#1 technique to get more views 2021: tell the perfect story
Written by: Dexxter ClarkHow to get more views on YouTube? By scoring more watch time minutes!
How do you get more watch time minutes? By telling a compelling story that keeps viewers hooked until the end of your YouTube video.
Story telling is important for every type of video: tutorial, vlog, documentary, promotion…
What is the story telling formula for a YouTube video that even EVERY Hollywood movie uses?
That is the topic of this article with a deep dive into tutorials and vlogs.
I can write a whole book about storytelling alone, because it is an extensive topic.
I’m not gonna do that here. I’m “briefly” touching on the subject and try to connect it to our YouTube approach.
The funny thing is that we humans don’t perceive storytelling as storytelling, even if it hits us in the face.
A good story = watch time minutesHaving a story is one of the key ingredients in a book, movie and also a YouTube video.
Every video needs to have a story, otherwise viewers get confused.
A compelling story holds the viewers attention, which is equivalent to watch time minutes in YouTube world.
Which in its turn is equivalent to more promotion on YouTube.
If a story doesn’t progress in the pace that the viewer expects, they get bored or overwhelmed.
If a story takes turns in an unexpected way, it can that surprise (positive outcome) or confuse people if it makes no sense (negative outcome).
That surprise, the feeling that viewers discovered something new (i.e. “that guy is actually her father”) can draw peoples attention back into the story, or it may raise new questions.
Storytelling is important for all types of YouTube videos: science, documentaries, tutorials and vlogs.
Show, don’t tellA lot of independent movies can be boring because they feel like an endless stream of random events without common elements tying those together.
But can also be surprising because the viewer didn’t expect thát to happen.
Independent movies can afford themselves more confusion, because they target a more intelligent audience.
But big Hollywood A movies don’t take the chance: even the dumbest viewers needs to understand what is going on.
In most big Hollywood movies there is one clear protagonist (the hero) and one clear antagonist (the villain).
Put in a lot of explosions, special effects, violence, sex and viewers don’t notice that the story sucks.
Although the visuals and the actors (and actor skills) may not be as appealing to the eye, an independent movie takes the storytelling often to a higher level.
A good (visual) story is based on the theory: show, don’t tell.
If you can show it, you don’t need to tell it.
This is where a lot of B-series on television struggle, because they didn’t grab this concept properly.
If feels unnatural to the viewer when actors tell what is going on.
Visual storytellingWhen you tell a story in a vlog, do it visually.
When you go to a friend, instead of telling in the car that you are going to the friend, show it:
- film you calling your friend and say “I’ll be over there in a minute”
- film you hanging up the phone
- film you grabbing your car keys
- film you putting on a coat
- film you grabbing the door handle and opening the door
- film you closing the door
- film your feet when you walk to the car
- film the car when you get to the car
- film yourself pressing the unlock button on your car remote
- film yourself opening the door
- [put the camera in the car, hit record, sit down]
- film yourself in the car, closing the door
- film the hand that starts the car
- film you driving
What do you think will appeal more to your viewer:
- 1 shot of you telling you are going to your friend or
- 15 different visual shots of you going to your friend.
The story telling formulaEvery fictional story in a book, movie, fairy tale or even improv theatre follows a certain story telling pattern.
This formula provides a story arc, an attention span that keeps viewers (and readers) interested.
Even documentaries (or real life soap) need to sculpt the truth into a story so it provides a story arc.
The formula is as follows:
IntroductionThe who, the what and when.
You meet the protagonist (the good guy), you learn his history and his goal.
In the animated movie Who Framed A Cartoon Rabbit from the 80’s, at the beginning of the movie you see the detective struggling with alcohol.
You find out in a bar (where the girl bartending is doing him a favor) that his brother was killed by a cartoon.
Next you see shot of the protagonist falling asleep on his desk with a glass of alcohol.
A pan shows a desk with dust and photos with the protagonist, a man and the bartender girl.
This is a superb example of show-don’t-tell:
This shot tells why the protagonist is struggling with alcohol (because of his brothers death).
This shot tells also that they were close and ran the detective agency together.
This shot tells also what his relationship is with the bartender and why she does him a favor (she is his girlfriend and does him a favor because she loves him).
The dilemmaNext the hurdle, dilemma or problem for the protagonist is introduced.
There can be multiple dilemma’s (often there are).
Some movies and books are masters at piling up hurdles that connect with the first hurdle.
All those hurdles will be resolved by overcoming that dilemma that started the whole sequence.
The movie/video/book is over when you resolve that element.
Extra hurdles are introduced to raise the stakes and progress the story and keep viewers hooked.
