10 Rules of Digital Storytelling

Tilda founder Nikita Obukhov on how to tell stories online
Nikita Obukhov
Tilda Founder and CEO
The Internet is an excellent medium for telling impressive stories and expressing ideas. We are still learning how to live here in cyberspace and explore it to the zenith. I believe a new age is coming—the age of digital storytelling, similar to the Golden Age of Russian literature but on the net. This new kind of storytelling is high-minded, it is gradually becoming a skill like beautifully written text.

Initially, texts were uploaded online using analog rules, and information that was uploaded on the page was divided into paragraphs with different images added to the text. With time editors realized no one wanted to spend the whole day reading through long texts, so they adopt short texts that are easy to read.

In recent years, there has been a significant change in terms of reading. Due to the increase in information and the use of social media platforms, most people tend to filter data and read-only selective information that spark their interest. However, the point is, everyone still wants to read.
A new age is coming—the age of digital storytelling, similar to the Golden Age of Russian literature but on the net
At the end of 2012, most editors started to rethink the future of reading. This movement was instigated with the introduction of iPad and tablets, which was further considered an enormous success. The new era of designers and publishers formed standards and rules using a joint name, "Digital Storytelling."

Most of them experimented with iPads and tablets, but the new form of interactive storytelling became the most popular with "Snowfall" featured in the New York Times setting a trend. It revolutionized online publishing and created new standards in which content can be presented.
I want to share knowledge about this new form with you. Our goal is to create a global storytelling community. By founding Tilda, we've set the task of providing people with simple tools they can use to tell their stories. The platform is designed to create content-oriented projects and publish them on the Internet. While working with our platform and exploring the format, we sum up the main rules for visual storytelling.
The mentioned New York Times' Snowfall feature has received 80 000+ likes and its title became a common name for similar projects.
How to Tell an Interesting Story?
1
Content is Key
The first step is to have content that is interesting and useful to the reader. Think about the value the reader will get from reading your piece. Use an information pyramid to compose a story that is easy to read and comprehend. After the storyline is formed, try to imagine things that will complete and describe the heading. It is important to have several points of view and different contexts. Use interesting content, add expert quotes, visual design, and present your readers with an exciting and complete storyline.
2
Be the Explorer
Carry out thorough research before choosing a heading since they serve as the key focus to a good story. There are primary and secondary types of research that every storyteller on the Internet should undertake. Every designer or publisher must have the skills to go deep and share catchy headings to attract readers' attention.
3
Find Great Pictures
Storytelling is like a movie that is on while you are scrolling. It is the visual part of the story that helps create the atmosphere, describe the heading, and put the reader into the context. Think of possible ways you can use to tell a story; this could involve the use of photoshoots, ambient videos, pictures, or infographics. And when you start to form the story, pay attention to the visual content.
4
Pay Attention to Headings
The heading should tell the story. Good headings generate interest and set up the main article’s subject without provoking or distorting the idea. Headings with figures, questions, or statements are good for spark-up conversion. A-straight-from-the-shoulder quotes are helpful for interviews. For example, "All discussion around terrorism is aimed for government control" (interview with Jonas Staal).
The use of Puns in headings was once popular in the middle of the 90s; however, it is now considered inappropriate. (For example, a survey on cold soups "My okroshka, I miss you" / Oh, baby — untranslatable pun).

Headings with figures will always be popular (if they are based on selection or listing): "25 places in Italy to have a good time", "20 photographs showing how great it is to be a child". There are also very trashy ones. "This 9-minute workout will replace visiting the gym". It is essential to find a balance between attractive headings and provocativeness because no reader wants to get frustrated while going through a story.
5
Build Several Reading Layers
There are two types of reading. The first is called the line one reading; here, you start by observing the article and then reading it in an orderly manner. It’s the conventional way to read any piece of writing. The second type is cross-reading which is generally called skimming: this style requires the reader to read-only headings, insets, etc. Attention is given to the text only when you spot something interesting.

When telling a story, it is crucial to consider the second type of reading. To this effect, it is essential to ensure the article’s structure is in place to increase the readability even with a simple glance.
6
Think with Patterns
The designers' experience suggests that there are valuable ways of presenting different types of information. The concept of design-pattern implies the use of specified elements or a group of repeated elements on websites for the same reason. For example, only 2−3 out of 10 different ways of storytelling survive in the end.
Heading design pattern: a section, a headline, and a lead
Attentive readers can easily outline specific patterns of cover pages, image galleries, and call-to-actions after visiting a couple of websites. You should use design patterns and adopt different styles to your content.
7
Avoid Monotony
Think of the order in which pieces of information and will be seen by the reader. The presentation should be varied. When good patterns are used multiple times, they may become an eyesore on the audience, similar to what they get from a long read. Examine how Apple designers find their ideas: they’ve discovered nine new ways of presenting the same object.
8
Unity and Contrast
Use large shifts between the blocks, it will give your text enough space to breathe. Spacing your text makes it skim-friendly and improves readability score.

However, it's essential to limit the use of color and design. Since the excessive use of style call for attention and prevent information from being processed. Remember, less is often more.
When you use one or another design, try to focus on the unique function. For example, imagine one design (size+letter form+leading) for a heading, inset, and image captions, and then work with it. If needed, you can add other styles, though this is only required when a new subject matter is introduced.
9
Find a Relevant Mood
It is crucial to consider the cultural context associated with the font you’re using. For example, it is reasonable to use Helvetica in an article relating to New York (this font is used in NY public navigation and reflects modernist philosophy). The Bodoni font is good for Venice (one of the earliest Italian types, and it is still widely used in the design).

One type is quite enough for one well-shaped article; however, it is acceptable to use two types of font to contrast.
The lettering style affects the statement's mood
10
Take Care to Share
Don’t forget to embed social media icons. It’s better to use the "press-and-stick" buttons which stay in view while the reader scrolls down a page.

There are possibilities that you might want to use a call to action combined with sharing. This will help people decide whether to read the article based on the Facebook feed or the media webpage.
THINK ONCE MORE ABOUT THE HEADING. MAKE IT VIRAL. USE NICE PICTURES. WRITE INTERESTING LEADS. MAKE SURE SOCIAL MEDIA SNIPPETS ARE LOOKING GREAT–USE FACEBOOK DEBUGGER TO UPDATE THEM

Text: Nikita Obukhov
Editor: Inna German
Illustrations: Julia Zass
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