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Apply the story arc to video scripts

Instructional designers wield a broad spectrum of video styles to engage learners, ranging from AI avatars and software demonstrations to kinetic typography and traditional lectures. Each style serves a unique purpose, whether it’s to provide a hands-on guide, emphasize key points through dynamic text, or delve deep into subject matters with authority. Especially powerful are storytelling videos, which are instrumental when the aim is to help learners visualize how concepts apply in real-world scenarios or to foster an emotional connection with the content. These narratives can make complex ideas accessible and memorable by demonstrating their practical application and engaging learners on a deeper emotional level.

Through this lesson, you will identify key components of a story arc and discover how they can be applied to a video script.

The story arc includes several key stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Each of these stages plays a critical role in building the narrative and guiding the audience through the learning journey.


The exposition is the introduction phase where the setting, characters, and initial situation are established. To capture learner attention, consider starting with:

  • A question: Pose a thought-provoking question related to the video's theme to stimulate curiosity.

  • A striking fact or statistic: Share an unexpected fact or statistic that highlights the importance of the topic.

  • A problem: Introduce a common problem or scenario your audience faces, emphasizing the video’s relevance.

  • Visual imagery: Use descriptive language to create a vivid mental image that draws viewers into the setting.

  • A quote: Start with a compelling quote that ties into the video’s theme to provide inspiration or provoke thought.

  • Humor: A light-hearted joke or amusing anecdote can make the content more engaging and relatable.

  • A historical reference: Connect the topic to a historical event or figure to add depth and context.

  • A future forecast: Create intrigue by predicting how the topic will influence the future, prompting viewers to learn more.

  • A personal appeal: Make a direct appeal to the viewer’s emotions or aspirations, establishing a personal connection.

Incorporating characters based on the classical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos into learning videos can significantly enhance the learning experience. Here's how instructional designers can use these character types effectively:

  • Ethos characters (like Harry Potter) are typically the hero, representing credibility and authority. For training videos, this could include relatable characters who overcome an obstacle or seize an opportunity. Alternatively, they could include experts or experienced professionals who lend reliability to the content, increasing trust and value perception among learners.

  • Pathos characters (like Ron Weaseley) evoke an emotional appeal. Learners should be able to relate to them on a personal level, facilitating a deeper emotional connection and making content more memorable and engaging.

  • Logos characters (like Hermione Graner) appeal to logic and reason. They present arguments, data, and structured evidence, enhancing comprehension and retention by fostering understanding and critical thinking.

Utilizing a mix of these character types allows instructional designers to:

  • Connect with a broad audience, catering to diverse learning needs.

  • Ground learning in expertise and trustworthiness through ethos characters.

  • Create a learning experience rich in relatability and emotional resonance with pathos characters.

  • Support objectives by engaging learners intellectually with logos characters, enriching the storytelling and maximizing learning impact.

Rising action

After the exposition phase in a story arc comes the rising action. This phase involves:

  • The development of conflicts and complications that the characters must navigate. It builds upon the foundation laid in the exposition phase by introducing challenges and obstacles that drive the narrative forward.

  • The deepening of character development as they respond to these challenges, revealing their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

  • The progression of the plot towards the climax, with each event in the rising action adding tension and complexity to the story.

  • The introduction of subplots or secondary conflicts that enrich the main narrative and contribute to the overall theme of the story.

The rising action is crucial for engaging the audience, as it ramps up the tension and stakes, compelling the audience to invest emotionally and intellectually in the outcome of the story.

When writing the rising action phase of a storytelling video script, complete the following:

  • Introduce conflicts or challenges: Start by presenting problems or questions that naturally emerge from the exposition. These should be directly related to the learning objectives and designed to pique learners' interest. For example, if the video aims to teach conflict resolution skills, introduce a scenario where characters face a communication breakdown.

  • Add complexity incrementally: Gradually increase the complexity of the content or the scenarios presented. This could involve introducing more advanced concepts, deeper layers of a problem, or additional steps in a process. The key is to ensure that the progression feels natural and maintains learner engagement without overwhelming them.

  • Develop your characters: Use characters introduced during the exposition to drive the narrative forward. Show how they grapple with the challenges presented, applying their knowledge or skills in various ways. This not only makes the story more relatable but also models problem-solving strategies for the audience.

