The Importance of Storytelling in Every MediumNov 08, 2021
People think of Storytelling as something that is only talked about at the "Hay Literary Festival, but Storytelling isn't just confined to dramas and novels. Storytelling is all over this digital space, present in every entertainment medium, including game shows, quiz shows, reality TV, documentaries, news and factual entertainment. It exists in the biographies of thought leaders and even inanimate objects! So are the tricks or plot devices; you should be using them too.
What is Storytelling?
Every form of communication in human interaction tells a story. A person telling another about their day. A description of a trip to the shops. We tell these stories almost unconsciously; we can all do it. However, it has to be said some people earn the badge of "raconteur."
In contrast, others are avoided, or the encounter being described as, "I got cornered by "Rodger"." Some people are clearly better at telling engaging stories than others. The difference between dull and interesting is often a plot device, the trick that writers use to engage us. These work in every story, from the harrowing reports from a natural disaster to the high jinx of "Top Gear." From the drama of "Squid Game" to the joy of the breakthrough Storytelling of archaeology from "Time Team."
Plot Devices in Story Telling
A plot device is an element within a story that is used to advance its plot. Plot devices, often referred to as MacGuffins (from Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 film, Saboteur), are seemingly insignificant objects or actions used to drive forward action in a plot. I can talk at length about the use of MacGuffins in Casablanca. Still, I don't want to be Rodger (see above), but I do want to talk about the most obvious plot device, the ticking clock. The usual literary description is...
"The ticking clock" is a plot device that is used to constrain your story and put a time limit on your protagonist as they work to resolve a conflict. The concept is simple – a specific task must be completed by a particular deadline, or the character will fail and suffer the consequences of that failure.
The usual high brow literary "hands off our medium; it's exclusively our area" definition.
Well, I, too, have some examples.
- Countdown; The iconic 30 seconds
- Time Team; we have just 24 hours to solve the mystery of Hever Castle
- Top Gear; can we drive to John O'groats to London on one tank of fuel?
- Who wants to be a Millionaire; time for the fastest finger.
- Beat the Chasers; you have 35 seconds on your clock. Can you beat the chasers?
- The withdrawal from Afghanistan; will end on 31 Aug.
- I am a Celebrity. Get me out of here; I do get super short-tempered if I don't eat.
All of these and many more are fantastic ticking clocks. They are all, of course, very obvious; that's the joy of reverse engineering any story. But what about your new gameshow, drama or blog post? What is your ticking clock? How can you introduce a ticking Clock into the replacement for "Say Yes to the Dress" or a company video on sheet metal working in Sheffield?
Ticking Clock in Squid Game.
Of course, the ticking clock isn't always about time. Dalgona candy is a traditional toffee-like snack in Korea, also known as Bbopgi in some regions. The snack is made from sugar and baking soda and has a picture pressed in. Children often attempt to eat around the outline of the image without breaking the picture. In Squid Game episode four, participants, without knowing why, stand under a square, a triangle and circle and an umbrella in groups. They are then given a Dalgona and must carve out the shape. If the biscuit breaks, the participant is "eliminated". There is no time limit, but it is still a ticking clock. At what point will the biscuit break or not. There are many forms of the ticking clock employed in Squid Game to induce tension in the audience.
There's the fact the protagonist is desperate; he has to pay back loans by a particular time. The horse race will end, and he will either be saved by a win or double down on his luck by losing. Some would say these are consequences; of course, they are, but then they all have a time factored into the outcome and become ticking clocks. The classic ticking clock is a live burial; someone with limited air will the police find the person in time? A submarine rescue. Factoring these techniques into everyday stories is vital for engagement, from simply getting 10 correct answers in one minute to the explosive hunger-induced temper declared by a celebrity, pressuring a teammate to win stars in exchange for food during a challenge.
The Importance of Storytelling in Any Medium.
When we're watching a movie, reading a book, or playing a video game, we're engaging with an experience crafted by storytellers. But Storytelling isn't just for dramas and novels. In fact, it exists in every form of entertainment and digital space we encounter: Game shows and quiz shows on TV; documentaries on Netflix; news on Twitter; product reviews online; even animated GIFs exist as visual stories designed to entertain and inform. As I've said, reverse-engineering the ticking clock is obvious in existing formats. Introducing them in creative ways on a new format or story isn't always as easy as it may seem. I mentioned sheet metal working in Sheffield. If I were telling that story, I'd be looking at the race to make that industry carbon neutral. Jobs communities and livelihoods depend on steel working. But we are all living under the biggest ticking clock of all, climate change. It's not just a story about a steelworks and its profitability; it's a survival story. Many prominent corporations manufacture ticking clocks to enhance their brands. This is done through CSR, corporate social responsibility; it's much easier to pick a project that already has a compelling ticking clock. Once associated with a brand, this will enable Storytelling that engages and becomes associated with the brand, elevating its profile. If we don't save the "whatever", it will cease to exist etc., there are sadly so many projects in that area. One can then argue the cynicism of CSR or take the view that there is a good byproduct of CSR. There is a straightforward fact, Storytelling always has and remains the most vital part of communication; learn to do it well, very well and avoid becoming Rodger.
(N.B. Rodger is a fictional character and any resemblance to a real person is unintentional)
If you are interested in how to format and devise TV shows or Storytelling of creative thinking, do take the opportunity to download the free eBook and register for news about my courses and Webinars.
About the author.
Jonathan Glazier is a thought leader in the format and entertainment industry, former head of BBC light entertainment and consultant to many international broadcasters and production companies. He also works heavily in production as an award-winning Director and Executive Producer. Two of the projects he has developed are currently in development. Jonathan is a visiting lecturer at the University of Creative Arts.