A guy cheats on his wife and doesn’t tell her (the main hurdle), he has to lie to her about where he was yesterday (hurdle 2), he has to hide the hotel bills (hurdle 3), he has to erase text messages (hurdle 4).
All the hurdles are resolved by telling her he cheated on her.
A lot of comedies work this way also:
The main character makes up a lie for character 1,
that has also make sense for character 2 (so he introduces lie 2),
lie 2 has to make sense for character 3 (so he introduces lie 3) and so forth.
If the protagonist tells the truth (give up the first lie: main hurdle) everything is resolved.
Overcoming the hurdleThe protagonist overcame the hurdle and learned something in the process (i.e.: from now on, he will never do X again).
That overcoming the hurdle is the resolution of the problem and can be positive or negative. Hollywood A movies always end on a happy note, because everybody has to leave the movie theater with a smile on his (or her) face.
In much horror movies or independent movies, that’s a whole other … uhhh …. story.
The protagonist might die or be haunted forever.
It’s a resolution of a problem, if you like it or not.
You never know what is coming as a viewer in those movies, I like that element of surprise.
ExamplesLet me explain this story telling formula by using the famous story about Romeo and Juliet:
- Romeo and Juliet meet each other and fall in love.
- They want to be together (goal).
- The hurdle is the two families hate each other, so they can’t be together
- Romeo and Juliette overcame the hurdle by drinking poison, that resulted in death for both (Shakespeare is not for the faint hearted).
- A couple of guys wanted to get rich fast (goal)
- So they decided to con people without getting caught (hurdle)
- They overcame the hurdle and are now in jail.
You want to know if they are in jail or sipping cocktails on the Bahamas.
That unresolved hurdle keeps viewers attention.
Resolve it, and the attention is gone.
If you resolve your hurdle in the middle of the movie, people don’t watch till the end.
Secret Agent 008 beats the villain (hurdle) in the end the movie, not halfway.
It would be a short movie if he shot the bad guy the first time he met him.
Attention spanThe attention span can drag out over an entire season sometimes in television shows.
You are dying to find out what happens next episode.
Introducing a hurdle at the end of an episode or a movie, is a well known trick to entice viewers to watch the next episode.
This phenomenon is better known as: cliffhanger.
A cliffhanger basically introduces a new hurdle for a new story.
Did you notice that in the follow up episode, they never start with the cliff hanger (besides the recap), they first start with an introduction and outlining the story again.
You can use a cliffhanger on YouTube too for a handoff to a new video to increase session watch time.
Building on one storyline is sometimes difficult to do in a 90 minute movie.
You can’t raise the stakes an infinite amount of times by introducing new hurdles.
Books and movies therefore introduce a new storylines.
This can be 2 or 3 storylines that at the end resolve in a solution for the main storyline.
Introducing new storylines makes writing books and movie scripts more challenging, you need to keep track of them all.
For our 10 minute YouTube video we don’t have to bother with side storylines, the main story line is enough.
Storytelling in tutorialsYou might be inclined to think that tutorials don’t have a storyline, but nothing is less true.
First of all: the story has to be chronologic.
You can’t (like in a vlog or book) tell the story backwards, then people get confused.
You have to explain the term or technique first before you can use it further down the line in the tutorial.
Only if you explain something, you can expand on that later (not the other way around).
A good story triggers a question (a hurdle).
A question is a reason for viewers to watch because they want to know something.
As we have seen before, that hurdle needs to be resolved.
Therefore it is good practice to explain the viewer (or even better: show the viewer) at the start of the video what they are going to learn by asking questions.
Tell them enough so they want to watch the video, but not so much that will give all the information away.
Raise as many questions as you can and keep the most import one for the end of the video (so they watch it completely, which is good for your audience retention and watch time minutes).
A story is done when all the hurdles are resolved.
The tutorial is done when all the questions you raised have answers.
You can raise questions in your hook, but also the thumbnail, title and description.
In the thumbnail of a play-button-tutorial of a DJ player, I can draw an arrow to the button with the text “why does it flash?”.
This way you started the story before the viewer even watched one second of your video.
In my article The hidden YouTube video structure that NOBODY talks about I talk about the video structure of a YouTube video.
I expand on that theory further in this article.
(You see that in this "tutorial I can only expand on knowledge I previously explained.)
The structure of typical tutorial could look like this:
Raise questions and tell why viewers should watch.
“Did you know that there is an option …. but how can you do that?”
“In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to create beautiful pictures in this photo software”
“What has X to do with Y?”
“Why is there a fly in my soup?”
“Why can’t I touch my head when I do the hand stand?”
tell about you experience and the table of contents
Build the knowledge from the ground up.
Spread you answers out over the whole video in between the rest of the knowledge.
Viewers see the questions answered over time.
