Pixar Storytelling – It Starts With An Idea

If you haven’t seen a Pixar animated movie, I’ll assume you have been living on a (nearly) deserted island. Their first feature film was Toy Story, released some 25 years ago. After 22 films, $14 billion in box office revenue, and an acquisition by Disney, they’re still creating films that touch our heart and change the way we think about the world.

You can read more about the fascinating history of Pixar, but in short, they are master storytellers. And while it’s doubtful that your personal story will end up in a Pixar movie, the process they use to create their films can teach us a lot about the craft of storytelling – characters, plot, emotion, wisdom, life.

It all begins with an idea.

It’s the first thing I ask someone who says they have a story to tell. What’s the idea, or the point, or the message that is driving your story. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?

Luckily, the creation of your story is not as complex as the Pixar process – no need to hire any simulation technical artists – but a takeaway from this welcome video is the need for revision / editing along the way. Nothing comes out perfect the first time. It’s an iterative endeavour that enriches your story, bit by bit.

The power of story is that it has an ability to connect with people on an emotional level.

Even when creating a fictional story, the writer needs to put an element of themselves into the narrative as a way to convey how they’re feeling. The same holds true in your story. It’s not just a sequence of events. That’s rather boring. The audience needs to know how the experience felt to you.

Check in next week for another glimpse into the world of Pixar storytelling!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Challenges of Story Compression

One of the most difficult challenges every storyteller faces is how to compress days / months / years / centuries when crafting a narrative. For example, the Roman Empire lasted some 500 years, yet books on the topic are typically under 500 pages, which illustrates how many facts the authors had to cut. Even when the subject is as narrow as the life of one person, such as Julius Caesar, that same page count only allows for the highlights. Volumes of data are left behind.

So imagine the difficulty in reducing an entire life – and in this case it’s quite an illustrious life – into a twenty minute podcast. Could you compress your life into twenty minutes? Rather frustrating for most folks. But such is the mastery of Nate DiMeo, founder of The Memory Palace, with his insightful story about Robert Smalls. You might call The Wheel a master class in story compression.

This excerpt from Wikipedia will give you some indication of Robert Smalls’ life, though it’s just one chapter of a saga that’s hard to fathom. Listen to Nate’s narrative and you’ll gain a much better sense of Robert’s keen ability to plan and execute. The other thing you will notice is the difference between information – as provided by Wikipedia – and narrative nonfiction – as spoken by Nate DiMeo.

Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American politician, publisher, businessman, and naval pilot. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

Even without personal knowledge of the area, and few details of the historical moment, you can still imagine the scene of a blockade off the coast, of Robert’s desire to escape slavery in The South, and the impossible notion of stealing a Confederate boat in order to make his escape. There is the briefest mention of his mother, his wife and two daughters, yet you clearly see the stakes involved in his decision to take that boat, to risk it all.

Robert Smalls Photo By Brady Handy

Photo by Mathew Brady / Public Domain

With the visual references to slaves being bought and sold, to being whipped in the fields, you come to embrace the motivation, despite the stakes, to take that boat, to take the wheel, at the age of 23. The escape took hours, but in just a few seconds Nate takes us onboard the Confederate gunboat CSS Planter, where we feel the tension, the odds stacked against success.

Confederate Gunboat CSS Planter

Photo by Unknown Author / Public Domain

I’ll leave it to you to hear the story to its conclusion. To marvel at the fact that his heroic exit from South Carolina wasn’t the end of the story. How he served in the Union Navy.  How he returned to Beaufort after the war, became a politician and served in both the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives.

By the story’s conclusion I felt as though I had been listening for hours, while being taken on a magnificent journey of one man’s incredible life. But when I checked the clock, only twenty minutes had passed. Story compression is a time warp, an experience that doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed.

