How to be a director with your words

By Melissa Lewelling
The Hoffman Agency, San Jose

In today’s hyper-connected world of media and communications, visuals remain at the forefront of engaging content that attracts a reader’s attention. However, visual storytelling doesn’t always have to use graphics, videos or slides.

Although actual graphics are important, when it comes to visual storytelling, I think a lot of writers forget that they can visually tell a story through a reader’s imagination as well.

Like gracefully conducting a 100-piece symphony orchestra under the dim lights of an opera house, where the sold-out audience disappears into the recesses of your mind and the only thought you have is flowing straight from your hand as the beat races through your heart — that’s where the magic of writing lives.

However, in the status-quo world where business-to-business communications can sometimes live, this type of writing doesn’t always seem feasible (or reasonable, based on time constraints). Between technical jargon and company branding, trying to open up a reader’s (let alone a journalist’s) imagination can seem like a daunting task — but it’s not impossible.

As communicators, it’s important for us to dig deeper and try to find the story behind the numbers, which can sometimes require a little imagination. In this case, I don’t think daydreamers were given enough credit in school. Paying attention, learning and being responsible are all definitely important lessons to learn, but the ability to think beyond one’s own temporary circumstances and build an imaginary world is an undervalued quality in professional writing.

Similar to the way movie directors visualize a scene before it’s shot and can feel all the spoken nuances needed just from reading the script, visual writers need to be able to see the story that has to unfold before they ever start writing it. To write visually, one has to think visually first:

  1. Imagine the environment in which your story will live (i.e., its real-world context)
  2. Imagine the characters in your story (i.e., those who will be writing and reading it as well as those who are in it)
  3. Imagine the ending (i.e., what you want your story to accomplish)

By starting at the end of an already visualized story, it’s easier to write it within the desired framework of what you want it to accomplish. If we as business communicators can learn to conduct an orchestra with our words by directing a visual story through our writing, the content produced would be much more engaging for the reader — and possibly hold more power to influence. After all, a thought remembered is an action changed.

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