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How To Tell Better Stories


When I was a kid I loved stories. I loved hearing stories but I specifically loved hearing people tell me a story, books were good. TV shows, movies were all great busy could sit and listen to friends tell me stories what felt like forever. And not all my friends could do that but I wanted to learn how's to do that. I wanted to be a storyteller and wanted to tell stories the way that they could capture my attention by just telling me a story. I didn't need the visuals. I just wanted to be engulfed in the thing they were doing. But as a kid. I was not skilled in that way. I still don't feel like I am. I didn't speak really well. I often mumbled and when I was really young, in first grade I was held back in first grade not because of poor performance in work or getting in trouble mark. I was literally held back in first grade because I didn't have friends. My teacher said I was too shy to move to the next grade and they wanted me to repeat first grade so that I could just be a little more -- get more friends and learn how to talk to other kids and how to interact with other kids.

And growing up that felt really weird to me but it also cemented that I'm not a person that can tell these stories. As I got older, I found a group that I thought would teach me how to do that. And that thing was theater.

Many people I know might relate to that, you go into theater and you think I'm going to get to stage and memorize lines and have the spotlight on me, I'm going to learn how to tell a story on stage in front of people. I found something else in theater and be back stage and you could be back stage and wear all black and no one looked at you and you were invisible but helped create a story, helped create something behind the scenes and that attracted me more than -- I was still too scared to kind of get out there and be on stage and I wanted to be invisible behind the scenes. I guarantee that led directly to be becoming a back end engineer. At some point those things just kind of made sense to me that behind the scenes that I was someone helping create something but I was invisible. I was in all black and I didn't have to take the stage and present the story because that was scary.

As a back end engineer that eventually led me to a new job I work with best story tellers, Disney animation create my most beloved stories from childhood and I knew when I started in that building I had to learn from those story tellers. What was it that gave them the talent to tell those stories the way they did. I walk into that building the first day. I log into my computer and there is a -- first day on the job. Thought it was a joke. The meeting said big hero 6. It was the movie we were working on at the time. I knew nothing about it. I said what's this Big Hero 6 meeting at 10:00 a.m. he said I want you to go watch the movie and learn how we create movies here and learn how we create the film and story. I said I don't know if you know but it's not out yet. It's not ready. It's still in production. Yes, I know. There's theater in the lobby and you can go watch the film. Has to be a trick. There's no way I'm falling for that. I'm not getting in trouble on my first day. He assured me 100% real. I should go watch the film. I go and sit in the theater and watch the film and I'm completely blown away and amazed by how bad that movie is. I watched the movie and I was speechless. I said I don't know what to say. This movie has to come out in six months and it's really bad. Probably one of the worst films I had seen at is that point and end of screening they handed me a piece of paper said here you go. This is for your notes. I didn't know what that meant or where to start. Only inclination was to write "You need to start over because this was bad."

I threw away the piece of paper. I don't know what they're going to do but I hope they can solve it.

Six month later the movie comes out.

And it wins an Oscar for best animated feature film. It -- I hold that Oscar. Very first Oscar I ever held. When they win the Oscar, everyone in the studio that helps create the film, you get to go and hold the Oscar. Not on stage, but they bring it to you. I don't know how they turned the thing I saw in that screening to the thing that was actually created at the end. I thought these story tellers are amazing because I don't know if they had a rookie doing it at first and then pulled in the people who actually knew what they were doing. But I had to figure this out.

Short while letter I got to have lunch with Ed Catmull, the president of Disney Animation. But he also created Pixar studios with Steve Jobs and Jon Lasseter. This created Pixar. And I got to have lunch and easily the smartest person I've met in person and I'm absorbing everything he's saying and this man had been creating, he created how 3D rendering works in the '60s and '70s. I don't know how you thought of this stuff but super insightful and I asked him what is the difference between Pixar and Disney? He told me when he came to Disney which was a decade or so after starting Pixar, he said there was something peculiar about how they created stories, every movie has a timeline of when the story needs to be done. This moment that here's where we start and here's where we end. But at Disney, they had a moment in between, they had a marker that was just there that said this is where the story has to reset. Don't know exactly where it is.

But somewhere in here the story is going to blowup and it's going to be terrible. And Disney expected it. Disney knew it was going to happen. At Pixar they had the same problem with story. Every movie had the same problem but they didn't expect it. They weren't ready for it. Though always fought through it and they said we have to be able to get through this piece of story. It's a piece we can't figure it out. But at Disney they said we're going to take everything we learned and applied it to this other piece and we're going to apply it from scratch. And that was the biggest difference from Pixar and Disney. I couldn't believe that these great story tellers would expect their stories to suck. They expected that at some point they just were going to throw it away. All the work was going to lead up to something new was going to emerge, I was like that was amazing to me.

