all their own. However, characters don’t have to be human; think of the tear-jerker collaboration between Sarah McLaughlin and the SPCA. I defy you to watch this commercial and not want to immediately adopt fifteen kittens.
Make characters, their goals, and their obstacles relatable to your target market.
You may think that a social media visual wouldn’t have room for an entire plot, but our brains are so accustomed to creating narratives out of the disparate visual information the world delivers that one small image can often tell a story faster than any epic tale. In essence, every plot can be boiled down to a problem and its resolution. Take a look at this one page advertisement from the French document management agency Everial. Can you identify the plot?
Be sure that your visual story has a plot. In the case of a one page ad, you only need to show the problem. The resolution is simple: your product or service.
Clearly your brand’s superiority will be the theme of your visual story, but you should make it more specific. Everial provides numerous benefits to clients, but Redhouse Y&R, the advertising agency behind the brilliant image, focuses on one theme: the constant battle to manage material data. By focusing on this main idea, the image can easily elaborate on several headaches associated with real documents: they take up a lot of room, they become easily disorganized, etc.
Choose one main theme for each visual story.
In a visual story, it may be that the only written word is your brand name; however, a character’s body language and dialogue can also be used to round out a story and to reveal emotions and reinforce important messages.
Keep language spare and use the style and diction of the target market to make your character and plot more relatable.
According to Aristotle, rhythm encompassed both the mood and the movement of a story, and both are still important to visual storytellers. An ad or video should move smoothly from its start to its conclusion to keep viewers in the story. Breaks in either the mood or the movement will jar your audience out of your message, making it less effective. On the other hand, an established rhythm can also set up expectations for a satisfying plot twist as in this Pfizer commercial.
Use forward momentum to establish a rhythm that keeps your audience in the moment.
Spectacle refers to all of the specifically visual elements of a story: costumes, settings, special effects. The word itself conjures up fireworks and masquerade balls, but in reality, your office or shop, your uniforms and products, all of these elements contribute to the spectacle of your story. In short forms like commercials, videos, and ads, subtlety and consistency in the imagery can be just as effective (and less distracting) than neon and glitter.