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7 Archetypes of Video Storytelling (stc14)

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2014, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. Where feasible, I’ll take notes from the sessions I attend, and share them on this blog. All credit goes to the presenters, and any mistakes are mine.

This session promises to offer The Content Wrangler at his best: Scott Abel on “The Power of Emotion: The Seven Archetypes of Video Storytelling”.

From Scott:

We’re wired for stories. Human beings are designed to consume stories. It’s how we understand things.

Stories are an art form. They’re often performed, and it’s the emotion in the story that makes us remember them.

Seven recurring themes

Scott showed us examples videos that harness the 7 recurring themes or story archetypes:

  1. Overcoming the monster. David and Goliath, good versus evil, nature versus machine.
  2. The rebirth, revival, renaissance.
  3. The question. A mission to change things for the better.
  4. The journey, or the return. Moving from one idea to another, or growth.
  5. Rags to riches. Overcoming adversity or poverty.
  6. Tragedy. An unhappy ending, or a twist that you don’t expect, almost always involving the main character.
  7. Comedy. Humour, sometimes with a little satire.

We also saw a cute hybrid: a musical comedy

Transmedia

Scott says we need to think about how we’re going to tell stories in our new world of interconnectedness. Send out our message on all channels – the omni-channel approach.

See the retelling of Cinderella in the video below: “Transmedia Storytelling” – liquid content that’s adaptable for distributing to different media. A different way of telling stories altogether.

Cinderella 2.0: Transmedia Storytelling

Don’t be afraid to use emotion to engage your audience!

Thanks Scott

This was a cute, amusing and engaging session. 🙂

Storyboards for video design and review

I’ve just created two short instructional videos, introducing specific aspects of our APIs to developers. I used a storyboard as a way of outlining the video content, illustrating my ideas about the flow of the video, and requesting a review from my colleagues.

A colleague, Rachel, introduced me to the idea of storyboarding a while ago. This is the first time I’ve tried it.

What a storyboard looks like

This is what the storyboard looked like when I sent it out for initial review comments:

My first storyboard

My first storyboard

To get started, I looked at the examples Rachel had given me of her own storyboards, remembering her very useful comments about how she used them. Then I looked online to see what other people are doing. I found two examples that gave me more good ideas on how to represent my video design in a storyboard:

  • Storyboards, from the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I like the Hunting Sequence from the Jane Animation Project.
  • Storyboarding, from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The sketches at the bottom of the page are appealing, and show how different formats of storyboard are useful in different situations.

The design of my storyboard is a conglomeration of ideas generated by my colleagues examples and the two sources above. I shared my storyboard template with members of my team, and suggested they may like to use something similar when designing videos. They like the idea, and each person adapted the template to suit them. This approach works surprisingly well.

What a storyboard is good for

For me, the primary goal of a storyboard is to share an easily-absorbed way of representing the flow of the video.

This is what I wrote at the top of my first storyboard:

This storyboard is a precursor to a script. It’s an illustrative way of outlining the video before we start in-depth development of code and script. Note: All visuals are just mockups to give some idea of what’s happening, and are not intended to be the real thing.

Building out the storyboard

As time passed, I fleshed out the script on the storyboard, replacing the outlined content with the words I was planning to say during the presentation. So the storyboard evolved continually during the scripting of the video, the flow design, and the planning of the visual aspects such as screenshots, demonstrations and annotations.

A number of colleagues responded to my requests for review. After a few revisions, my script was ready to move to a separate document for final tweaking and practice runs. This is what the storyboard looked like at that point:

The storyboard ready to be transformed to a script

The storyboard ready to be transformed into a script

The resulting video

This is the very first instructional video that I’ve ever presented! (Apart from videos shot during conference presentations.) It’s short by design. The target audience is developers who are using the Google Maps Android API to include maps in their Android apps.

Producing the video

I could write an entire blog post about the process of filming the video. So for now, I’ll just show you a couple of photos of the video production studio.

The first photo shows me sitting in the hot seat, with the green screen behind me. In the foreground are the two video production screens, with ATEM Television Studio (the input stream switcher) on the right and Wirecast (which we used to define the video format and control the flow) on the left.

In the hot seat in the video production studio

In the hot seat in the video production studio

The second photo is a panoramic view from the hot seat, showing all the lights that glare down at you. The production centre in the middle at the back.

The view from the hot seat

The view from the hot seat

Conclusion

A storyboard is a good tool for solidifying my own ideas about the video, showing them to others, and conducting a collaborative review.

I’d love to hear your ideas about storyboarding, the format of the storyboards you use, and how you find them useful (or not). 🙂

How to start a YouTube video at a given point or time

Here’s a tip that technical writers will love! You can start a YouTube video at a specific point, by including the time-from-start in the URL or as a parameter in an embedded video.

Let’s say the sales team has produced a video introducing a number of new features in your product. Or an engineer has covered a suite of classes in an API. As a technical writer, you are writing about just one of those features, or just a subset of the classes. So, you need to start the video at the right point. Otherwise you’ll lose your readers!

In the examples below, I’ve used an excellent video from Chris Broadfoot, a Google engineer who is showing developers how to add spiffy map features to their Android apps using the Google Maps Android API utility library. I’m currently writing the documentation which focuses on just one of the utilities Chris covers: the Bubble Icon Factory. Does that sound like fun? It is! Watch the video to see what it’s about. 🙂

Using a URL to start a YouTube video at a specific point

Add the ‘t‘ parameter with a value in minutes and seconds. For example, this YouTube URL starts the video one and a half minutes into the story, where Chris talks about bubble icons:

http://youtu.be/nb2X9IjjZpM?t=1m30s

Starting an embedded YouTube video at a specific point

Use the ‘start‘ parameter and specify the number of seconds from the start of the video.

This is the code to embed a video using an iFrame, and start it at the 90-second point. Please assume the following code is within an HTML iframe element:

width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/nb2X9IjjZpM?start=90" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen

Because this blog is on WordPress, I’ve used a WordPress macro to embed a video on this page and start it at the 90-second point. This is the code:

youtube=http://youtu.be/nb2X9IjjZpM?start=90

And here’s the result:

More parameters

The YouTube documentation has a list of other useful parameters, including ‘end‘ for stopping the video at a given time, and ‘rel‘ for showing or suppressing the list of related videos when yours stops playing.

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