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Posts tagged ‘Story’

Five clues to a great story from filmmaker Andrew Stanton

In his great Ted Talk, filmmaker (“Toy Story” & “WALL-E”) Andrew Stanton shares his thoughts on storytelling.

Stories tell us who we are and give our life affirmation and meaning, says Stanton. Here a few other ideas he has about story:

  • Stories make you care;
  • Stories are inevitable but not predictable;
  • Each character has a spine–an inner motor–a dominant unconscious goal they are always striving for;
  • Change is fundamental in story. Life is never static;
  • The secret sauce? The best stories infuse wonder.

To learn more about what story is, watch Stanton’s talk here:


Four questions to help you mine your life for story ideas

Most of my writing is personal. No matter what genre I’m writing in—poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction—much of what I write about comes from my personal experience. In her post, “What obsessions will end up in your writing?” my blog partner, Carly, asks us to consider what events in our lives have “marked us.” Looking to these events and memories can be a treasure trove of story ideas.

What memories or stories haunt you?

I still remember reading a news article over ten years ago about an older couple that went out for a drive and got lost for three days because they both had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember where they lived. This short article in the paper has stayed with me all these years. Obviously, it will become a short story someday.

What poems or spoken-word performances inspire you? Read more

How to murder your darlings…or cut what doesn’t serve your story

In my last post, I wrote about finding my real story while writing my memoir. I ended up with about 110,000 words in my finished manuscript. When an agent recently suggested I cut between 25,000 and 45,000 words I was stunned.

If you could hear my thoughts, it might have sounded something like this: No way! Really? Well, maybe I could cut SOME words but not that many! I need those words! There’s some really good writing in those words. 

I put the project away for awhile and worked on something else. I knew I was too close to it to see it clearly. As I worked on my other project, I gradually thought about sections of my memoir. I asked myself the questions I wrote about in my last post: Find your real story by asking these questions.

Then my mom passed away and everything was a blur for several weeks. During that time, I came across a contest for memoirs just a few days before the deadline (which happened to be the day of Mom’s funeral). I really wanted to enter the contest–mainly to use it as a deadline to make those dreaded cuts–and the contest had a page limit that fit what the agent had suggested. Read more

Find your story’s emotional throughline

Even though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, an incident as a teenaged babysitter taught me one of my first lessons about subtext and story.

I was babysitting a nine-year-old boy who was literally out of control, a human tornado. He wouldn’t listen. I had plenty of babysitting experience, but I’d never dealt with a child like this. At one point, he found a cigarette lighter and before I could grab it from him, he’d flicked it on and burned his hand.

Later that day, after I had gone home and was walking down the street with a friend, the boy’s mother drove by. She stopped and started screaming at me about her son’s injury. While it wasn’t good that he had hurt himself, her response was extreme for the superficial nature of the burn. I tried to explain how hard it was to manage him, but she just drove away. Read more

The #1 thing every writer should do every day

Attending Robert McKee’s Story Seminar in Los Angeles a few years ago was an experience I will never forget. From the hotel I stayed in with whispering elevators, themed floors, fuchsia colored walls, and stuffed sheep in the lobby, to Mr. McKee’s intense (read scary) demeanor and boot camp-style story lessons, I learned more than I could ever have imagined. I learned about story events, scenes, beats, sequences, acts, inciting incidents, story climaxes, different types of plots, and much more–all designed to make us better storytellers.

At the end of our long, exhausting weekend, Mr. McKee said there was one more thing we needed to do everyday if we wanted to become a “serious” writer. We collectively held our breath, waiting for this last drop of wisdom to anoint us into full-fledged writerhood.

What he said was not what we expected. Read more