Museum Stories #2: What Are The Ingredients For A Thriving Story?

13064138253_009010e4ae_bDid you get a clearer idea of ​​what can be done with storytelling and what we mean with it?

Have a step back and take a look at my previous post if you feel like you need a little revision – this is your chance.

What we will do today is try to understand which are the best ingredients to create and tell a story that could emerge from the vast sea of our so-called ‘Digital Age’.


Until recently there existed the rule of the TL; DR (Too Long; Did not Read).

Content had to be agile, the information brief and basic, while the texts had to be filled with keywords and internal links in order to be noticed by the search engines. Texts longer than ten lines were not even taken into consideration. In short, a textual content from the web emerged only if possessing all these features.

photo credit: marsmet543 via photopin cc

photo credit: marsmet543 via photopin cc

But today things have changed enormously. As pointed out by the genius of Seth Godin, among others, this acronym is no longer working on the web: «it works great for runners, not so well for learners». Now that everyone can write, post, email, generate content or in other terms – in short, now that anyone can ‘make noise’, which way do we have to stand out from the crowd? The quality of our content.

Internet users are willing to spend their time on a text, but we have to make that time well spent, writing our contents in a clear way, with short sentences, and by using simple terms and organizing the text wisely.

Looks Also Play A Part!

That’s right: not only content but also the form is important.
Have you ever heard of the ‘wall of text’? It is a web written content that is hard to read (or unreadable) even though it contains valid content.

Luisa Carrada has been talking about it from the very early days of the web in her useful blog (did you know that there are automated tools to assess the readability of your texts?), and are fairly recent two beautiful posts by Riccardo Esposito full of valuable tips on storytelling and how to improve your writing.

If you think about it, the web is almost exclusively a visual medium, where you do nothing but read using already well known mechanisms: first you look at it and then you decode. As confirmed by Jakob Nielsen’s research, along with that by many others, more than ‘reading’ on the web we can talk about ‘exploration’, and should the structure of our text be poorly designed, the reading behavior of our visitors would then have the shape of an “F”.


As stated by Carrada: «In this way, a lot of information is likely to be completely left out by the attention of the reader. Also, if we start, as it is often done, with introductory rituals and not with the most important information, the risk becomes a certainty». It is much more advisable to divide the text into a “puff pastry” – to keep the metaphor of our scholar – «[…] short paragraphs, detached and titled with clarity, to skim through directly and quickly one after the other». And of course, don’t forget to introduce the most important thing – the key message – at the beginning. Always.

From Form To Substance

Now we certainly know a little bit more on how to organize our texts graphically. But a well-paged bunch of words without a thriving story is worth nothing.

In an interesting post on his blog “The Museum of the Future” (from which I have driven precious inspiration for this investigation), the Media and Communications strategist Jasper Visser has tried to outline the necessary characteristics for a story to attract the attention of the public and ensure – especially – that the public interacts with the narrator (that is, the institution itself).

First of all, trust and consistency are key words. Do the listeners have enough trust in the narrator? Is there any consistency between what you are and what you are telling to your public? These might seem like minor details, while they actually are the most solid foundations for any operation of storytelling.

Then the story must be:

unique and have some unexpected content. Think about how many myths or stereotypes could be debunked if museums begin to tell all the “unexpected” stories they guard!

– developed in the attempt to arouse emotions. The all-time best stories – from the Homeric wars to Conan Doyle’s detective series – are based on emotions: it is essential to insert conflicts, solutions, suspense, mysteries and revelations in the narrative.

speak about the public, it must generate a connexion, so that its listeners identify themselves with the characters. To use Nancy Duarte’s words: «Treat your audience as a hero whenever you tell them something».

create physical connections in real life, it shouldn’t  be an end in itself – it must be able to turn an interested reader in an enthusiastic participant.

photo credit: Jill Clardy via photopin cc

photo credit: Jill Clardy via photopin cc

Please don’t look at me like that – I never promised it would be easy!

It is evident that creating and writing a story that relates to your audience is not at all simple, especially accustomed as we are to talk mainly about ourselves. But storytelling requires creativity.

In any case, I personally think we should simplify and “demystify” our idea of digital storytelling: the word “digital” only refers to the historical era in which we live, while our main goal is to tell a story in the best way we can. Today it is not an art to be digital, but it is to be a good storyteller.

Curious about who has succeeded so far in this art? Well then, stay connected – more is coming. ‘Till then, #svegliamuseo!