5 Ways to Improve Your Storytelling on the Web

By Jay Laird.

Jay Laird, a faculty member in the Digital Media Program, co-designed the game design concentration at Northeastern.

You’ve decided on your story. It delivers your message. It’s relevant to your audience. But which is the best way to tell it on the Internet? The web gives us more ability than ever to tailor form and function to best suit our content.

While storytelling is the key to shaping your message, each medium used to tell it has its own tips and tricks to maximize its effectiveness. We teach each of these and more at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies ‘ Digital Media program.

Here are five ways to improve your storytelling techniques on the web, one for each of the five common elements of web-based storytelling:

1. Photos – Identify Your Character

One way to improve your storytelling through photography is to identify the character of your photos – even if there are no people in it. Compose your shots with an awareness of scale, position and contrast to make sure the subject of your photo not only draws attention, but also conveys some sense of character. Look at the subject and the interplay against the background, or if it’s a person, how he or she is dressed and what he or she is holding. If the audience gets a sense of personality – even if your subject is a light switch – they will pay more attention.

2. Video – Edit, Edit, Edit

The old adage is true: Less really is more. On the web, your audience’s time is limited, so it’s critically important to show only the key moments that establish what you’re trying to say. Get the important bits out up front. Here’s a challenge: Try to convey the core of your message in a six-second Vine!

3. Illustrations – Control the Color Palette

You might have a lot of information that needs to grab the reader’s attention, but don’t use every color in the rainbow to do it. For infographics, a good color palette will contain two to five harmonious colors. Even if you have never taken any design courses, there are a few apps and shortcuts designed to help you here, including Kuler.adobe.com . Select one to two colors based on the mood you’re going for, and let Kuler recommend the others. When working on a project with a team, make sure everyone has agreed on the color palette and the importance of keeping it consistent.

4. Text – Consider Your Heirarchy

The basics of writing for the web are already well-documented. Keep paragraphs short. Take advantage of white space. Use bold subheads and lists as much as possible. But to take your web writing to the next level, establish a viable hierarchy of information that will guide your audience as they scroll through your site. The key here is viable – while it’s a good idea to grab an eye with one or two ideas “above the fold,” you don’t have to tell the whole story within the first screen of your website. More often than not, attempts to cram everything “above the fold” lose readers rather than gaining them. Trust the reader’s curiosity: if you tell people there’s an amazing hamburger below, they’ll scroll down or click for details!

5. Interactivity – Set the Path

Design your interactive elements so the audience can control how quickly and how thoroughly they follow the story. Carefully design your interaction points to lead your audience through the story you want to tell, while still giving them the ability to control the flow of storytelling. Provide leaders with jump-links to skim past items that don’t interest them, but always give them a way to go back. Consider providing sub-pages to give them the ability to go really in-depth before moving on, but be sure they know they have a way back to the main narrative.