Interactive Content 101

Interactive Storytelling 101: How to Adjust Your Writing Approach for Interactive Design

Ted Karczewski By Ted Karczewski December 10, 2015

A good story pulls the reader in. It makes him or her the protagonist—the person with all the power.

And yet a lot of the stories being published by brands tell tales without consideration of the audience. The writing follows a scholarly formula with a beginning, middle, and end. Somewhere in the top half, the reader’s attention is lost, and the underlying lesson to be learned never hits its mark. Most content marketers are OK with this because storytelling is simply a conduit to lead generation. We’ve captured their contact information through some form, we’ve passed that data over to our demand gen team, and once those people convert, we’ll have a few extra bucks to pump back into this endless cycle.

What happens when that strategy no longer works? People are already beginning to tune out low-quality content.

A Change to Your Writing

Interactivity is one of many solutions to boring content marketing strategies. The concept offers a new paradigm for writers who have long wished for a way to further connect with their readers. However, telling interactive, moving stories requires a change in craft—there are some small tweaks any writer will have to make to his or her style to be effective. You can get a quick glance at those tips below, with the full story after the jump.

Choose Your Own Adventure was a series of children’s books written in a second-person point of view in the late 1970s through the 90s. The series creator, Edward Packard, thought up this style of writing after he began to run out of bedtime stories to tell his kids. With nowhere else to go, he turned to his daughters and asked them what should happen to the protagonist. After seeing how his children responded to this interactivity, he began to incorporate this framework into his writing. Between 1979 and 1998, more than 250 million Choose Your Own Adventure books were sold in more than 32 languages, according to Publishers Weekly.

An interactive story isn’t exactly like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, but they share a common goal of pulling the audience into the narrative as it unfolds. Interactivity is a set of guidelines that requires the writer—and designer—to focus on the audience at all times.

How to Write for an Interactive Design

Here are 5 tips for writing a strong interactive story. There are a lot of elements that go into a successful strategy, but these should act as a great starting point for any beginner.

1. The Setting Matters

An interactive story incorporates mixed media to tell a unique story. Before you can dive into the main events of the story, you have to take time to set the scene, which often includes the setting. If you’re a B2B marketer, begin any interactive story with an event that affects the main character’s values. For example, the protagonist has been successful in his or her career in advertising, but what happens when the world goes ad-free? This turning point thrusts the main character into a state of unknown, and the more you can show this visually and use copy sparingly to convey this instability will immediately draw a reader into your story.

 

2. Emphasize Forward Progress

The best part of an interactive story is that it moves, bringing the reader from point A to point B. As a writer, you can’t rely on design alone to move the narrative forward—you need to evoke action through the accompanying copy. Are you breaking up sentences and ideas in a way to compel the reader to click to the next screen or continue to scroll further down the page? Remember: Anticipation and suspense are your best friends in interactive, episodic content creation.

3. Less Is More

Many content marketers started their professional lives in publishing, journalism, or some other media position. Their whole craft revolved around long-form storytelling, which doesn’t always work in interactive content marketing. Here, less is more, and writers need to take a page out of copywriting 101. Images and words need to coexist in a way that complement one another. If the sentence does not add immediate value or push the reader forward, it might not be necessary for the interactive component of the piece.

4. Mixed Media

A well-done interactive story includes several pieces of mixed media, not just clever page layouts and smartly laid out text. Use your editorial-oriented mind to think about the story you’re trying to tell in its entirety. Can you use audio or video in one section to add context to a turning point or event? Does a powerful black-and-white image evoke more emotion from the audience than a paragraph ever could? Make sure you’re doing justice to the newfound features of interactivity by embracing all the elements of storytelling available to you.

5. Take Action

You’re telling stories for a reason. Are you the editor of your company’s digital publication, or do you launch interactive concepts to support one-off campaigns? Either way, make sure that you ask readers to take action once they’ve engaged with your stories. You can ask them to subscribe to your newsletter so you can send them new editions once they come out, or you can ask them to support a cause you’re working for that inspired you to tell that story. Make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to further engage with your readers even after the story ends.

 

The Future of Storytelling

In the business world, storytelling hasn’t always been respected or accepted as a viable way to engage with customers. The world is changing, however, and you have the power to enact change within your organization by exercising your editorial prowess and chops on a global stage. Will you choose static content formats or will you seize this new opportunity and embrace interactivity?


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