Animated Video Production

Four Elements of a Great Video Narrative

Shawn 06.26.2017

The phrase “video narrative” is intimidating. It conjures up Shakespearean drama, and script meeting anxiety, but the deep dark secret of corporate video production is that a narrative can be as simple as you want. “Jack and Jill went up the hill” is a 10-part mini-series rife with drama just waiting to happen.
It doesn’t matter what your video sells, markets, or teaches, or if you use animated video, whiteboard, motion graphics, or live-action – the audience is always the same (Hint: it’s people). Making a great video—with a compelling story—doesn’t have to be complicated. To help you demystify video production, we’re going to outline the Four Elements of a Great Video Narrative and show you how you can include a few into just about any corporate or explainer video.

4 Elements of a Great Video Narrative

Storytelling Made Simple

The video below is great for a few simple reasons. It’s short (1:25), to the point, and has great music and sound editing. However, the opening line — “My name is Ron Dawson, the senior video producer for Mighty8Media,” — is what hooked me. This video doesn’t waste time with crazy graphics, long intros, or other fluff. This video is about Ron Dawson. He’s a senior video producer, and he’s going to tell you a story. And people like stories.

The beauty of this short and sweet videos is that it encapsulates all four elements of a great video (more on that in a sec). It calls to mind another one of my all-time favorite stories by Ernest Hemingway. To prove a point about the power of brevity, Hemingway famously penned this complete six-word short story:

For sale: baby shoes; never worn.

Within that one sentence is a rich world of mourning parents, abject poverty, loss, struggle, regret, and all the pathos that goes along with it. The reader fills in years of backstory and character development without Hemingway writing another word. It’s an extremely efficient literary device, but people will always bring their own history and context to anything you create. Content marketing is all about your ability to scale peoples’ experiences and hopefully create a connection with your brand. If you can reach people with just six words, do it. Heck, that’s practically Twitter’s entire corporate mission.
The point is, it only takes a few simple elements to create a compelling narrative. If you apply this storytelling lens to your next corporate video—no matter what the subject matter—you’ll create a video that people respond to.

Elements of a Great Narrative

Classic storytelling (as defined  by stuffy literary men in bowler hats like Nigel Watt’s classic story arc structure) defines the eight essential points of narrative:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

All eight of these narrative points are great for your next novel, but videos and content marketing only have seconds—literally—to hook viewers and tell your story. An animated explainer video just doesn’t have the time to meander. So, I’ve boiled the eight elements of a great narrative down to four essential video narrative staples:

Four Elements of Video Narrative Venn Diagram

  1. The Introduction (Characters)
  2. The Quest
  3. Climax
  4. Resolution

Remember the great example set by Ron, as we dive into what each of these mean for your video.

1) Characters: Design Likable Heroes

Video Narrative1
Every tale has a hero—even your accounting software explainer video. The hero in most animated explainer videos is the product or consumer, and she should be easy to identify. Carefully create your hero early on because your hero will define your audience and the problems they face—not to mention the tone of the eventual resolution. Here are a few questions to help you create a likable character that your ideal customer will want to watch:

  1. What does your ideal customer look like?
  2. How does they dress?
  3. How old are they?

You don’t have to create a complex character with a rich background—viewers will naturally fill in the gaps (like in Hemingway’s story)—but try to make it as easy as possible for them by adding obvious character traits and signals. It’s ok to use shortcuts in an explainer video. Glasses for instance, quickly communicate that a character is smart or nerdy. That can be good or bad depending on your product. Age is another shortcut to compelling character design. A child communicates a different tone vs. an elderly adult. Apply as needed.

2) Conflict: Define the Pain Point

Focusing on the conflict is one of the most effective ways to reach your target market with a video. When you build the video narrative around the “pain point” that the user faces, you create an incentive for them to watch closely (aka they don’t want “x” to happen to them). The conflict in the video is an obstacle to their happiness or effectiveness. Luckily, your video has the solution. Conflict can be a great opportunity or teaching moment – especially in educational videos – for you to insert yourself into potential customer’s decision making process.

According to SiriusDecisions’ Buying Interactions Model, “The highest level of buyer/seller interaction for all buying scenarios occurs during the education phase of the buyer’s journey.” If you provide a solution during this process, you’re well positioned for conversions.

Remember that time is of the essence. Whatever your conflict, define it early (within the first :30) and accurately. This Scandis video is all pain point in the introduction—even the music conjures a little anxiety with its ominous meandering bass line. However, you don’t want to beat viewers over the head with the problem. Define the situation then move onto how you can fix it. The conflict is the hook in your sales pitch—don’t forget to reel them in.

3) Quest: Set Expectations

The quest is the meat of the story, the whole point of the video. The quest is why people watch a movie, read a book or put together that 10,000 piece puzzle of a sailboat. If people wanted to see a sailboat, they’d just look at the box. No, the struggle is the reason we’re all here so make it worthwhile. This is where you get to make your product or service shine. Go all out on the quest—it’s the most fun part of the whole video narrative process, and if you do it right, people will remember, share, and talk about you.
Some of the best animated explainer videos let the quest shape their heroes:

“Ballad of a Wi-Fi Hero”

“Ballad of a Wi-Fi Hero” tackles the quest idea head-on (and it’s amazing), but the “quest” doesn’t always have to be so obvious. Usually it’s just a thorough explanation. Without any swords. *sigh*

“Commute” takes the quest element literally in their popular series of “It’s Time to Love Mondays” video campaign. The knight thrusts you into the thick of things right off the bat, turning a boring commute into an action packed chase. What’s even better is that has managed to combine the pain point (commuting) with the quest to talk about their service (job search). It’s beautifully done, and in 30 seconds. They deserve to be knighted for this one…
Users need your product, and they need to know why they need it. Explain the problem (pain point) and the path to solving it (your product description aka “quest”) in a compelling, logical way. This is the meat of the video narrative, and needs to be executed well to reach the final stage…

4) Resolution: Happy Ending & Your CTA

You’ve introduced the video’s hero (and thus the viewer), they’ve faced the conflict, endured the quest, and now arrive at the resolution. Ideally, the resolution is a solution to the problem, but depending on your objective, the resolution can be a continuation of the conversation, or merely awareness of the problem. It all depends on your path to conversion and your CTA.

Animated videos are exceptionally effective narrative devices because they use simple visual cues to involve the audience in the story – a ball rolling down a hill, a paper airplane landing in someone’s lap.

4 Elements of a Great Video Narrative

The New York Times reported that “metaphors rouse your sensory cortex,” tricking a reader or viewer into actually experiencing “leathery hands” or “lavender musk,” when they see them onscreen or read the words on the page. People are built to learn and connect through stories. Our brains want to inject everyday objects and stories with meaning, and will fill in the sensory gaps if the narrative is strong enough.
Take your video to a happy conclusion that solves everything because that’s what a story is—a journey. A hero faces a problem, sets out to solve it, and comes home a victor. It’s a tale as old as time—you just have to fill in the spaces with your message. Construct a compelling narrative and your audience will be more receptive to your story and your product.

Let us tell your story with an animated explainer video. We’re here to make sure you look like a hero.


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

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