If you have a desire to tell your life story – on a podcast or on a stage – if only to cover the highlights, yet feel that the challenge of compressing your story to a reasonable length is next to impossible, revisit this podcast. In fact, do yourself a favor and subscribe to The Memory Palace. Every episode is a master class in how to captivate an audience and reveal the essence of what it means to be human, and do so in a matter of minutes.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Three Reasons We Don’t Tell Our Story

Some folks are eager to tell us their story. They know their message is one that others could benefit from hearing, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to share their ideas, their wisdom, or the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Whenever I meet one of these people and mention that I used to produce TEDx events, they quickly shift into pitch mode, expressing a desire to be on stage. They’re not the least bit shy and their storytelling passion is front and center.

But I also meet a lot of folks with powerful stories worth sharing, yet they’ll come up with reasons to avoid telling that story to an audience. They’re resigned to remaining silent as I hear them say something like the following…

  • I’m not a great public speaker, and I’m not a professional
  • I just don’t know how to make my story sound interesting
  • I might make a mistake, or even forget what I want to say

Sound familiar? Well, you’re in good company, but I’m here to tell you that none of these reasons should stop you, or even slow you down. So let’s address them, and get you motivated to begin sharing your important stories with the world.

You were born a storyteller

That’s the first thing I want every potential speaker to know, and to embrace. As babies we learn about the world around us by watching and listening. And it doesn’t take long before we learn to speak and begin telling our stories. Simple stories at first, but stories that gain in confidence and complexity day by day.

Think about the thousands of stories you’ve told since – to your family, kids in the neighborhood, and your classmates at school. You’re always telling stories. That said, we’re rarely taught how to tell a story designed to impact others – a story that’s very intentional in its wording, structure and delivery – a story with meaning beyond recounting past events.

Like any other skill that we wish to master – playing an instrument or a sport, for example – we must spend a lot of time and effort to make that happen. The more times you speak in public, and the more effort you put into writing and rehearsing your stories, the better you will get at it – so you don’t need to be a great speaker (yet), or a professional, you just need to be you to tell your story.

Create an interesting story

While we’ve spent our lives telling random stories to each other, stories told to an audience are more intentional, and structured to express an important idea or convey a specific viewpoint. So there are a number of skills to be mastered.

I approach the story process using three steps: ideation, narration, presentation. Before you write a single word of your story you need to define the main message that will drive the narrative and represent the gift that you’re giving the audience. The proverbial pearl of wisdom.

Using a classic marketing mantra, ask three questions regarding your audience:

  • What do you want them to think?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

Will the essence of your story shift their perspective, teach them something new, touch them emotionally, challenge preconceived notions, or inspire them to act? Ideally, your message is original, imaginative, one they haven’t heard before.

With clarity on your subject, look for story elements that will support your view. Check out these Story Blocks for examples of how you can create a compelling narrative. Utilize elements that will be of interest to your audience, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a captivating story.

Mastering your narrative

Telling a story that includes specific elements – events, observations, feelings, thoughts – presented in a specific order to maximize impact, requires practice. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more. Rehearse by yourself, then do it in front of friends to get feedback. Do they understand the intent of your story?

Take advantage of your phone, tablet or laptop by recording your talk. When played back you will hear yourself saying words you wouldn’t normally use in conversation. Editing at this stage will result in a more naturally sounding talk. Next, capture your presentation on video. Note your body language and facial expressions. Words are always most important, but delivery can add emphasis.

You don’t need to memorize your entire talk (more on this at a later date) but you should know your opening and closing by heart. Starting strong gets the audience engaged, while closing strong will make it memorable. You also need to remember each element of your story, and the sequence of presentation. Delivering your narrative out of order will often confuse the listener.

As to making mistakes, the audience doesn’t have a copy of your talk, so in most cases they won’t even notice if something is missing. But if you do catch yourself saying the wrong thing, such as stating a wrong date or quoting an incorrect number, pause for a moment, take a breath, and correct yourself. The audience will appreciate your honesty.

Conclusion

I could spend hours going into each of these subjects at length, but the bottom line is that there’s a strategy for dealing with each one and you should never allow them to get in the way of sharing your story with a larger audience – your story can change the world!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Challenge of Finding Historical Truth

My last post touched on the art of Interviewing From a Historical Perspective as a way to enrich your story by including the experiences of others. But finding the truth in history can be a problematic topic unto itself, as so much of what we think of as history deviates from the truth in sometimes subtle, and sometimes dramatic fashion.

