11 Tips to Write Your Own StoryThese storytelling basics from a Pixar artist apply just as well to business--and life By Jeff Haden
1. You admire a character for trying more than for their success.
Trying something easy and succeeding is satisfying in the moment, but ultimately fleeting. Trying something really hard, even if you fail, is something you--and others--will remember forever.
Growth is a result of the effort, not the success.
2. Trying for theme is important, but you won't know what the story is about until you reach the end of it.
What you actually say and do is really who you are, not what you say you are. Decide who you are and act that way every day.
Only then will others will see you the way you see yourself.
3. Simplify. Focus. Combine.
What you leave out, what you put aside, and what you choose not to do frees you up to do what you really need to do.
Try to do too much and you do almost nothing. Do a few things and you can do them all extremely well.
4. What is your character comfortable with? Challenge it. How does it deal?
We fly our true colors in a crisis. Otherwise calm people freak out after an accident. Nice people turn ugly when confronted. Braggarts shrink in the face of danger.
What you do under stress defines you.
5. Come up with your ending before you figure our your middle.
Decide how you want your story to end and work backwards. Every decision along the way will be a lot easier to make.
6. When you're stuck, put together a list of what WOULDN'T happen next.
Figuring out the best thing to do can be hard. Start with something easier. Write down what you know won't work. Write down what you think you shouldn't do.
Sometimes you'll realize what you assumed wouldn't work will. Other times you'll discover a better option.
Either way you'll be in motion. Motion generates ideas.
7. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is part of you.
We admire people because we recognize something in them we see in ourselves: A quality we recognize, a quality we someday hope to possess, or a dream we share.
Don't just admire a person or a business. Think hard about why you admire them, and do more of what you admire. Take the best from others and make it your own.
8. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.
Every idea is great as long as it stays in your mind. Stories are based on actions, not ideas--turn your ideas into actions that you can then improve.
Plus the pain of regret is much worse than the pain of effort.
Do everything you can to avoid looking back and thinking, "I wonder what would have happened if I had just tried...?"
9. Give your character opinions. Passive and malleable is poison to the audience.
You don't need to please everyone. You can't. And you shouldn't try, especially if that means compromising your beliefs, ethics, or point of view.
Be courteous. Be considerate. Be professional.
And be yourself.
10. Know the difference between doing your best and fussing.
If no one will notice the result of additional effort but--maybe--you, it's time to let go.
You can refine it more later, based on the opinion that really matters: your customers.
11. What is the belief burning in you that your story feeds off?
Go through the motions and your story isn't just boring to everyone else.
It's boring to you.
What could ever be worse than that?
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson