Clarity in storytelling is a tricky thing. At first blush, that might seem an odd statement to make for a person trained in the journalistic arts. And I hope you noticed the word “clarity” is in the tagline of this company. So, you could hardly be faulted for asking me,"What gives?"
Yes, I’m here to say that too much clarity can actually hobble your overall goal, which is communication.
Don’t misunderstand me. Clear and concise writing is essential to getting your point across. But it’s also possible to overwhelm a person’s neural circuitry with too much precision, too much detail – if it comes all at once. Premature, excessive detail can slow comprehension or worse, turn a reader off.
In one sense, you're in a race against time between two communication goals. On the one hand, you are trying to be brief, direct, and evocative right at the top of your story. On the other, you want to be precise and accurate with facts so there’s no confusion. It’s not so much that these goals are opposed to each other — it’s more that they are both competing for the limelight. With every new sentence, with every soundbite, with every video transition, your are making a decision about clarity. And this competition becomes acute when your format places fixed limits on length.
Let me explain. Let’s suppose your video story has two, 10-second clips featuring a subject. One clip is emotionally riveting; the other, an expository, ‘facts and figures’ soundbite. You already decided to put the emotional clip first. But where do you put the ‘super,’ the onscreen graphic that identifies the speaker by name, title, and organization? Many editors (i.e., me) would decline to superimpose the ID graphic over the first clip — because it’s visually distracting and detracts from the power of theemotion in the clip. The graphic can wait for the second clip.
That is what I mean about clarity. Clearly, the viewer needs to know who is talking. Yet in this case the overall clarity of the story is strengthened, its point better made, by delaying the graphic. That’s why clarity can be tricky.
The British philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead once stated that when a person insists on clarity at all costs, he or she is actually taking an emotional position. He argued humans neither perceive the world or make conclusions solely on the basis of deductive logic or “facts," nor should they. That is not, he wrote, how human intelligence operates. Tone, style, and feel are critical in conveying emotion, the driver of the human experience.
So, there's a balancing act. Not between clarity and obfuscation, but rather, between clarity and context. The forest, if you will, and the trees. True clarity is not merely defined by precision or detail, but by comprehension.
So, am I clear?
I sure hope so. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.