The decisions we make are largely based on our perceptions of the past, which means the only way we can tell a true narrative is to understand the past correctly. As long as we live within a lie that others have told to protect/enhance their reputation or further their false ideology, we will create/enable a new generation of liars. ~ML

In a recent Longform podcast episode Evan Ratliff spoke with Michelle García, and part of that interview dealt with the issue of determining what is true, as well as the difference between just telling the truth and telling an honest story.

Do listen. It’s a masterclass in coming to understand who you are, where you come from, and the challenges of telling an impactful story others need to hear.

How You Alter the Narrative

If your intent is to capture a story’s essence, to reveal a fundamental truth to your readers/listeners, then you need to be aware of the perspective that you bring to the table, a perspective that affects the process of assimilating the facts, coloring the raw landscape that you’re attempting to faithfully paint.

This process of self-examination and reflection embraced by Michelle guides her in the story creation process, and as you will hear, it requires a special sense of awareness – of your beliefs, your values, and your way of experiencing the world in each present moment.

That the facts are all there, and they’re all accurate, and they’re all right, that I began to wonder, just because you have the facts right, does that mean the story is true in its essence? ~ Michelle García

At one point Michelle refers to a conversation that she had with a law professor on the topic of history repeating itself. His observation was one that we should consider when trying to understand any chain of events: “It’s not that history’s repeating itself, it’s that this is the present moment, reaching into the past, to define its future.”

Take a moment to ponder that statement and consider how it relates to the story that you want to tell. You’re writing in that present moment yet recalling a myriad of events you’ve experienced. The conversations, the environments, the emotions, the interpretations. And you’re telling your story for the simple reason that you have a desire for others to understand what you have learned or come to believe, and maybe, just maybe, their future will be different as a result.

The true power of storytelling lies in the fact that your story can become part of someone else’s story. ~ML

Michelle García as Restless Rebel

I’m always fascinated by the journey that creatives embark upon, or become a part of beyond their will, as they etch out the path which brought them to the current moment of creation. What drives you, pushes you, frustrates you?

I was such a rebel. I was punk. I was angry. I was Sex Pistols. I was The Ramones. I wanted to kick doors down. You have a fury that no one has articulated, put into words, taught you how to channel, and so now you go about the world like a loose cannon, which is what I did, looking to find where you can sort of catalyze all of this energy. ~ Michelle García

Michelle came from a small Texas town that in one narrative would have been a footnote, but in today’s climate of immigrant controversy, of demonizing the other, has taken on a more relevant meaning.

To be able to write about where I was from, was, in a way, to capture a spirit of storytelling, a spirit of what it means to be a journalist, in a way that I had not known before. ~Michelle García

Is that true in your case? Is place a character in your story? A character that’s woven into the fabric of your storyline? How has your origin story shaped the reality of your present moment? The role that it plays is often overlooked or sidelined by speakers/writers. Don’t let it take a back seat. It’s part of your truth.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Interviewing From a Historical Perspective

The process of crafting an impactful story often begins with identifying events and insights from your life’s journey, but such stories become more compelling and diverse when they include the experiences of others, as additional voices will broaden and deepen the narrative landscape, allowing audience’s to better understand the point you’re proposing, or the lessons you have learned.

One way to do this is by interviewing people who can offer listeners/readers a perspective that expands beyond yours. As with the disciplines of writing and speaking, interviewing is an art form that one must study and practice. When clients ask me how to conduct interviews I steer them to the On Being podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett.

Her interviews with renowned scholars, writers, poets, scientists, and religious leaders explore the most fundamental and profound questions. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? If you’re looking to sharpen your storytelling skills, consider this podcast is an interviewing masterclass.

The podcast recently replayed a timely episode recorded on November 17, 2016: This History is Long; This History Is Deep – it’s an interview with Isabel Wilkerson. By reading the transcript while listening you can identify when Krista is diving deeper into a particular topic, or moving their conversation into new territory.

…our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. ~ Isabel Wilkerson

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