How to design stories that keep people hooked

The simple principle of progression

Adam Westbrook
6 min readMay 23, 2019
Image © Adam Westbrook

What gives a good story its pace and tempo? How do storytellers make sure their work builds to a memorable climax? Let’s break down the concept of story progression.

You’ve probably heard people talk about the ‘narrative arc’ or the ‘character arc’ before, but they’re two poorly defined terms that conjure up misleading definitions.

What we mean by arc is ‘change’ — something has to change in your story or, to be frank, it is not a story.

Progression, then, is how you structure the change in your story. It’s extremely simple to use and is one of the best ways to make your narrative as intentionally powerful as possible.

First, let’s define progression. In The Visual Story, cinematographer Bruce Block breaks it down into its most simple definition. “A progression begins as one thing and changes to something else,” he says.

“Progressions are fundamental to story or musical structure and they’re fundamental to visual structure.”



Adam Westbrook

Video artist working at The New York Times. I write a newsletter about visual storytelling and creativity.