How a Landscape Impacts a Story

Earlier this month, I published my photography portfolio, and opened it with a gallery of my very best landscapes (five of which are featured in this story). I opened with landscapes just like I would most stories these days. Landscapes are one of the most popular photograph subjects you can see online. They also play a critical role in telling a remarkable written story for brands or individuals alike.

Creating hybrid stories that blend the literal word and the visual photo is not the easiest thing to do. When you consider articles and stories, they are often crafted by writers. Or they are published by photographers with few words serving as captions. The two together are rarely deployed well as a seamless rich media story.

21632020501_b28b636d6f_k

Together, in a hybrid pictorial, photos compliment the written story by illustrating and expanding on it. The written words expand on the pictures by providing details. For example, the caption for the above photo might read, “Another dawn on the Potomac, how I start at least two of my days every week.” We move from a pretty picture to personal story, one that may or may not be about business.

Landscapes are central to both groups of media assets. They set the scene for the story. They provide a sense of context for where events are happening, either from a business perspective or on a personal level. A landscape can allude to historical context, and words can expanded on that story.

Opening Stories with Scenes and Landscapes

19832883133_999f0e2e27_k (1)

A lot of people introduce stories with pictures of people. If it’s a business story, we see people at work or an individual person, a protagonist. If it’s a personal vacation, we see people at the airport. Perhaps they start their album with a picture of them at the destination. I personally like to introduce stories with landscapes sans people because it provides a sense of place.

Consider movies that take place in far away lands or in future periods. The first Star Wars movie opened with spacescape. This year’s critically acclaimed Fury Road started with the below epic desolated wasteland. National Geographic stories start with an epic landscape photo. Plays open with the a set scene, and then the actors walk onto the stage.

Fury Road Opening Scene

Instead of another dry story about a woman or man in their office changing the world for their customers, open up the story with an epic sunrise or sunset pic at the office building. Or take a great architecture shot inside the building. If the building is lame, wait until late afternoon and the sun comes in the windows almost horizontally, take an office pic then with no people in it. Set the scene.

16988040785_c23b8ecb45_k

If it is a vacation, set the scene with an opening shot of the place you are landing. Then put yourself in it. The above shot of Half Moon Bay was how I opened my Facebook sharing of our family vacation to Hawaii this year. We stopped first in California.

When I told the story of the Trans-Jordan Landfill for Audi, I opened it with a sunrise picture over the landfill. When I filed stories with the Huffington Post and with Triple Pundit on Africa (see header image) I suggested opening them with landscapes. In both cases the stories feature landscapes very early on to provide a sense of place.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The same tool also provides a great way to close the story. By closing with the scene you are providing a cue, the visual fade to black. The above photo is from our last night in Hawaii this year. It’s the beach in Kona. I often think of it as the closing scene to our vacation.

It’s just my personal preferred method of storytelling. Every story works better with context. And a landscape or cityscape is one of the best ways to provide that context.

What do you think of the use of scenes in the narrative context?

What Big Data Tells You About Exodus

Being an egomaniac author with an inferiority complex, I commissioned a Helix Review to analyze Exodus against all published works within The Book Genome Project as well as making specific comparisons to titles in the science fiction genre. The big data mash-up tells you a ton about how your book works and your particular writing style.

bookstats

So the first thing you can tell is that Exodus is short! In spite of its length, it does have a healthy vocabulary for its length.  Sentence length is average. While classified as a science fiction book, it tends to have longer paragraphs than most books within the genre.

The review also analyzes the text for complexity, dialog and pacing.  To help compare the book, I suggested Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Often classified as a science fiction book, The Handmaid’s Tale shares similarities with Exodus in that they are both dystopian future fiction books focusing on religious fundamentalism and oppression.

handmaid comparison

 

As you can see, in almost every category Exodus exceeds The Handmaid’s Tale. It has more action, complex language, dialog and descriptive text.  My book is slightly slower paced than Atwood’s. It fits within the norms of the genre except that it moves slower than and has more complex language than other science fiction books.

Story

The final piece of useful information I got from the book was the general elements that fit into the story DNA.  I have been focusing on the religious conflict, but Helix shows time, rivers (lots of rivers in Exodus), conflict, combat, pain, rocky terrain and history as critical underlying components in the book.

Then Helix shows you how these elements rank against the general book project and your genre.

genres

 

So all in all, you learn a lot about what you wrote, and  how your book fits within the larger context of the Book Genome Project. Now if the big data analysis could only tell you if the book was good!

What do you think of big data barometers like the Helix Review?

I am on vacation until September 30th and will not be responding to comments. The floor is yours!

A Content Marketing Debate

The Edge - U2 360 Tour
Image by Peter Hutchkins

The coupling of the words “content” and “marketing” creates a debate centering on the differences between publishing and selling.

By its very nature, marketing is a function of sales.

As such marketing communications activities, regardless of form — search, email, publicity (on behalf of a company), content creation, social, events, etc. — all represent activities to engage people in a sales process OR support brand reputation, which in turn, increases the likelihood of further sales, recruitment or investment later in time.

I can see why content purists, particularly those with a journalism background, flip their fricking lids at the very phrasing of “content marketing.” After all, they publish quality content.
Continue reading