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The DNA of Storytelling Deepening Engagement

Data-creative storytelling process that optimises audience attention and deepens engagement consistently

Develops compelling and engaging stories for movies, television episodic drama, and strategic communications.

Identifies filmmakers’ narrative blind spots that significantly reduce story comprehension, attention, and engagement

Validates creative storytelling decisions and resolves filmmaker’s narrative blind spots

Reduces risk of re-shooting scenes and increasing movie production costs

A scientific model that measures emotion, suspense, and audience engagement 

Discovering the DNA of Storytelling & Audience Engagement

Academic Research


Our research involved developing a scientific model of storytelling and engagement by measuring electrical changes in viewers’ skin when they watched specific micro-narrative structures (1-90 seconds in duration). These specific micro-narrative structures represent different forms of suspense. In other worlds, different ways filmmakers construct suspense in the story world. Drawing from research in film studies and media psychology we know that suspense plays a crucial role in making interesting and engaging stories across genres. This is because suspense is always interwoven with a conflict-crisis in the story world which makes the story more interesting and engaging. We can define suspense as a mediating element of a cause-and-effect paradigm that is associated with a conflict-crisis in a story world or a threatening stimulus that is directed at the viewer that triggers fluctuations of anxiety. The conflict-crisis often challenges the protagonist(s) by turning their life upside down and in some cases, they face life-threatening situations. However, suspense not only creates tension but increases empathy for the fictional character's situation especially the main protagonist. Therefore, suspense is a powerful narrative structure that deepens engagement and audience experience in storytelling. What is most interesting is that suspense also plays an essential role in different types of cinematic storytelling in diverse ways, from movies to televisions episodic drama series and media strategic communications. 



Audience watching a film while having their physiologcial responses measured
Measuring audience physiological responses to episodic television drama

Television Episodic Drama

Suspense plays a crucial role in television episodic drama series in three ways, firstly, suspense is constructed during each episode like a story in a movie, secondly, in the form of the cliff-hanger at the end of each episode leaving viewers in a ‘state of suspense’ of what will happen in the following episode. This encourages viewers’ to watch the next episode. Thirdly, the cliff-hanger also acts as a commercial driver to sustain and grow audiences.   

Research studies that compared suspenseful with non-suspenseful commercials found that suspenseful commercials are more engaging, maintaining audiences’ attention and more likely to persuade the viewer to purchase a product or service. Linda Alwitt discovered viewers perceive suspenseful commercials as being shorter than their duration because viewers experienced intensified attention and interest. This informs us that a well-framed strategic message using suspense micro-narrative structures can create powerful emotional messages that motivate people to act. 

Measuring audience physiological responses to advertisments and strategic communications

Media Strategic Communications

Research Methods

A mixed-methods approach was used, triangulating three data sets:

Textual Analysis 


We analysed the textual elements of the story and filmmakers’ intentions to construct suspense

Suspense cliff hanger. Man gripping for life on cliff top



A graph measuring suspense as an anxiety response, using two variables intensity and duration

Measuring Suspense 


We measured suspense as an anxiety response using the psychophysiological recording technique electrodermal activity (EDA), measuring anxiety using two variable duration and intensity. 


Graph measuring veiwer feedback comments after watching short horror movie clipsns

Viewer Self - Reports


We recorded viewer feedback after each movie clip to contextualise their subjective experience of suspense

A Framework to Measure Suspense and Engagement

To measure the construction of suspense and engagement we combined Brewer & Lichtenstein’s suspense event structure with Susan Smith’s narrative model of suspense: vicarious, shared, direct and composite suspense. We carried out an in-depth analysis of Susan Smith’s suspense micro-narrative structures vicarious, shared, direct and composite suspense and also cinematic techniques (cinematography, sound, production design, and editing) matching their cause and effect relationships with the viewer anxiety responses to millisecond accuracy.

A graph showing a framework to measur audienc eexperence of suspense using micro-narrative structures, direct, vicarious, shared and composite suspense

Outcome of Research: EDA Model of Audience Experience

Graph showing the rhythm of Emotion
Graph showing a rhythm of suspense
Graph showing the rhythm of engagement

For example, the Rhythm of Engagement™ in the graph below reveals the filmmaker’s narrative blind spots, shown by black plot points at the baseline of the graph. The graph informs us which narrative elements and cinematic techniques decrease, sustain or increase engagement.  

Graph revealing filmmakers' narrative blind spots that significantly reduce attention and engagement

The EDA Model of suspense and engagement has been further developed and represents the DNA of storytelling and a data-driven creative storytelling process Story-Fusion™ that resolves filmmakers’ narrative blind spots and deepens engagement and audience experience. Story-Fusion also represents a unique framework that can be adapted in future audience research studies and in the development of storytelling innovations.

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EDA Model of Audience Experience
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