Just as setting exposure for any photograph is a three-legged stool (asa, aperture and shutter speed), telling the subject’s story is a three-legged stool as well. While the first two legs, the photographs and the text, have to work both separately and together, the storytelling has to work as well. There are six traits or characteristics that will help shape the storytelling of the subject. The characteristics are engagement, framing, structure, theme, brevity and avoiding the trendy.
Within the first few sentences or the first few photographs the reader will decide if it is worth continuing with the work so it must be put together in a way that engages the reader from the very beginning. The storytelling must elicit the readers interest by making the subject’s story relevant in some way.
The opening few sentences or paragraph of the subject’s story should present what the rest of the work is about and give the reader both the overview and the context. In theory, the entire story should be summarized in the first 30 to 35 words with the rest of the story filling in the details.
But theory and practice are often quite different. The opening paragraph here is 75 words.
But more than simply reporting the subject, the storytelling has to find the human element. Facts and figures are nice and, at times, may be necessary to advance the subject’s story, but these generally reduce the story to a collection of bullet points. A solid narrative that makes the subject relevant to the reader is always preferable. There are some basic question that can help focus the narrative:
- Who am I trying to reach about this subject?
- What does the reader want to know about this subject?
- Why does the reader want to know about this subject?
- How do I cast this story to meet the needs of the intended audience?
- What is the context of the story?
The other aspect of engagement is for you as the author to allow your enthusiasm for the subject to come through the work which will help frame it for the reader.
The framing of the subject’s story is the interpretive structure you give it. This is where you, as the author, establish your perceptions, ideas, impressions and understandings of the subject and use those to conceptualize the story. In other words, this is where you set your opinion of the subject and the story then lives up to that opinion. The idea of framing the story is critical as it will give the reader a “frame of reference” for the work which they can either agree or disagree with.
It must be noted that the framing is generally never openly stated but rather comes through in your approach to both the subject and the subject’s story.