Monday, September 9, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Storytelling

By Dan Haring

I'm lucky enough to work in animation and make movies for a living. It's a fantastic job and for the most part I love it. But one downfall about the part of the production I'm in is that by the time the shots reach my department, the story is more or less set in stone. I do lighting and compositing, which is basically the last step of the animation pipeline. So shots go through screenwriters and storyboard artists and animators and the director by the time they come to me, and my main two goals are 1: Make it look awesome and, 2: Make sure the storytelling comes through clearly. So I have an important part to play in the storytelling process, but I don't actually have any say in what's happening in the story. And that's fine. I'm not trying to complain. But I have to admit it's frustrating sometimes to be working on a shot that contains a joke or story elements that to me just don't work. But again, I'm not trying to complain. I will make that fart joke scene look as beautiful as possible, and I'll do it happily.

But that's one of the reasons I write and make my own stories. Not that I'm better than the professional screenwriters and storyboard artists that work on these movies, but because I can have the freedom to craft the story and lead it in the direction I want to go. When I was working at Disney, from time to time they would showcase different departments and what part they played in the film-making process. Being someone who loves writing and loves story, I was always really interested when it was the Story Department's turn to be highlighted. One time they gave out a packet of "Story Flashcards". I've kept them with me and once in awhile will read through them as a refresher to what some of the important elements of story are. It's interesting that these are universal ideas, not just meant for one form of storytelling or another. So I thought I'd share a few of them here.

I think most of the time the audience/reader is right there with the main character and what he/she thinks and wants. As we throw wrenches in those plans, the character is going to react a certain way, and hopefully the reader is able to feel at least a small part of that same emotion.

Your characters' true selves will be revealed by the choices they make. It's not about the game they talk, it's about what they do when they're up against a wall. And, as we know from Batman, this is true in real life too. (Batman is totally real life)

And finally,

This one goes hand in hand with the last one, and I know you've probably heard it a million times. But it's still relevant. Don't tell me that this character is smart/funny/good/bad/whatever, SHOW me. It, along with my love/hate relationship with adverbs, is something I struggle with. But it's always more effective to show what you want to say instead of just saying it. It's not going to be easier, but it will be better.

I hope these help a little. I know they have for me, and I'll keep revisiting them until I get them right.


Jordan Dane said...

Great tips, Dan. I think you have an awesome job, especially since you have such an analytical mind and know how to apply what you see to how you write. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Ilsa said...

Excellent, Dan. All storytellers need to follow this advice.

Dan Haring said...

Thank you Jordan! I'm really lucky to have my job, and it's definitely cool to be able to analyze things from this side. Hopefully it makes my writing better :)

Thank you Ilsa!