Nine REAL Tips for Story Inspiration

It occurred to me that in my post yesterday about the importance of telling a good story over the obsession of making your videos look “cinematic,” I didn’t offer up any solutions for how to do that. It’s great to say “tell a great story!” But, what if that is something that’s hard for you. Well, I hope this will offer some help.

I must admit that part of me feels like “the boy who cried wolf” with this post. After a week of satirical posts about creating cinematic videos, you may question every “tips” title I create. I hope that’s not the case. I will assure you that this is a very real list of ideas I think can help you come up with great stories.

1. Start at Home

There are probably a dozen or more compelling stories right under your nose, you just have to see the forest for the trees. Maybe you have a unique relationship with your son or daughter that would be compelling to explore in a film. Maybe there’s an old tree stump in your backyard and you want to tell the story of it’s life from seedling to 100′ pine, to 2′ stump. (Read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” for inspiration). The point is that often times, the every day routine of life is filled with trinkets worthy to explore.

2. Ask A Child

You would be surprised at the amount of creativity and imagination in children. If you have access to a 4-6 year old, sit him or her down and interview them about the snow, about Christmas, about what they think of the state of the economy (yes, I’m serious). Then, go out and find a way to illustrate what they say. Or, talk to some teens about what’s going on in their lives. Trust me on this one. You will get a journal full of story ideas from all the drama you’ll find there.

3. Pay Attention to the Details of a Life

Many of you are in the wedding and event world. You meet people every week who share amazing stories of how they met, fell in love, etc. These are great starting places. But take it one step further. Go deeper. Ask about the little things you notice. What’s the story behind a hair cut that you see is different than the Facebook profile they have. How do their respective sets of parents get along? Think outside the box for insights that go beyond the usual “so, tell me how you met” kind of story.

4. The News

Real life is often way more interesting that whatever you could dream up. There are crazy things happening in the world out there. Take a news heading and run with it. I once heard a report about an uproar at a prison somewhere in the southeast that occurred because they took all condiments out of the prison for health reasons. No ketchup. No mustard. No salt. There are so many places you could go with that.

5. Take a Queue from Sci-Fi and Fantasy Geeks

I use the term “geek” admiringly because I am a self-described one. The worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars are filled with ancillary stories of the characters, some official, some unofficial. Like this fan-produced prequel to “The Lord of the Rings”). But don’t just focus on sci-fi and fantasy. Take any story (book or film) that you like and find a story inspired by one of its characters.

6. Focus on the People, Not the Product

If you’re creating a commercial video for a client, try coming up with a concept that focuses on the stories of the people who use that product or service. Instead of the traditional head-and-torso, 3-point lighting testimonial interview, shoot a meaningful documentary short. Take a risk. A great example of that is Honda’s Dream Series.

7. Find, Watch and Study the Best 30-60 Second Spots

At the beginning of this week, I blogged about what makes an effecitve commercial. Watch those, and any other compelling 30-60 second spots you can find. How are they shooting and editing the piece to cram every bit of information needed into that short amount of time? Watch the Clio Award winners to start. I learned a lot about telling an effective story and communicating a message in 30 seconds when I had to make a FAMILY FRIENDLY commercial that rose awareness to the reality of under-aged sex traffikcinig for StreetGRACE’s booth at an outdoor Christian concert fest. You can watch it here.

8. Beg the Question, “How Can I Present this as a Story”?

I see a lot of DSLR films out there that are pretty video portraits of landscapes, cityscapes, etc. The next time you want to go out and practice your bokeh skills, or take that tilt-shift lens for a spin, at least ask yourself the question, “How can I make this a story.” In my very first film school class, we had an assignment to shoot a bunch of different shots: low angle; high angle; pan, etc. It was a beginner’s class and it was just for us to practice and learn the basics. But even then I was always thinking story. So I came up with the story of a girl waiting for her boyfriend at a train station, and incorporated all the shots into that framework. You’re a creative. Go CREATE!

9. Keep a Journal of Ideas

Lastly, if you don’t already have one, keep a journal of ideas as they pop into your head. I use a black Moleskin notebook. (I feel so artsy and bohemian when I carry it around. Like a true artiste 🙂 ) But you could just as easily use your iPad, iPhone, i-whatever to do the same. Evernote is a great way to keep your ideas so that wherever you have access to the internet, you’ll have access to your story ideas. If you plan to turn any of your ideas into scripts, use the online script-writing site to store your ideas.

Where do you get your inspiration for stories?

4 thoughts on “Nine REAL Tips for Story Inspiration

  1. Ron,
    Great points. Quite a few of these same points work in the marketing world too – ask a child, monitor the news, people-centric model, tell a story, a journal. It’s funny how loosely related topics share so much common ground.

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