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The Storytelling Power of Uncertainty: Why, How, and When It’s Used

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Today, as I mentioned yesterday, we’re going to talk about uncertainty.

Over the last few years I’ve taken myself on a dilligent study of stories. When I enjoy a movie, more often than not I’ll spend a few minutes silently breaking down why I did.

This week is my first attempt at really trying to share what I’ve found.

Element #1: Uncertainty
The Scottish critic William Archer described an important part of stories in this way:

“Drama is anticipation mixed with uncertainty.”

Uncertainty means not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s the problem, that thing that’s out of place, the conundrum. If we know what will happen next, the story loses us.

It’s the anticipation of how a problem will be resolved that keeps our attention. So, let’s look at our two videos through the lens of uncertainty.

Nimbus: RUSSIA
Let’s start with the opening scene (after 1:10 of animation that is). We’re on Red Square where people are smiling and it’s snowing.

Now, remember, this is a ski video and in that context there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t slide a rail across the street from St Basil’s. There’s no uncertainty, no problem.

For all we know, this is just a nice little stop on the way to a nice little ski hill.

Arc’teryx: DUBAI
Again, let’s start with the opening scene. This time were in a desert with animals that shouldn’t exist within a continent of snow.

Blowing sand, blistering heat, this is a ski movie, right? It’s the uncertainty of how someone supposed to ski in a place like this that sets up the story and begins the narrative.

And it’s that contrast that holds our attention. It’s also that contrast that leads us toward a resolution and, thus, begins the story.

An Example
This is one of the reasons sports are amazingly good at holding our attention and make such great stories.

Consider a basketball game. When you’re down by 10 there’s uncertainty about whether you can catch up. When you’re up by 10 it’s a matter of keeping your lead. When the game ends, it’s not a weight that’s lifted off your shoulders…it’s uncertainty over the outcome.

Uncertainty is the first key that I’ve found to great stories. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss another: theme.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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