  • Consider adding interactive elements: Incorporate interactive elements like quizzes, reflective prompts, or decision points where learners can choose what a character should do next. This not only makes the learning experience more engaging but also helps in reinforcing the material by applying it to real-life-like situations.

  • Identify visuals and audio: Leverage visuals and audio to enhance the emotional and cognitive impact of the rising action. Use dynamic visuals, animations, or sound effects to emphasize key moments in the narrative, such as a breakthrough in understanding or the introduction of a significant challenge.

  • Create a path to the climax: Ensure that the rising action builds anticipation for a climax or a pivotal moment in the story. This could be a major revelation, a critical decision point, or the resolution of a key challenge. The build-up should be compelling enough to keep learners invested in seeing the outcome.

Applying these tips for the rising action phase in storytelling videos can significantly enhance the learning experience. By carefully structuring challenges and engaging learners through story-driven content, designers can create memorable and effective learning experience.


The climax is the moment of highest tension or the turning point of the story. It's where the main conflict or challenge peaks and the outcome becomes most uncertain. In educational storytelling, the climax is crucial as it holds the maximum engagement of the audience, making the learning experience intensely memorable. This is the point where the learner is most invested in the narrative and is keen to see how the challenges or problems introduced during the exposition and developed through the rising action will be resolved.

The climax often embodies the critical moment of learning or the key takeaway the instructional designer wants to imprint on the learner's mind. It's designed to be the most impactful part of the learning journey, providing a significant insight, solution, or conceptual breakthrough that the entire narrative has been building towards. Consider the following video script excerpts for a wide variety of topics:

  • Leadership: In the heat of a company-wide crisis, all eyes turn to the newly appointed team leader. Faced with daunting challenges, she takes a deep breath and orchestrates a turnaround strategy that leverages the unique strengths of each team member. This pivotal moment, where her decisive action and inspiring leadership shine through, underscores the training's core message: effective leadership is about empowering others and navigating adversity with confidence.

  • Emotional intelligence: During a tense negotiation, a skilled mediator employs his emotional intelligence to navigate the conflicting interests. He acknowledges each party's concerns with empathy, guiding them towards a common ground. The climax unfolds as the parties, once at an impasse, start to open up, leading to an unexpected and mutually beneficial agreement. This moment captures the essence of emotional intelligence in resolving conflicts and building stronger relationships.

  • Customer service: A customer service rep faces an irate customer, whose complaint seems unsolvable. Drawing on her training, she listens patiently, acknowledges the customer's frustration, and offers a creative solution that goes above and beyond. The customer's sudden shift from frustration to gratitude at this climax illustrates the power of exceptional customer service in turning challenges into opportunities for brand loyalty.

  • Sales: The climax of this sales training video occurs during a high-stakes pitch to a skeptical client. The salesperson, recalling the techniques learned, focuses on understanding the client's underlying needs rather than pushing a product. By aligning the product's benefits with the client's goals, he secures a partnership that seemed impossible. This moment drives home the importance of listening and adapting sales strategies to meet client needs.

  • Technology adoption: Resistance is palpable as the team confronts the prospect of adopting new technology. The turning point comes when a team member, previously the most resistant, shares a compelling demonstration of how the technology can streamline their workflow and foster innovation. This climax not only showcases the technology's benefits but also highlights change management strategies, demonstrating that embracing new tools can lead to unexpected improvements and efficiencies.

The falling action

The falling action is where the tension that reached its peak at the climax begins to decrease, and the story starts moving towards resolution. It involves the aftermath of the climax or the consequences of the pivotal moment, leading towards wrapping up the narrative. Here's how this looks in various corporate contexts:

Here are practical tips to help instructional designers craft compelling falling action in corporate learning videos:

  • Show the immediate impact: Begin the falling action by showing the immediate consequences of the climax. For instance, in a video on leadership, depict how the leader's pivotal decision influences team dynamics or project outcomes shortly thereafter.

  • Highlight learning in action: Use the falling action to demonstrate how the concepts or skills taught in the video are applied in real-life scenarios. For example, in a customer service training video, show employees implementing new communication techniques with customers, leading to positive feedback.

  • Illustrate progression and change: The falling action is an excellent opportunity to show progression or change over time. In a sales training context, you could depict how the adoption of new sales strategies gradually increases leads and conversions.

  • Reinforce key messages: Use dialogue, visuals, and narration to reinforce the instructional video's key messages and learning objectives during the falling action. Make sure these elements clearly connect the climax's actions to the outcomes shown in the falling action.

