The secret to a compelling story

It’s a question that consumes those passionate about mastering the art of storytelling: What makes a good story? And more importantly, what makes a good story great?

Recently, in one of the training workshops Nala Academy conducted with a community television channel, one of the teams produced a news package that seemingly had all the key elements.

It was beautifully filmed. All the facts were correct. The piece drew the audience in and made its point. The final product worked. But it lacked substance. It was a classic example of the treatment trumping the topic.

This package touched on an important human rights issue, one that was very topical at the time, but the story didn’t add anything new to the conversation. In a different newsroom, the same script may have been sent back by a sub-editor to be developed further, to be shaped into something more complete and comprehensive. And with depth.

The secret to great storytelling, even on the most widely talked-about issue, is to present a familiar narrative through a different lens: to tell a story that’s already been told in a unique and compelling way. In every story there’s an unrevealed angle waiting to be discovered. If you’re persistent and curious enough to keep digging.

The words of author Robert McKee, who wrote a seminal book on this topic titled Story, spring to mind:

“Story is about principles, not rules. It is about eternal, universal forms, not formulas.”

Rules demand rigidity, yet principles tell us what’s tried and tested and what works – without prescribing actions. McKee’s perspective is echoed in some of the core principles in storytelling gathered over time by peers, teachers and philosophers:

  • A good story has emotional resonance with its audience. Hold them close as your guide (Nikki Comninos, Editor and Director).
  • Good stories have strong central characters (American Press Institute). 
  • Humans are interested in other humans.
  • Context matters. The background narrative to your story adds significance to events and explains why audiences should care.
  • Good stories add complexity, diversity and deepen our understanding.
  • Complex stories told simply: that’s the holy grail.
  • Treatment is just as important as the topic (some would even say it’s even more important).

Whether you’re a budding journalist or storyteller just setting out, or an eternal student still intent on mastering the form, these guiding principles apply to us all equally.


Nala Academy helps journalists and communicators master the art of storytelling to connect with audiences and spread powerful messages. If you want to sharpen your storytelling skills, or are looking for a talented, passionate team to help you tell your story, get in touch. We’d love to help.


Nala Media

Inspired by the power and the potential of connection, we started Nala Integrated Media in 2018 to build newsrooms, grow communicators and create great content.