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Storytelling without words


When I was still teaching at the Marilou Diaz-Abaya Film Institute, a student handed me his Nth revision of the script for his final project. I was then the instructor for screenwriting and students were not allowed to shoot their final projects unless I approved their scripts. The story outline and treatment of this project underwent numerous revisions up to the screenplay. I couldn’t quite get what he was trying to say. He had difficulty in expressing his ideas through writing. He had a hard time organizing his thoughts and structuring his sentences. One thing is clear though--he had a relatable character who had issues with the death of his dad.


I saw the frustration in his face because of the numerous revisions. And I was starting to doubt myself as a teacher of screenwriting. My gut told me he knew his story. But he just couldn’t quite write it.


And so I told him, “You know what? just shoot it. I can see that the narrative is very clear to you even though you can’t put them into words. Let your pictures tell your story.” So he went on to shoot his film.


His film ended up being one of my favorite student shorts I have ever seen. It was clear, precise, cinematic, and dramatic.


Not everyone can express themselves well through words. My student for example, can tell a story more effectively through images. Though he could not write down his screenplay in the traditional sense, he is able to put together a series of coherent scenes and images and construct them into a dramatic narrative.


So if you are not friends with words, maybe you are a visual storyteller. There are a lot of opportunities for visual storytellers to contribute to the organization’s narrative. Storytelling can be applied when you choose the appropriate visuals for your presentations, designing marketing collaterals, assembling your presentation decks, or when you are creating multimedia projects for your corporate communications.


Here are a few things to consider when working on a visual story project for your company:


  1. Make your collection of images coherent. When working on projects, treat all assets and images as part of a single story. They must connect with each other visually, thematically, or conceptually. There must be something common with the images in terms of color, composition, objects, scenes or implied narrative. There must be an element that unifies them all and makes them look like they all belong together in the same story.

  2. Provide a narrative structure to the images. Collect a series of pictures that when put together, can narrate a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Images should move progressively when arranged (i.e. from empty to full, from failure to success, from drought to abundance, etc.) A series of images that convey some transformation when put together in sequence tell a visual story. The theory of the Montage allows this to happen. The human mind, when shown a series of images, can’t help but relate one image to the next and create meaning out of it. Maximizing the montage can help your audience see the coherence of your images and draw out the visual narrative you are trying to convey.

  3. Visualize the “Who”. Stories are not about “what”. It is always about “who”. This is not to say that your images should always have people in them. What is important is that your images must evoke and imply the protagonist. Who is suffering? Who is making choices? Who is the audience relating to? Show it through images, through objects, through spaces, and even through colors.


Stories can be told through various ways. And there are as many ways and opportunities in an organization to contribute to the collective narrative. If you are a person of few words, maybe the best way to tell your story is through images.


© 2019 OVERMIND CORP. Metro Manila, Philippines

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