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Gary Vee has dubbed the next decade of the internet as the decade of "TikTokification," and as content gets crunched into smaller and smaller segments, attention keeps getting hard to attain and even harder to keep.
This article helps you tell stories that can be impactful in as little as 15 seconds. You will learn standard methods of incorporating stories into your content alongside advanced strategies for maximizing engagement in 15-second stories. Towards the end, you will discover ways to side-step challenges and take advantage of opportunities that come with short-form content.
Short-Form Storytelling: How It Differents From Long-Form Videos
Short-form video storytelling differs from traditional storytelling in duration and consumption context. The viewers who engage with your content are in a "low-attention span" environment. That's the context and not a judgment on the viewers.
They might be capable of reading entire books per sitting, but when they are browsing IG reels or TikTok, they are not ready to devote as much attention to any piece of content. Aside from low-tolerance context, the other constraint you have as a content creator is the duration.
There are hard limits on how much content you can cram into one piece on TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and other platforms. Even though some platforms allow users to upload hours of video in a vertical orientation, most videos that cross the 15-second mark get skipped.
Excelling At Short-Form Storytelling
Aside from keeping your videos shorter than 15 seconds, you need one more thing to keep your viewers engaged—and that is the hook. Most videos get skipped within 3 seconds, so you have to script and edit the beginning of your video to hook the viewers.
Here are the three techniques you can use:
Appeal to self-interest - "Do you want to learn how I got 12,000 subscribers in 4 weeks?"
Demonstration of unique value - "Most self-help gurus won't teach you this one trick that can…"
Hit the ground running - "The lion was staring me right in the eye…"
When it comes to short-form videos, there are hundreds of successful creators in every niche. So, you can always learn from existing case studies. In humor, content from Adrian Bliss is quite noteworthy, while in food-related lifehacks, few creators have as much success as Jordan Howlett. Their genres might differ, but the value they deliver in each second of their content is much higher than the average creator.
Brevity is Golden
The first lesson you must learn when it comes to short-form video storytelling is that you cannot take even a second of your audience's attention for granted. Your content must be hyper-stimulating and must keep your viewers hooked long past the initial hook.
The Script Isn't Everything
While the script plays an important role in story-driven content, visual elements are quite crucial as well. Some creators add gifs and reaction faces to their videos. Others rely on fast cuts. However, the most common form of visual stimulus in short-form content doesn't rely on gifs, emojis, or fast cuts. It relies on the alphabet.
Never Leave The Audience's Shoes
If you think from the audience's perspective, you can see that content captioning has immense value. It helps to think from the perspective of your viewers. Think about the value they want, whether it is entertainment, education, humor, or insight, and deliver it in every second of your content.
Make Your Content Relatable
When you're thinking from your audience's perspective, you can be more relatable. In stories, you can make characters easier to identify with. Remember that most of Disney's movie-related revenue comes from toy sales. Characters can quite literally drive sales. But they have to be easy to root for.
Advanced Story-Designing Methods
If you are looking to level up your content and make your stories addictive, you have to think like a screenwriter. You can even take a screenwriting class! That said, you might not have the time to take a storywriting class, and fortunately, it is not necessary. Simply employ the following tools used by storytellers.
Tension and suspense are crucial components of visual storytelling. Movies, TV shows, and even books aren't immune to the law of curiosity. The more curious you make people, the longer they stick around. When curiosity intensifies, it leads to tension. And upon resolving tension, you deliver a rush of relief to your audience.
Common ways to add tension to your story include:
Give opposing goals to equal characters - "Jordan wanted her to go out with him, but so did Ali."
Raise the stakes and create tangible consequences - "Ali had told her that if she even looked at Jordan, he would set fire to her father's office."
Mystify the solution - "She couldn't talk to the cops because Ali was one of them."
Optimize Dialogue For Impact
The following paragraph might be okay for a long-form script:
"I told Joanna that she could not expect a luxury handbag as a birthday gift because we had not been together for more than a week. She replied, 'How long we have dated doesn't matter. What matters is that we are in a relationship.' I told her, 'I don't care what you say. I'm not spending four grand on a bag.' So we split up."
The economy of words might work for a longer consumption context. But that script would make a terrible TikTok. On a shortform content platform, the same story would be narrated as follows:
The time my ex wanted a Hermes bag for her birthday.
"I was like, 'get you a handbag for your birthday? We started dating last week!'
And she's like, 'Doesn't matter. It's my birthday, and I'm your girl.' And I'm like, "Not anymore."
A lot is omitted and shuffled, but the end product delivers far more plot information in far fewer words. This is called the economy of words and is crucial in short-form content.
Drench Your Content In Emotion
Laughter, sadness, and motivation are all emotional states or reactions that content creators in different genres aspire to inspire. You must leverage relatability and audience-oriented thinking to make your viewers smile, laugh, shed a tear, or learn a lesson.
Ultimately, content that fails to get an emotional reaction fails to build a community. And if you're not building a community, you're not making an impact.
When In Doubt, Make It Beautiful
One type of emotion can underlie any type of content: awe. This emotion is rarely embedded in most content, so you can make your videos stand out by making them awe-inspiring. Visual beauty and a sense of aesthetics go a long way.
While your story needs to be compelling, and your scripts must have the right hook and pace, you can always lean on aesthetics to make your point if any other part of your video lacks substance or quality. Ideally, though, your videos should have a great script, hook, pacing, punchline, and visual elements.
