The Anatomy of a Story

    Way back in the 5th century b.c., Aristotle thought about what made a good story and decided it was a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end. Atistotle would have liked Shakespeare's King Lear: a King decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters before he dies, to avoid squabbling after his death (the beginning); civil war breaks out among the daughters because none are satisfied with what they've received (the middle); the old King and the warring daughters die, leaving in the hands of the good daughter the destroyed kingdom, which will now heal and regain prosperity (the end.)

    Now a beginning, middle and end may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many times we see videos that are just a mish-mash of shots, without a beginning, middle and end. Photo montages -- photographs compiled to commemorate an event such as a retirement, an award ceremony or the life of someone departed -- are often worse: a picture of Fred as a child, three pictures of Fred in high school, a picture of Fred as a baby and two photos of Fred's old car.

    You're thinking: "Hey! This video is about our trip to Disney Land. It's not Aristotle or Hollywood. There's no story here."

    But there is if you begin thinking in story terms, and your videos and montages will benefit from it.

    Here's an example from a video we saw not long ago that illustrates what I mean: Two young women graduated from college together and before one left to get married, they decided to take a trip across the United States. Their tapes contained typical tourist footage, with a couple of notable exceptions that made their trip tapes into a wonderful story and DVD. The first tape began with footage of the car, in front of their Sorority, piled high with all their clothing and picnic baskets for the trip. This was followed by shots of a sign that said "Boston." This was the beginning. Next came footage of the places they visited. To organize this they had a story-telling "gimmick" that worked admirably. Every time they entered a new State, one of the women, a cheerleader in college, posed in front of the State sign doing a gymnastic "split." All of this footage was the "middle" and the humorous introduction of the State signs kept the viewer aware of where they were in their travels. Finally, we saw the "Los Angeles" sign again, and watched as one of the women boarded a plane to begin another episode in her life. This completed the story.

    It didn't take much planning -- just thinking "story telling" -- "How do we deal with the start and finish of our trip, and how do we help people know where we are?"

Carl Grunert als König Lear, 1866