“The things we create tower over us.” — Matt Dopkiss
I was watching an old college football game on ESPN Classic the other day. It was from the 80s.
My mom walked into the room.
“What’s the score?” she asked.
Not sure, I told her.
“How much time is left?” she asked.
No idea, I confessed.
“How many yards do they need for a first down?” she asked.
Uhhhhhh, I said.
There was no on-screen scoreboard. There was no clock. There was no yellow first-and-10 line.
I’d been watching this game for 15 minutes, and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was looking at. I had a football game in front of me, that much I knew, but I didn’t have any context to understand it.
Early football games — and when I say early, I mean “as recently as 20 years ago” — didn’t give viewers even the most basic information on screen. And as a result, viewers like me often got left in the dark.
If you’re trying to tell a great story, the same holds true. Ask yourself: Am I giving my listeners/readers/viewers/customers the necessary context to understand my story? Do they know what’s happening? And where? And why?
Drama is great, but if your audience doesn’t know the score, they’ll be left wondering what the hell they just saw.
Give them context, and then give them a story to match.