So the other day I was on twitter, and saw a link to a TED talk from Andrew Stanton (Produced Wall-e, the Toy Story movies, etc.) about creating Story. It’s a fantastic short video only about 20 minutes long.
I’ll embed it here at the end of the post, but I’ll also summarize it for those who don’t want to sit through it. (You should though, it’s only 20 minutes long.)
But here are 7 things I took away from this video.
- Make me care – Meaning, you need to have a story that the reader cares about the characters. If they don’t have any sort of connection to them, they aren’t going to care, and they won’t like the story.
- Give them 2+2, not 4 – Meaning, let the reader put things together, give them crumbs and clues, but don’t hit them over the head with the answer. Make them work for it a bit.
- Give them a Spine – Not meaning that they are tough, but give them a core. An overarching goal. Something that drives them always. A good example, in the Godfather, Michael Corleone just wants to make his father happy. Even after his father’s death, he runs things in the way he thinks would make his father happy.
- Drama is anticipation mixed with uncertainty – Meaning you want the reader to be really interested in what comes next, but they aren’t sure what that is. (Remember 2+2 above.) A good example.. the current Game of Thrones TV show. The creators of the show along with George RR Martin have done a fantastic job here. They’ve made the audience care about the characters, they’ve given the watchers the 2+2. So of course you WANT to know what happens next, but you think MAYBE you have an idea, but you’re not sure.
- Conditions need to be met – This one at first threw me a bit, but it makes sense. Your protagonist, they can be the most awesome and pure white knight character. BUT only if what they want is met. Take Woody from Toy Story (Andrew Stanton uses this example, it’s a good one.) Woody is a great guy, benevolent, kind, you know, just an all around swell character… until Buzz comes in and displaces him as the favorite toy. Woody then gets petty, jealous and not an all around nice guy. The takeaway is, your good guy doesn’t always have to be a good guy.
- Each Character, who are you? – A pretty obvious one, but still needs to be said. Characters need to have a reason to exist. If you have characters that the main story wouldn’t miss, why have them? Give them a reason to be there. A purpose in the narrative.
- Invoke Wonder – It’s a hard one to do, but give the audience something to feel that is bigger, greater than themselves. When they close the book, you want them to think “Whew” you want them to desire to live in that world.
I’ve been doing some rewriting on my current story based on the main themes above, and I think it’s really helped. Some of these aren’t easy to do, but I think overall guidelines like this help me find the core of the story and the characters a lot better.