ArcGIS StoryMaps

Thinking about Storytelling

As Esri’s program manager for storytelling, I’ve given a lot of thought, and written a good bit, over the past few years about storytelling in the context of ArcGIS StoryMaps. Perhaps the most popular of these efforts is “Nine steps to great storytelling.” I’ve also done some thinking more generally about how stories relate to maps and vice versa, in the form of a series of “Maps, Minds, and Stories” essays.

My fellow team member, Ross Donihue, and I were recently asked by an Esri colleague to give some general storytelling advice to a group of technical and marketing people, most of whom aren’t directly involved in ArcGIS StoryMaps. We were pleased to receive the invitation, but also more than a little chagrined to realize that we had made few previous efforts to articulate our ideas about storytelling more broadly defined. What principles and pointers might apply to any and all forms of storytelling, from keynote speeches to workshop presentations, from PowerPoints to press releases?

After several rounds of discussion, we came up with 11 items, which we sorted into three categories. We thought it might be engaging to present the items in the form of verbs, since storytelling—and planning a story—are active processes. The categories, or principles, helped organize our thinking, and we hope they will be helpful to yours as well.

We don’t pretend that our offering is authoritative. In fact, a web search will turn up many lists of “essential” elements of storytelling (here’s one, for instance, from Pixar). But between us we’ve accumulated several decades of storytelling experience, so we’re hopeful that you’ll find some of our advice useful.

Not surprisingly, we decided, in an almost-final step, to publish our storytelling pointers using our favorite storytelling medium: ArcGIS StoryMaps. Why almost final? Because we want to take our own advice and listen to you, our audience. What are we missing, or getting wrong? Please let us know, either by commenting here or via Twitter: @ArcGISStoryMaps.

About the author

Allen founded the story maps team at Esri. Prior to joining Esri in 2010, he worked at National Geographic for 27 years in a variety of positions, including art director of National Geographic Magazine and chief cartographer at National Geographic Maps.

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