Start Your Week Off Write: How To Tell The Best Story Ever

I had a great Easter weekend visiting with my children. Artist Daughter came with her husband Saint Nick, Musician Daughter and her hubby Musician-in-Law drove in from out of state and Poet Son tagged along. Catching up, laughing at funny movies and lots of good food were the order of the day.

The center of attention, however, was grandson Destined-To-Be A-Musician. At 8 months old, he already knows how to work a room. He also needs a constant stream of input when he’s not eating or sleeping, whether it be ‘talking’ with someone, playing with a toy or grabbing his toes. I found a video on YouTube that he enjoyed for a minute or two. It had all the elements that eight month-olds need: bright primary colors, happy music, animated critters and a simple storyline. Destined-To-Be-A-Musician was completely entranced with the minute and a half musical ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’. The video was very creative, You can check it out here.

I was contemplating the longevity and popularity of the nursery rhyme. Why has it survived at least 100 years (that they can trace)? It has all the important elements of a good story like: an underdog protagonist, action, danger, and a happy ending (the spider gets to climb the spout again!) It also reminded me of a great TED talk I watched online from Andrew Stanton, writer-director-producer for Pixar.  He gave a talk about the clues to a great story. I really encourage you to watch the entire talk, it was very inspirational (warning: small bit of rude language).

TED Talk with Andrew Stanton The Clues to a Great Story

To summarize, Andrew says the best stories:

  • Make a promise at the beginning and are faithful to keep it
  • Infuse wonder
  • Capture a truth
  • Have characters with a spine
  • Show characters’ driving choices come from an itch they can’t scratch
  • Have a strong theme running through the story
  • Make the reader/viewer work for their meal without making it obvious
  • Make you care

I’m always on the lookout to learn and make my writing better. I thought this was a great list to keep in mind when writing stories and reading them. Of course Andrew had a lot of good Pixar stories to illustrate his points, like Finding Nemo and Toy Story. It got me thinking what stories in books or film are great stories for these reasons.

Some books I thought of were the novels of Charles Dickens from the classics and an awesome book from contemporary literature called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. A film that comes to mind right away is The Lord of The Rings series (which of course qualifies for the book category as well.)  

Question: What are your picks for books or films that meet Andrew Stanton’s criteria for a great story?

5 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: How To Tell The Best Story Ever

  1. Great post, Kristin. I think if I had to choose (and not just because you talked about Itsy Bitsy Spider) the best story that comes to mind for me is Charlotte’s Web. It always amazes me how much I remember, so many details and actions and characters, even though I’ve only read it a couple of times–once in about 3rd grade, and much later when my daughter was around four (she’s mid-20s now, so that tells you the staying power this story has for me). Beyond that, Itsy Bitsy Spider was always a favorite of mine as a kid (even though I’m terrified of real spiders! Eek!) because it had a short rhyming song and–best of all–there was finger movement that went with it.


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