Although Andrew Stanton was talking about storytelling in a movie medium (he was the scriptwriter for Toy Story, Wall-E, and Finding Nemo, among others), I think the principles he talks about can be applied equally to storytelling in written form. What I like most was what he said about wonder:
- Wonder is honest, it's completely innocent. It can't be artificially evoked. For me, there's no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling -- to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it's tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost to a cellular level. And when an artist does that to another artist, it's like you're compelled to pass it on. It's like a dormant command that suddenly is activated in you, like a call to Devil's Tower. Do unto others what's been done to you.
He's right! Reading beautifully written articles, stories or books always makes me want to write. It awakens something in me. It's like the author's words rekindle a dormant flame; I'm reminded what words can do, and the desire to contribute something equally beautiful to the world arises from within.
The following quotes from the talk are notes for my own reference :)
- Storytelling is ... knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.
- Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.
- "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story." ... that is probably the greatest story commandment, which is "Make me care".
- ...what all good stories should do at the beginning, is they should give you a promise. ... A well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot and propels you forward through the story to the end.
- ...the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don't want to know that they're doing that. That's your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal.
- The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.
- ...all well-drawn characters have a spine. And the idea is that the character has an inner motor, a dominant, unconscious goal that they're striving for, an itch that they can't scratch. ... And these spines don't always drive you to make the best choices. Sometimes you can make some horrible choices with them.
- ...change is fundamental in story. If things go static, stories die, because life is never static.
- When you're telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be?
- A strong theme is always running through a well-told story.
- The best stories infuse wonder.
- Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn't always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.