The Arch Way: Storytelling

The Arch Way: Storytelling


The Arch Way: Storytelling

Everyone has a story to share. Whether you are a company trying to share your brand’s vision or an individual trying to craft your narrative, there are a few key elements to a good story. Remember when you were a kid, and you read your favorite fairy tale? It had the elements of a good story. The ‘once upon a time,’ the  ‘happily ever after’, the character development, the scene, the surprise, the emotions etc… A good story should take the reader (audience) through a journey with a good platform, tilt and resolution! 

Here are 15 steps to tell a compelling story.

1. Project – what is the story for (i.e. a book, a podcast, a website, social media, business?)

2. Purpose – why are you telling this story now?

3. Audience – who is this story for?

4. Board – create a vision or mood board to inspire your story!

5. Content – stories come in many formats: Q+A, narrative, news style, documentary

6. Specificity – vivid details help bring a story to life so avoid general references

7. Sensory – add details on what you remember (sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste)

8. Paint – bring the story to life with colors, ambiance, imagery, surroundings, time

9. Development – each character should be thoroughly explored through viewpoints

10. Structure – your story should have a clear plan

  • setup – the who, what, when, where, why, how (paint the scene) (5W’s and 1H)
  • problem  – what is the challenge that the character will face? (obstacle)
  • climax  – how, if at all, did the character overcome the issue?
  • conclusion – what happens in the end?

11. Ending – don’t give away your ending in the beginning! Why will people read the story then?


person writing on white paper

Take a sheet of paper and create a list of your first, last, best, worst. Then write a one-word emotion an object that represents that activity!

  • CAR
  • DATE


  1. PRESENT TENSE – Use the present tense and active voice to tell your story. Don’t tell the story in the past tense. Present tense allows your audience to discover nuggets and allows a sense of immediacy and takes them on the journey!
  2. SURPRISE ELEMENT – Stories that add a surprise factor will keep your audience on the edge of their seats. It will evoke laughter, tears, sympathy and other emotions. It allows the stories to breathe. It gives the audience a chance to connect with you on a deeper level. Remember, predictable is boring. You may even be able to incorporate an action element to your storytelling (singing a song, dancing, miming, a yoga pose).
  3. SPECIFICITY – Use the rule of threes to bring specificity to your stories. Avoid generality because it touches the surface without going deep. Specifics can add personality to your story and help bring it to life. Describe the opposites, elaborate on a name, and use an analogy to compare an outfit or someone’s persona. But be careful of overdoing specificity because you want to give information that helps move the story forward and not overload the audience with too many specific details.
  4. ACTION WORDS – Help your audience understand your world quickly by describing where you are, what time it is, what part of the world you are in, etc…  Things like “I am smelling the beautiful roses at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on a Friday afternoon.” You can also give specific references to distance, describe the smells, sights and surroundings and give your audience a sense of being in that location. Use strong action verbs that describes WHO DID WHAT.
  5. PEOPLE + PLACES – Your audience will have a short attention span. You have to quickly grasp their attention by finding ways to make this relatable and keep them interested. Use analogies to describe the people, the places and the characters you come along including yourself. Avoid too many pop culture references though!
  6. OPENING STATEMENTS – Don’t tell the audience what the story is about or give away the ending. Then, they have no reason to listen to your story in the first place. Instead, put them right in the middle of the action. Describe what all is happening around you in this story, right here and right now: “I pull up to the Dunkin Donuts drive thru just before 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, something I do every single day. But for some odd reason, today felt different. I was the only one in the drive thru.”
  7. YOUR STORY + YOUR VOICE – Use your own voice and style of writing to tell the story. The audience doesn’t want to hear someone else’s story. The story should be about you, how you were impacted, how you felt, and how you came out in the end. Remember, good stories have a strong beginning, middle and an end.
  8. TOPIC – Stick to the topic and remember that less is more. You may have a lot of amazing details and nuggets but you have to ask if it is 100% relevant to tell the story and move it forward. You don’t want to confuse your audience with too many tangents!
  9. SIMPLE WORDS – You should use a conversational tone when you write your story and share it. Don’t use complicated jargon or words that people will be confused with. Think about your audience as a bunch of middle school students. Tell the story as if you were at a dinner party or with a bunch of friends at a bar. Your audience
  10. AUTHENTICITY – It is absolutely fine to show the imperfections in your story, In fact, a good story will showcase your vulnerable side and that will be more interesting. The audience will find more empathy in an example of how you failed and rebounded. Or how you were stood up but didn’t give up. Show us how you were lonely, scared, nervous, angry or impacted in your own, authentic voice. People will identify and connect with your true journey when you let them into your world.


Television news is all about NEW, NOW, NEXT. Viewers want to know what is new, what is happening now and what is next to come? The key to good TV writing is using the active voice (who did what) and using a conversational style. Avoid cop jargon or legalese — and use analogies and rule of three’s to break down your story. Round up numbers and use examples like 2 out of 10 people instead of 20% or, say more than 5-thousand people instead of 4,984.

  • ACTIVE VOICE: The dog bit the boy
  • PASSIVE VOICE: The boy was bitten by the dog

TV stories usually fit into two formats: PKG (packages) or VO/SOTS (voice over/soundbytes). Your traditional news package will be about 1:30 which will be a combination of reporter track and soundbytes (interviews). A VO/SOT is about 45 seconds and will be a summary of your story for the anchor to read.

The key to any good story is a strong lead (a hook), and a good beginning/middle/end. You want to write to your video (see dog, say dog). Your story should include a variety of shots like a wide open shot, a few medium shots and plenty of close-ups/tight shots. The story should stand alone without the anchor intro or anchor tag. Your anchor intro should tease the story, the package should explain the nuts and bolts of the story, and the anchor tag should tease what is coming up next. You can also include a reporter stand-up to bridge topics or to mention information that you don’t have video of. Don’t date your stories because it could run later that day or the next morning (i.e. say the day of the week not today or tomorrow). Your package should include nat-pops (natural sounds) — things like water gushing, sirens, laughter. And, the best stories are emotion driven. Focus your story on one or two characters who are impacted by the issue, and keep the officials (politicians, cops, lawyers, subject matter experts) to maybe one interview. 

The best reporters ask tough questions but with empathy. Your job is to ask the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW. But you also want to go deeper into the story. Why is this story relevant now? Why is this person willing to talk about it today? What are the next steps in this story? How can you as a journalist help this individual or family get answers? Have you gotten both sides of the issue? Your job is to present the facts objectively and keep a balanced perspective. That means asking everything your bosses, producers, executive producers may ask you and ultimately satisfying the viewer’s curiosity. You don’t want to write a story with more questions than answers. If you have not received an answer, say that in your TAG. While video can be a powerful tool, you can also audio (think 911 tapes), stills (phone pictures, albums) to move your narrative forward.

Keep an excel spreadsheet story bank of future story ideas and all your journalism contacts.