Friday, November 16

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Andrew Stanton was "the second animator and ninth employee to join Pixar Animation Studios".
He was designer and writer on Toy Story (1995), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He went on to write and direct such worldwide hits as A Bug's Life (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL·E (2008), the latter two both winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature. (Andrew Stanton, IMDb)
Not many people can say they've won two Oscars. Here are some of Mr. Stanton's words of wisdom for the struggling wordsmith:

Everything Must Lead To A Goal

Everything you write, from the first to the last, leads to a singular goal. Ideally, it confirms some truth, it deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.

Make Your Reader Care

We connect to other people through stories.

Your readers want you to make them care. They want to care emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically.

The Promise Scene

A promise scene is a scene at the beginning of a story that assures your readers/viewers that your tale will be worth their time. For instance, some stories begin with a storyteller, a guy at a bar saying, "Here, let me tell you a story." That's a promise.

Andrew Stanton remarked that a well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshopt. It propells you though thestory to the end.

Make The Reader Work For It

Your reader wants to work for their meal, so to speak. They just don't want to know that's what they're doing.

We're born problem solvers. It's what we do. We deduce, we deduct. It is the well organized ABSENCE of information that draws us in.

Andrew Stanton calls this the Unifying Theory of 2+2. Make the audience put things together. Don't give them 4, give them 2+2.

Stories are inevitable, if they're good, but they're never predictable.

Well Drawn Characters Have A 'Spine'

Judith Weston talks of characters having a "spine".  Andrew Stanton describes this as an inner motivation, a dominant unconscious goal they're striving for. It's an itch they can't scratch.

For instance, Wally's inner motivation is to find the beauty, Merlin's is to prevent harm. Woody wants to do what's best for Andy.

(To read more about this idea see Judith Weston's book The Film Director's Intuition.)

Like us, characters often aren't consciously aware of their inner motivation. A major thereshold is passed when we mature enough to acknowledge what drives us and to take the wheel and steer it.

As in life, change is fundamental in story because life is never static.

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

 Honest conflict creates doubt in what the outcome might be.

Pixar's Rules of Storytelling

 Since it's beginning, Pixar had certain rules:
1. No songs
2. No 'I want' moment
3. No happy village
4. No love story
5. No villain.
In the first year, Pixar's story wasn't working and Disney was panicking. But they believed in themselves and they figured it out.

Remember: Storytelling has guidelines NOT hard and fast rules.

Some people will tell you there's no secret to storytelling. That's hogwash. There is a secret and this is it: Instilling WONDER in your audience. Wonder is honest and innocent. Watch Bambi. The very best stories are infused with a sense of wonder.

Here's another secret:

Capture a truth from your experience and use it to drive your story

Andrew Stanton's parents told him he had been born so premature their doctor didn't believe he would live. But he did. He was given a second chance, a chance he is grateful for. Andrew Stanton used this private truth to infuse emotion into a pivotal scene in finding Nemo.

Don't be shy, use the values you personally hold.

Andrew Stanton's TED Talk

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 29,012 words and hope to reach 31k tonight. (Yea!) Last night I tried Jeffrey's Scott's outlining method in Excel. Wow! It was a revelation. I'm kicking myself for not doing something like this before. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl.)

Other articles you might like:

- Andrew Stanton's advice is very similar to that given by Donald Maass: Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page.
- Story tips from Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story.
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman

Photo credit: "0216" by Cia de Foto under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0.


  1. Most of the concepts Stanton talks about are not new, but he packages them in a delicious way. I think that is one of the best lessons to take from this.

    1. He is an excellent speaker. Thanks for your comment, Sam.


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