Andrew Stanton on Storytelling

 In Screenplay Blog

Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning and nothing has a greater affirmation than when we connect with stories. It can cross the barriers of time — past, present, and future, and allow us to experience the similarities of ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

Make the audience care

The audience wants to work, they just don’t want to know they’re doing it. Good stories have a well-organized absence of information. When a compelling character can’t completely express what they’re feeling, the audience can’t help but think and fill in the pieces.

What makes a great character?

All well drawn characters have a spine, an inner motor. In The Godfather trilogy, Michael Corleone wanted to please his father, even after his father’s death. Wall-E’s was to find beauty. In Toy Story, Woody simply wanted to do what’s best for Andy.

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty

  • Have you made me want to know what happens next?
  • Have you made me want to know what happens in the end?
  • Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in the outcome?

Storytelling has guidelines, not hard and fast rules

When the folks at Pixar started out with Toy Story, they imposed five rules for their story that defied the conventions of animated films:

  1. No songs
  2. No “I want” moments
  3. No happy village
  4. No love story
  5. No villain

The secret ingredient

Wonder is honest. It’s completely innocent. It can’t be artificially invoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive reaches you almost on a cellular level. And when an artist does that to another artist, it’s like you’re compelled to pass it on.

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