Deirdre Moore | April 2016

Storytelling Tips from a Master

Ever hear of a little movie called “Toy Story”? How about “Finding Nemo”? “Wall-E”? They were all created by Andrew Stanton who knows a thing or two about weaving compelling storytelling tips. The better we as educators really understand storytelling tips, the better we can guide our students to tell their stories in a way that draws people in and keeps them there. I highly recommend his TEDTalk, “The Clues to a Great Story.” (Just a caution that his talk starts with a dirty joke so you may want to watch the talk at home!) Here are some highlights from that talk – tips from the master.

  • Know your punchline. Storytelling is a joke where you need to know that everything you say is leading up to a single goal.
  • “Make me care.” Engage me in some way so that I care about your story.
  • Draw them in with a promise. The beginning of the story should indicate that this story is worth sticking around for which Stanton says can be done as simply as “once upon a time.”
  • Make your audience work for it without them knowing they are working. Give them 2+2, not 4. People like to figure things out but the magic is having your audience thinking without them knowing they are doing it.
  • Your character should have a spine. Stanton talked about an acting teacher, Judith Weston, who helped him realize that every character must have an itch to scratch, the one thing that drives them to do what they do, a solitary motivation.
  • Change is fundamental. People never stop changing or learning so your story has to keep changing, your characters have to keep learning.
  • Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” This is Stanton quoting a British playwright, William Archer. Stanton adds that there needs to be a short-term anticipation for each scene but also an over-arching uncertainty that drives the audience to stay with the story until the end.
  • Make your character likable, not perfect. Stanton describes that Woody from Toy 
Story has lots of great qualities but he is selfish in that he can only show those great qualities if he can stay the top toy to his little boy.
  • “A strong theme is always running through a well-told story.” This is a direct quote from Stanton. Enough said.
  • “The best stories infuse wonder.” Another direct quote from Stanton. He talks about seeing “Bambi” as a child and the wonder he felt watching that movie. I love that he talks about a sense of duty to take that experience and provide it to others. As he said, “Do unto others what’s been done to you.”
  • “Use what you know.” Yet another direct quote. But I like that he goes on to clarify that this does not necessarily mean plot or fact. Stanton explains that you just need to have at the center of your story a truth, your truth.

Of course, Stanton also points out in his TED Talk and storytelling tips that there is no scientific formula for a great story, only guidelines. After all, storytelling is not a science, it’s an art.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.