If you wait too long (or pack them up at the end) viewers might get the idea you won’t answer the questions and they click away.
Answer the last question and do an optional call to action.
If you want to place a tutorial in a typical storytelling formula: it is right in the middle with the viewer as protagonist.
I’ll take an example of a DJ:
- The protagonist (=viewer) wants money and fame (goal)
- What does he have to do to become a DJ? Learn the skill (dilemma/hurdle/question). This is your tutorial.
- The protagonist overcame the hurdle and learned something in the process
Doing a tutorial and say at the end that they need to pay for the last piece of information, doesn’t work well.
Doing a tutorial and say at the beginning that they can pay to see the extended version of the tutorial, is acceptable.
But a tutorial needs to be complete, or at least tell people at the beginning it isn’t.
Then viewers can make an educated decision if they are going to watch the video or not, but most people will skip it.
Doing a handoff as cliff-hanger by raising a new question that gets resolved in another tutorial, is perfectly fine.
Storytelling in vlogsTelling a compelling story in a vlog is incredibly hard.
In contrast to tutorials, it’s something you won’t learn overnight. It takes a lot of practice.
That’s why 95% percent of vloggers suck at vlogging.
Hitting the record button in the morning, afternoon and evening does not make a compelling vlog.
You need to plan ahead before you hit record. Trying to make a story in the edit is harder and incredibly time consuming.
You’ll find out that 9 out of 10 times you miss footage for a good rhythm.
The problem with vlogs is that a lot of creators mistake the ‘V’ in vlog for Vanity instead of Video.
It’s human nature to think that you are amazing, inherited from that, you think that everybody else thinks the same way about you.
By default, no one is interested in you unless they can benefit from you.
You have to make an effort in order to make people genuinely care about you.
If you are a beautiful girl or a Hollywood celebrity, you can get away with a bad vlog because of your status.
But for the rest of us mortals, we actually have to do the work of making a vlog with a compelling story.
I started out vlogging on my DJ channel to follow my progress of becoming a DJ.
My first vlogs were amazing (I thought), but no one watched, and when someone did watch, they switched off very quickly.
I had no idea what was wrong, after all, I was amazing!
Then I dove deeper into the science of vlogging and came across storytelling.
Then it dawned on me.
There was no story in my vlogs, there was no story arc, nothing to keep viewers hooked and no resolution (overcoming the hurdle) to a problem.
My vlogs were a diarrhea of facts of that week.
No one wants to watch a list things some random guy does.
I quickly found that coming up with a decent story in every vlog is hard work!
It requires actual thinking and not improvisation!
I’ve made a couple of vlogs with a story and indeed viewers kept watching.
But the fact that I had to think about the story every time I hit record, took the fun out of vlogging for me.
I also tried to use some DJ knowledge in the vlogs, so even if you weren’t interested in the vlog part, you could still watch it for the value.
That worked even better.
The downside to this method (vlog + tutorial) is that vlogs are old tomorrow, which automatically puts a expiration date on the tutorial within a week, although the information is still current and accurate.
An example of a good story for a vlog:
The protagonist (=vlogger) lies on the floor screaming in pain (hurdle).
The viewer wants to know what happened. Is it a joke? Is it fake? why did he fall? how bad is he hurt?
It’s just a normal day at the office, a coffee break and cracking jokes with colleagues.
At the end of the day the protagonist goes home (goal) and gets on his skateboard and does a couple of tricks, but he doesn’t fall.
He talks to people on the street, gets on his skateboard.
Then all-of-a-sudden a truck comes out of nowhere and collides with the protagonist (hurdle).
The protagonist lies on the floor screaming (the footage we saw in the hook).
An ambulance arrives and tells him he broke his arm (the story continues after the hook footage ended).
The ambulance drives the protagonist to the hospital.
The next shot is a shot is his girlfriend bringing him flowers in the hospital.
At his bed she says that he has to be more careful.
The protagonist agrees.
The protagonist overcame the hurdle and learned something.
End of the vlog.
Of course you can’t anticipate on getting hit by a truck, but as soon as the accident happened, the vlogger had a story.
The vlogger decides to build up in the vlog to the moment of the accident (building up tention), he may even decide to up the ante by throwing in some extra hurdles:
- he goes to a concert tonight with his girlfriend
- his girlfriend is waiting at the bus stop, but he isn’t showing up
- his girlfriend always wanted to go to that concert of her favorite band but never was able to get tickets
Story elements like the these extra hurdles are often fictional elements in vlogs.
A lot of vlogs are a little bit stages.
Notice that the vlog would have been dull if it was in chronologic order (even with the same footage).
The video editing makes all the difference.
The story benefits from the time jump between the hook and the introduction because it is an unresolved hurdle.
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