Constraints Of Short-Form Video Storytelling (And How To Overcome Them)
Short-form video content format is great for discoverability and reach, but it isn't a format designed to deliver stories. Of course, managing to distribute stories in 15 seconds can accelerate your online growth simply because humans are hardwired to engage with stories.
But there are some serious challenges that you have to overcome on your journey to master the short-form story format.
As much as the economy of words is a practice worth adopting, it is also an obstacle worth overcoming. You have to contend with the fact that you have very limited time to insert dialogue and make the most of it.
Once you start thinking on a microscopic timeframe, though, this challenge disappears. But initially, you have to pen dozens of clunky scripts until you get the brevity right.
We all know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But in a short video, you have to mesh the middle and the beginning so that the viewers are hooked and right in the middle of the action. It isn't easy getting someone involved in the middle of a story while giving them the background they need to find the ending satisfying.
Usually, omitting the obvious and peppering details throughout the narrative can make up for the lack of a slow, traditional beginning. Consider the following examples, for instance.
Example A - A relatively longer story:
James was having a tough time disclosing to his wife that he was cheating. After all, she was the primary earner and the mother of his child. He would be dirt poor and away from his daughter if his affair were to become public.
But he had no time because the affair was about to be public. The vixen he had encountered in a bar three months ago was threatening to disclose the affair. And there was nothing he could do to stop her except leave his wife. His marriage was doomed either way.
While the above opening has a decent pace and hook, it is too boring for short-form content. In a short video, the beginning has to find a way to mesh with the middle. The following example illustrates that.
Example B - Short-form video:
James throws a chair against the wall.
_James: I will lose my daughter and my house if my wife finds out. _
Vixen: And she will find out. About every time you slept with me in the last three months.
James: I beg you. Don't do this. I don't even have a job. I can't leave her. I love you, but I need her.
Vixen: Leave her, or I'll make her leave you.
In a longer story, the dialogue would be somewhere in the middle. But by putting the details from the beginning right in the middle, the need for a slow start can be circumvented.
Abundance Of Competition
In "Example B," you can see that the first line is purely a hook. If it is removed, the rest of the script loses its intensity. There is an abundance of competition on short-form content platforms that makes it necessary for you to include not one hook but a series of hooks throughout your story.
It does not matter that the next piece of content on their "for you" page is not as interesting or good as your content. What matters is that they might think that the next video is more engaging. If they think that, they'll skip yours. So you have to script your stories so each second sells the viewer on the next second.
Limitations Of Depth
No matter how much suspense you build and how well you pace your story, a short-form consumption context necessitates that you wrap it all up in a limited timeframe. You do not have the time to explore different characters and motivations. One way to push back against this limit is to embed character qualities into actions.
A man jumping in front of a train to save a baby is heroic. And if he says, "Shut up" when he is thanked for saving her life, then it is evident that he has a hard exterior with a soft and noble interior. You don't need to explore his character in depth when you can reveal it in action.
Still, the fact is that you do not have the same depth in a short-form story as you do in a novel. But that comes with the territory. You can be successful in this context by choosing or crafting the right stories that make an impact without being super detailed.
While choosing shorter stories can earn you a better engagement rate than longer ones on a platform like TikTok, you are still at the algorithm's mercy. While social media algorithms are constantly improving, they are not perfect.
If the platform you choose ends up matching you with the wrong audience, you'll not get the right reception. Many creators get around this challenge by using universally accessible metaphors and symbolism so that their videos are relatable to the broadest set of people.
Unique Opportunities For Short-Form Content
By now, you understand the challenges of short-form storytelling and how to side-step them. And trying to deliver depth, well-paced narratives, and reaction-inspiring content might be hard. But it is worth the advantages it brings. Let's explore some of the unique opportunities that come with 15-second storytelling.
You Can Master Engagement
By focusing on hyper-engagement, you can train your brain to view everything from the lens of audience interest. Before you know it, your conversations become more interesting, and your overall personality starts to seem far more appealing.
You Can Build A Niche Or Mass Following
Storytelling can resonate with small groups as well as with massive audiences. So, building a niche community as well as mass viewerships are possibilities you can realize with short-form stories. You just need to gear your stories toward the type of audience you want to build.
Opportunities For Surprise
Short-form content rewards surprise, and because the format is so time-poor, you can add multiple plot twists to get the audience to chuckle or gasp a few times. Consider the following example.
Jimmy doesn't like going to school. He is a teacher. But his greatest problem is that he is five years old. But what else would he be? He was born right in the middle of a leap year.
The twists like "Jimmy" being a teacher instead of a student and then turning out to have a younger age, but that too on a technicality, are all perfect for short-form stories. In longer stories, you wouldn't be able to sustain the twists.
Easier To Shoot
Short-form video is easier to shoot. And audience expectations around it are also pretty grounded. No one expects your vertical video to be of cinematic quality unless the point of your channel is to show off video quality. People who get stuck overthinking their content can have an easier time making short-form videos as they feel far more disposable.
Final Thoughts: The Stories We Tell Are All We Sell
Short-form or long-form, everything we do revolves around story. A story can lead one to a billion-dollar IPO or to homelessness. There's a reason why most religious teachings are embedded in stories. But because we live in the era of TikTok, the Gospel of Short-form reigns supreme. Master the art of 15-second storytelling to boost your persuasiveness and online presence. And don't forget to caption your clips with ContentFries.