The Art of YouTube Storytelling: A Secret Path to More Watch Time

Want to get more watch time on every YouTube video? Use this storytelling secret to captivate viewers and keep them engaged.

If you want people to listen, tell them a story. That much has always been clear, from the early days of hieroglyphics to the rise of books, movies, and TV.

Today, it seems like YouTube is the best place to share those real, authentic stories — and for good reason. YouTube viewers watch over a billion hours of video each day. To meet this demand, creators are posting over 500 hours of content per minute.

In other words, the competition is heating up! With so many storytellers on YouTube, it takes more than fancy equipment, the right keywords, and a juicy title to get more watch time. For that, you need to master YouTube storytelling.

The Science of Attention

Did you know most people stop watching a YouTube video after 30 seconds? If you looked at the audience retention graph for that content, you would see something like this:

So what does it take to keep viewers engaged?

According to a University of Chicago study, it’s all about emotion. Viewers pay attention when you make them feel something or change their emotional state, especially when watching movies. Their brains “light up” because they're engrossed in what's happening, be it a sad, happy, or shocking scene.

If you want to do this on YouTube, study the movies and TV shows that hold your attention. Look at how those stories are structured so you can use the same format on YouTube.

A Storytelling Format that Gets More Watch Time

Now that you know emotional content makes people listen, how do you pump those moments into your videos?

One solution is to use the hero’s journey, a common plot device in Harry PotterStar Wars, and hundreds of other movies. It focuses on a single protagonist, an adventure they take, and what they learn along the way.

Here’s what the hero's journey looks like:

  • The Ordinary World: We meet the hero and see their normal, mundane life.
  • The Call of Adventure: The hero feels "called" to go on a mission or adventure.
  • Refusal of the Call: Fear or discomfort holds the hero back.
  • Meeting the Mentor: A role model gives the hero advice and wisdom.
  • Crossing the First Threshold: The hero embarks on the quest.
  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero enters a new world, faces challenges, and meets enemies.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave: Setbacks occur while the stakes are rising.
  • The Ordeal: The hero faces their greatest test thus far.
  • Reward: The hero reaps the rewards of victory (a skill, knowledge, etc.).
  • The Road Back: The hero heads home, but there are still more enemies to fight.
  • Resurrection: A final test becomes the story's climax, where the hero draws upon everything they’ve learned.
  • Return with the Elixir: Evil is defeated, everyone’s safe, and the hero is transformed forever.

With this plot device, you can explore concepts like fear, loss, growth, and triumph — which is why it works! Each chapter sparks a new emotion in the protagonist and the viewer. Thanks to a powerful insight (emotion = attention), we know this plot device can boost YouTube watch time.

YouTube Examples of the Hero’s Journey

You can use the hero’s journey in almost any video, but it works best in challenge or storytime content.

So as a quick example, we’ll share two videos from those categories. You'll see how both stories follow the hero's journey, even if the creators tweaked them a bit for YouTube.

It's also worth mentioning that these videos got massive views. So there's a good chance they had lots of watch time, which prompted the YouTube algorithm to share them with more people.

Ryan Trahan: “I Spent 100 Days in Pokémon”

Ryan Trahan is known for his legendary challenges, including one where he used a single penny to cross North America. In the video below (1 million+ views), he uses the hero’s journey for a gaming challenge.

Here’s a timestamp breakdown:

The Call of Adventure

0:46–1:01: Ryan challenges himself to live inside Pokémon Violet for 100 days and become a champion.

Crossing the First Threshold

1:02–1:58: Ryan starts his journey by meeting the main characters and choosing his first Pokémon.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

1:59–3:09: Ryan enters a whole new world by playing the game in “nuzzlock mode." He has to nickname all of his Pokémon, only battle with Pokémon that haven't fainted, and only use the first Pokémon he catches in any given area. If all of them faint, it's game over.

3:10–19:00: Ryan faces battles, missions, and side quests. He loses several Pokémon along the way but defeats every gym leader by day 81!

Approach to the Inmost Cave

23:08–23:45: Ryan loses “QuackBoom,” a strong Pokemon that brought him super far in the game. It’s a sad loss! (RIP QuackBoom)

27:31–31:06: Ryan defeats the Elite Four (top trainers in the Pokémon league).

The Ordeal

31:07–33:00: Ryan defeats the champion of all champions in the Pokémon league. He gives an emotional speech about what's he’s learned while playing Pokémon over the years.

Lynette Adkins: “I Had to Reprogram My Mind to Create My Dream Life”

Lynette Adkins is a lifestyle creator who talks about navigating life and evolving your mindset. In the video below (336,000+ views), she shares a major life update using the hero’s journey.

Here’s a timestamp breakdown:

The Ordinary World

0:00–1:22: Lynette talks about having an unfulfilling job where she felt overworked.

The Call of Adventure

1:23–2:28: Lynette feels “called” to make a mindset shift to live her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

Meeting the Mentor

2:28–4:28: Lynette meets her “mentor,” which is really her self-conscious. By listening to her innermost thoughts, she starts to believe her true desires can come true.

Crossing the First Threshold

5:33–6:38: Lynette starts changing her life by avoiding toxic relationships, not overworking, getting hobbies, and more.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

6:39–8:35: Lynette enters a new mindset but struggles to create boundaries at school and work. She realizes she’s holding herself back due to self–limiting beliefs.

Return with the Elixir

8:34–10:25: Emerging victorious, Lynette explains how to change your life by removing self–doubt.

A Compelling Story = YouTube Views

To master YouTube storytelling, you must look outside of YouTube. Study the classics that laid the foundation for every plot device we know today. The Lion KingGone with the WindJaws. Then you can use those stories as a blueprint to make emotional, captivating content. That's how you get more watch time on YouTube!

But if you need more advice, here are 5 more ways to keep viewers entertained.