  • Address loose ends: Tie up any loose ends from the story introduced in earlier sections of the video. If a technology adoption video highlighted resistance from a particular team member, show how their concerns are addressed and resolved.

  • Set up the resolution: Smoothly transition from the falling action to the resolution by starting to wrap up the story. Provide a glimpse into the long-term implications of what was learned or achieved. For an emotional intelligence video, this might include showing how improved team communication leads to sustained productivity and morale.

  • Use testimonials or reflections: Incorporating character testimonials or reflective commentary can effectively convey the changes or growth that occurred, giving a personal touch to the learning points.

  • Incorporate visual and audio cues: Enhance the narrative flow from climax to resolution with visual and audio cues that signal a shift towards resolution. Softening music, changing lighting, or transitioning to more serene visuals can help convey the movement towards a conclusion.

By following these tips, instructional designers can create falling action segments that not only effectively bridge the climax and resolution but also reinforce the educational content, making the learning experience both memorable and impactful.

Resolution / denouement

After the falling action in a story arc comes the resolution, also known as the denouement. This is the final part of the narrative structure where the story concludes, and any remaining conflicts are fully resolved. The resolution ties up loose ends, answers any lingering questions, and provides closure to the story. In the context of instructional videos, the resolution is crucial for summarizing the key takeaways, reinforcing the learning objectives, and ensuring that the audience understands the practical applications or implications of what they've learned.

Here are some practical tips for crafting an effective resolution:

  • Echo the opening: Bring the narrative full circle by echoing elements from the beginning of your video. This could be a recurring theme, a visual motif, or a narrative thread. For instance, if your story began with a question or a challenge, ensure the resolution demonstrates how that question was answered or the challenge was overcome.

  • Reflect on the journey: Highlight the transformation or journey of the main characters or concepts from the start to the finish. This reflection should illustrate how challenges were addressed and what was learned along the way, emphasizing personal or professional growth.

  • Use powerful imagery and language: The resolution is your last chance to make an impression on the viewer. Use powerful imagery and language that resonates with the theme of your video. This could mean showcasing a triumphant moment for the characters involved or a significant breakthrough in understanding a concept.

  • Provide a clear conclusion to the story: Ensure that all storylines introduced in the video are concluded in a satisfying manner. If your video involved a problem-solving narrative, show the solution in action and its positive outcomes. This clear conclusion helps reinforce the learning objectives by tying them directly to the story’s outcome.

  • Highlight key takeaways: While the focus is on closing the story, subtly integrate the key takeaways or lessons learned through the narrative. This doesn’t mean listing concepts but weaving them into the story's resolution. For example, in a video about leadership, you could conclude by showing the leader reflecting on the lessons learned through their experience, which naturally highlights the key takeaways.

  • Inspire further reflection or action: Encourage viewers to reflect on the story and its implications for their own lives or careers. You can pose questions, suggest further reading, or encourage viewers to apply what they’ve learned in their own contexts. This helps extend the impact of the video beyond its runtime.

  • Craft a memorable closing line or scene: Your concluding line or scene should be memorable and impactful, leaving the viewer with something to ponder. This could be a thought-provoking quote, a visual that encapsulates the video’s theme, or a call to action that motivates the viewer.

  • Ensure a smooth transition to the end: If your video includes credits or a call-to-action (CTA) for further engagement (like subscribing or visiting a website), ensure this transition is smooth and maintains the tone of the resolution. This helps keep the viewer engaged until the very end.

By focusing on these aspects, instructional designers can craft resolutions that not only provide closure to the story but also reinforce the educational content in a meaningful way, making the learning experience memorable and impactful.

Summary and next steps

Instructional designers can leverage the story arc in storytelling videos to craft engaging and educational narratives by strategically employing its five key stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. By initiating with an engaging exposition that introduces the setting, characters, and initial problem, and then navigating through the rising action to build tension with challenges and character development, designers can lead learners to a climax that highlights the core learning moment. Following this, the falling action allows for the demonstration of the climax's implications, setting the stage for a resolution that brings closure and reinforces key lessons. This methodical approach not only captivates learners but also deepens their understanding and retention of the material, making complex concepts accessible and memorable through well-crafted narratives that resonate with real-world applications and emotional connections.

To learn more about how designs can leverage videos in training, complete the lesson, "Discover video styles and tools."


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