Storytelling Inspiration

Storytelling Lessons from Film: Crafting Beginnings and Endings

Ted Karczewski By Ted Karczewski March 30, 2016

Take a second to think about your favorite story. Whether it’s a novel or a movie, what about its progression hooked you? Was it the lead character’s flaw or temper? Or maybe the author’s writing style made you fall in love. Whatever the reason, this story captured your attention from the first line to the last.

Great writers spend countless hours crafting the beginnings and endings to their stories. They use opening lines to pique curiosity or attack ideas otherwise seen as commonplace. And conclusions serve as a final call to arms, a last ditch effort to push readers or viewers to action.

How many times have you finished watching a love story with your partner only to hold them a little tighter during the closing credits?

Reactions to well-told stories don’t always have to be direct. In fact, the most powerful endings are the ones that linger inside you for hours, days, years after you see them.

As a content marketer, you have a different relationship with introductions and conclusions. You only have 8 seconds to catch your reader’s gaze, and conclusions are often clickable buttons that you cover up with disruptive CTAs. This has to change.

People are growing tired of content marketing–at least the kind that’s a thinly-veiled product pitch. Today, we have to learn how to tell stories that engage and entertain, and leave our products and services out of the narrative.

In this series, we’ve walked you through three fundamental lessons from film around narrative approach, pacing & tension, and character building that you can apply to your brand storytelling. In this final chapter, we’ll examine three examples of how to hook readers or viewers with stunning introductions and conclusions.

Now that you’ve watched these examples of what makes an effective beginning, middle, and end to a story, let’s dive into each a little deeper.

Beginnings: Acura Turns Auto Marketing on its Head

Throughout the Acura spot, tension is used to make the viewer uncomfortable. It’s not a fun commercial to watch, and while there’s no dialogue throughout the video, you can almost hear the main character’s thoughts gushing from his eyes.

Conclusions have to be alarming today, or else we won’t pay attention to the story being told. But that doesn’t mean you have to go to extreme lengths to capture your audience’s attention. By simply telling a relatable story–one that would appeal to any parent–Acura forces its adult audience to take a moment and reflect on the precious cargo being transported every day in their vehicles. What a perfect way to capture its audience’s attention and force them to reflect on their own vehicles’ standard safety features.

Middles: MINI Proves the Beginning Is Completely Relative

What I like most about MINI’s VR spot with the New York Times is that it plops the viewer in the middle of the story as two characters are already well into a conversation. The viewer is in the backseat of a car, and using 360-degree camera technology, the visual can be completely customized to how the consumer chooses to engage with this story.

Here, the story has already begun and we’re now just tuning into part of the narrative. As a bystander to this story, we’re filled in on details we might’ve missed throughout the story with asides of alternative visuals and flashbacks. This gives us the full picture without disrupting the progression or story arc.

We’re taught in school that every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Today, stories sometimes have to start with the middle and get to the beginning and end later on. Don’t be afraid to mix up your storytelling style.

Endings: Apple Makes the Whole World Cry

With an Emmy in its pocket, Apple’s “Misunderstood” commercial tells the relatable story of a teenage boy who appears to be removed from family traditions during Christmas time. As the viewer, we and recall our own childhood and perhaps the experiences we’ve also had as parents with our own kids.

The powerful ending, in which it’s revealed that the boy was in fact creating a family video the whole time, turns the narrative on its head and puts the product front and center. We don’t love this clip because the ending revealed the power of the iPhone; we love it because this is a completely plausible series of events that includes a product that has become ubiquitous in everyday life.

Your ending doesn’t have to tie up every loose end of your story, but it does need to leave your audience wanting more, thinking more, and ready to act. In content marketing, we rely on buttons or calls to action to move our readers to buy or subscribe, but that’s no longer enough. What emotional conclusion are we leaving our readers or viewers with?


About the Author

Ted Karczewski is the Content Marketing Manager at Skyword and the Managing Editor of the Content Standard (TCS). He oversees the editorial direction of TCS, and focuses on engaging readers through compelling stories. Ted has a background in print journalism and B2B content marketing, working both for agency clients and brands. He’s also a contributing writer to Fast Company and The Next Web.


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