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The 7 Rules of Storytelling

Didn’t I Already Blog On This?

NO, actually in blog post #29 I discussed script writing, but have gotten some comments that I didn’t go into enough detail about the story creation, so here we are.

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.”

~Steve Jobs

Great Stories Don't Just Happen

When creating a great story, storytelling is about keeping it real for the audience, they need to relate and be able to put themselves in the shoes of the character. By taking cues from real life and conveying it in story situation that help bring your characters to life, you let the audience experience the story alongside the characters...If you haven’t watched The “Never Ending Story” you need to, it’s a perfect example of what I am trying to say here.

In short, self knowledge and awareness of life are always going to be at the the root of every great storytelling.

Great stories have a clear structure and purpose

The Structure

A good rule of thumb in developing your stories is to to create “The Story Spine”, as it is called in the animation industry. This is basically a template that you use to set down the story from beginning to end, once it is set down then you can go back and rewrite it to make it more original. For example, How many times have we heard “Once upon a time…” at the beginning of a story and “...they lived happily ever after” at the end. This is a basic story structure template.

Many story writers (professional ones) have a list of story spines that they use to get past writer’s block or to keep a theme going in a particular set of stories so that the style stays the same.

The Purpose

This is the “who, what, when where and how that fits in the middle of your story spine. This is going to be at the heart of your storytelling.

By crafting stories that you are passionate to tell serves a real purpose, your stories will have bigger impact and that passion ends up creating more unique plots.

We often concentrate so much on getting the story out there that we don’t have a second thought about if we are using the right character for the story or if the story is a good match for the program as it is written. Write out the story and then rewrite it to fit the character that you are using in the story.

The Underdog

It goes without saying that your character is what makes or breaks the believably of the story. The character has to sell the story and the part he/she/it is playing or people will lose interest. Having a good hero or central figure is paramount, but if you develop that lead character in a way that makes the audience invest their emotions into (such as an underdog) then you create that suspension of disbelief.

we all admire a character for trying more for the attempt and lessons learned than we do of the outcome, it’s more about the character’s journey than it is the final destination.

When your character is battling against something, faced with a trial, or a life lesson needing to be learned, well then, you have yourself the makings of great story.

In our society, today, everyone loves the “rags to riches” story or the runt of the litter that turns out to be the prize pig type stories. Look at all of the stories published in business magazines and how many books and YouTube videos have been created on people who made it to success from nothing.

An unexpected hero

Along with the underdog is the unexpected hero. An example, I worked on a space theme series with a church a few years back (shout out to M1A!) and one of the character was Sprocket, a robot that was discarded in a dump. In the series, he actually became a hero fighting to rid the place of Twubbles.

Give’em the “Feels”

Great stories appeal to emotions. The best movie out there that explains this, actually on a psychological level is the Pixar movie, Inside Out.

As many of my readers know, I have a degree in visual communications with a background in marketing and copywriting. One of the first things we learned, was that people shop logically, but buy emotionally, so if you wanted them to buy, you had to reach them emotionally. We also see this now with politics; forget logic, how many politicians have been compared to Hitler. No politician is going to throw old people off a cliff or separate children from their parents to purposely place them in the sex trade.

The more you understand how/when your own emotional levers are pulled and the why behind it, the more you can appreciate how that works with other people.

Ask questions like “what do I want the audience to feel about this character or situation? Take your why and develop the when, where and how.

The Unexpected

Once you have the basic story down, add some spice, change some stuff up to make something a surprise.

Princess gets captured, knight saves princess, knight marries princess, blah blah blah. Actually the original movie of Shrek was this exact storyline basis, but look at they way they changed it up.

What makes modern stories compelling are when our perceptions get challenged or changed in some way; when we determine in our heads what is going to happen next and there is a twist that we didn’t see coming.

Add that third, fourth or even fifth level of twist to the story to make it more engaging and create a story that will have the audience thinking about it long after they saw it.

Focused Simplicity

As an audiences, we know a good story when we see or hear it.

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where you kept getting lost in the plot because the story just had so many “rabbit trails” and “backstory” that you kept getting lost? It’s not a great experience and makes for frustration.

As writers, we sometimes put more into a story than needs to be there. If a character is going over to another side of the stage to talk to someone, it isn’t necessary to write half a chapter on the trip. The audience will get the gist of what the character is doing when they do it.

Too many layers and the story just becomes muddy. If you have ever read Tolkien's The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that was originally one book. His publisher pitched him the idea of breaking the stories down into more of a manageable story. Just enough story is given in each that it leads you from one story to the net without overwhelming you with all the backstory and characters.

If you are writing on your own, let a close friend or colleague read it and give their feedback. If you are part of a team, let the team read it and have a brainstorming session to clean it up.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

No Idea Gets Left Behind

Keep a folder of ideas. Refer to them often. Even if an idea doesn’t fly for a particular story line, this doesn’t mean that the idea was bad. Hold on to them, keep them organized and go back every time you are looking at creating a new story.

I hope this info helps the next time you are looking to write a story or script. If I can help in any way, drop me a line and let me know. Would love to hear some of your concepts.


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