Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story

"The greatest story commandment is: Make me care."

  • Storytelling is joke-telling. 

    • It's knowing your punch line, your ending;

    • Everything you say from the first sentence to the last is leading to singular goal​

      • 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​

      • Nothing affirms this more than when we connect through stories ​

  • Can cross the barriers of time (past, present, future) and allow us to experience the similarities between ourself and others, real and imagined ​

  • Greatest story commandment: Make me care. 

    • Emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically. Just make me care ​

  • A good scene will fundamentally make a promise: That this story will lead somewhere that's worth your time. 

    • Sometimes it's as simple as "Once upon a time..." ​

  • A well-told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a sling-shot that propels you forward through the story to the end. 

  • What Stanton learned through working on the film "Wall-E":

    • 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. ​

      • We are born problem-solvers. We're compelled to deduce and deduct, because that's what we do in real life. ​It's this well-organized absence of information that draws us in.

        • It's like a magnet - we can't stop ourselves from wanting to fill in the missing information.  

  • ​The Unifying Theory of 2+2

    • Make the audience put things together.

      • Don't give them 4. Give them 2+2. ​

    • The elements you provide and the order that you put them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience. 

  • Stories are inevitable if they're good, without being predictable. 

  • One of Judith Weston's key insight to character: All well-drawn characters have a spine. 

    • A good character has an inner motor: A dominant, unconscious goal that they're striving for. An itch that they can't scratch.

      • Examples 

        • Michael Corleon in the Godfather: To please his father ​

        • Wall-E's : To find the beauty​

        • Marlon's (in Finding Nemo) : To prevent harm

        • Woody's (in Toy Story) : To do what is best for his child 

        • Lawrence of Arabia: To figure out where is place was in the world. (Answer the question, "Who are you?")

      • Spines don't always drive you to make the best choices; sometimes you make terrible choices because of them. 

        • Everything the character does is an attempt to do this thing. ​

  • Stanton believes you're born with a certain temperament, and there's nothing you can do about it but to recognize it and own it. 

    • A major threshold is passed when you mature enough to acknowledge what drives you and to take the wheel and steer it.​

    • As parents you're always learning who your children are, they're learning who they are, and you're still learning who you are. 

      • So we're all learning all the time. ​

        • That's why change is fundamental in story. If things go static, stories die, because life is never static. ​

"Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty."

- British playwright William Archer

  • We all live life conditionally. We're all willing to play by the rules and follow things along, as long as certain conditions are met. After that, all bets are off. 

  • A strong theme is always running through a well-told story. 

  • The magic ingredient: Can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, completely innocent; it can't be artificially evoked.

    • There's no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling.

      • To hold them still for just a moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. 

      • When it's tapped, the affirmation of being alive reaches you almost to a cellular level. 

        • When an artist does this to another artist, ti's like a compulsion to pass it on. A dormant command that's suddenly activated to you: To unto other's what's been done to you. ​

      • The best stories infuse wonder. 

  • The first story lesson: Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn't always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiences and expressing values you personally feel deep down to your core. 

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