How to tell a story that also markets an idea.
According to several people, Peachtree’s Easter prayer vigil was a pretty amazing experience, so I decided to produce a video to tell the story about what happened. (Part of my job as the church’s Creative Director is to find great stories to tell.)
I like telling stories that match worship themes and sermons, to create a consistent message experience, so I targeted a week during our summer series dedicated to Hezekiah, which had a prayer theme.
All of my filmmakers are contractors (more on that for another day). I met with one of them and described my vision for the prayer story. On shoot day I went to the set for a while and felt good about the direction of the production.
Everything was fine until I saw the first draft. It was full of clips of people talking about how great the prayer vigil was.
Maybe you’re confused by this reaction. You might think that’s exactly what I should want. But this is where most storytelling – marketing, testimonies, nonfiction in general – misses the mark.
I didn’t want a promotional video.
This distinction is subtle but crucial. What I got was a video that marketed an event, and while well done it was just kinda boring. It didn’t move me.
Don’t make the business / church the hero. That becomes programmatic. And boring. A promo.
Instead, make a person the hero. And as with any good story this means that your protagonist undergoes some sort of transformation. Compelling stories focus on a character’s transformation, not an event, program or service.
We’ll probably run the clip we received in the spring before next year’s vigil, but we didn’t run it with the Hezekiah theme, because it didn’t contribute to a singular focus on the power of prayer to change lives.
So what could have happened differently? Instead of letting the event drive it, find a personal angle, like so:
- We meet a character.
- The character has a problem or conflict that they can’t resolve.
- He or she looks for help – in a video for the church, of course, the help comes from the Lord.
- God provides them a future and a direction to take – a plan.
- They implement the plan, and their life is changed.
Every good story is about a changed life.
Sometimes you can intercut multiple stories to achieve the same effect, where different people provide perspectives on the transformative power of the thing.
But in either case, whether a single person or multiple people, it’s about a personal, changed life.
When you do this you create a character arc and tell a story of a changes life. Then it becomes compelling not boring. Not a promo.
And oh by the way the thing gets promoted anyway.
For more information about the bones of how this works, check out Don Miller’s storytelling structure.