Saturday, June 2, 2012

How do you tell a story?

I met an employee of Pixar, yes that Pixar, at a Memorial Day picnic. Purely out of self-serving interest, I asked how stories could get pitched to the studios (I'd like to make a movie someday and figured why not ask). The answer:

You don't.

Pixar is strictly in-house. Anyone can come up with an idea, and then send it to the folks who work in 'Story'. If it passes muster there, it'll advance up the chain until it gets killed or gets a green light. And thus Nemo is born, along with all the others. They've even got this nifty piece of paper that you have to sign if you happen to mention a story idea within earshot of a Pixar employee (and are cognizant of that person's status as such). If you do mention a story idea to them, you have to sign the paper, which states that they, the Pixar employee, did not hear you say what you said. Ah, America. Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, and Cesspool of the Frivolously Litigious. Well, it's good to know that Pixar takes steps to protect itself. I like their movies, for the most part.

The whole process got me thinking about storytelling in a big way though. I was also led down this path by a book review I've done as a favor, and for a book that contains zero elements of good storytelling.

How do you tell a story? What goes into it?

Ta-da! Pixar to the rescue:

#4 stood out to me, as I've been struggling with leading my various plot threads to a unified point as I approach the final act of my novel. Somehow all of the people and events have to come together and make sense. And while I would like to invoke the ghost of Nero Wolfe and gather them all into a room together for the grand revelation, that just won't work with my story. It's got gods in it, it does, and they take up a lot of space. Far too much to accommodate other people in a room with them all.

So I went back and looked at my WIP and then I looked at that list of storytelling rules Pixar was so kind to share. I came up with this:

Once upon a time there was a hardboiled newshawk named Mitchell Brand. Everyday he broadcast live reports and special bulletins about crime in Chicago, all from his desk and radio set aboard the Airship Vigilance (yes, name change. Everquest the MMORPG has an airship Vigilant, need to fix the blog title, I know).

One day, Mitchell Brand got the scoop on the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. Because of that, the mob came after him, his boss told him to cool it, and the Mayor was assassinated. Because of that, the real powers that be came to Chicago to set things right, which sent the mob running for cover and left Mitchell Brand with his hands full of nothing, until finally he learns the truth about who runs the show in Chicago and risks his life to get the news out to the people.

So how do you tell a story? What's your story about?

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