I didn't know how to reconcile that with my own ability to not even create the first part of the story, not even think of the stories but then apply it and think if their story sucks, what am I going to do? Little while after that I get another meeting on my calendar and this says raffle breaks the Internet. Story. Ralph. The movie Ralph breaks the Internet. The story development needs your help to craft part of the story. No way. Out of the question, I am not a storyteller. This movie is going to fail. If anything depends on my ability to tell a story, had a good run, shut down the studio, hundred years now. We're done. I go to the meeting anyway. I'm there with the producers, writers, director for Ralph breaks the Internet. Is they said we need you to tell us how the Internet works, how viruses work and how malware works.

We need to craft it into the story. I know how that stuff works. I don't know how you're going to it in the story but let's figure it out. 3 hour meeting to this day is the best meeting I had in my life. I came out of that meeting so excited for what the story was going to be. Whether they used the information or not, the fact that they wanted to learn so much more about how to be accurate in their story telling, blew me away to say okay, the thing is that these people actually have. The talent in this building, there are talented story tellers but the thing that they do consistently over and over again is the process of story telling. They know the elements. They have ideas.

But the process they go from beginning to the end is the piece that makes amazing stories, my time at Disney was very short because I knew I had to go back to stories. I had to find a way to tell my own stories. I shifted into developer advocacy role. I like doing back end engineering but I knew I wanted to craft stories and help people with stories, writing software and putting it together to understand how things work. That's where I switched out becoming a back end engineer and now I have some of the information, some tools to know it it's okay if my stories suck and it's okay if I don't have the answer of how to put the beginning and end together.

But the process I learned working alt Disney and multiple books and workshops and talking to people is helping me to finally become a storyteller. And that's why I'm here. That's why I'm here today to help you also learn you have amazing stories and there's a formula in process you can do to share the screen now. Thank you. So we have limited time and I'm going to stick to just things that have helped me elevate stories the fastest with just going from scratch. Process, having stories, collecting stories, these things matter.

Feel free to ask questions in the chat. I'm going to go through basics here. What actually makes a good story or better story. If you have one thing to add to every story is conflict. Conflict is the thing you're fighting against, the thing that you're overcoming. I need big conflict like end of the world or humanity. No, no, conflict can be really small. It can be very small things. Some say the thing you use to add conflict is use the word "but." You just say I was doing a thing but this other thing happened. This was the state of the world but I can't do that any more. That adds conflict. That one word is your conflict. If you only add one thing to a story add conflict. Two things? Add change. A change in yourself is almost always the change that you're looking for.

Pretty much every good story, every major movie has arcs. There's a change that happens for them and a lot is really short. They were something before and now they're something different. That change is a direct correlation to the conflict. I had to make a decision to overcome the conflict. But the actual thing that matters is how they changed. That's how you relate to people. I don't always relate to the conflict. I relate to how someone changed. I wasn't a storyteller before. But now I am. Third thing three things you need. Stakes.

Why is that change important? Why is the thing you change or conflict you overcame important? I can change. I can change who I think I am and it's not important. No stakes. I decided to have cereal for the rest of my life for breakfast instead of eggs. Doesn't matter. I changed who I was because changed my diet. Having stakes is the hardest thing and a personal thing. The stakes are an emotional connection to how and why the change happened. Let's go through an example of a story many of you might be familiar with and see how it relates to these three things of the story.

I'm talking about the movie right now because it's that more people relate to. What's the story about? Dinosaurs. It's about dinosaurs. That's what it's about. Kind of. There's a main character in it. Ellen. What's the conflict in the story? What is the conflict? Not a trick question. The conflict is dinosaurs.

They might be eaten if they don't get over this change they don't figure out how they have to change. Everyone in the story deals with it differently but we're going to focus on Alan as the main character of the story. What is the change that he goes through? Alan. I can represent the entire arc of this character and change that happens in three screen shots. Okay?

First of all, Alan, beginning of the movie. He's a paleontologist. Digs up dinosaur bones and doesn't like kids. He scares a kid with a raptor claw. He does not like kids and he likes his work, that's what he wants to do. Turns out dinosaurs are alive and the work he's done ask a little less relevant -- is a little less. He might need to find a new job. That is one thing he has to overcome. Second is he has to decide that he actually likes kids. He love these kids. He's in a try, looking at the same claw. Beginning of the movie he's looking at it with two kids he just rescued them from a T Rex and electric fences and he throws the claw. He doesn't need it any more.

That's not his job any more. His job is irrelevant. He hated kids and now he goes through this. At the end more i to complete the arc, these kids are here and he's happy with these kids. They've escaped. They're safe. He's happy he's looking at his girlfriend and this is what life is about. Five second moment of change was in that tree. What are the stakes? The third piece. Why do we care Alan changed? His job, the love of his life and girlfriend at the time and happiness as a human being. This is why that mattered to him. This was a situation. We don't relate to the conflict. Conflict situations are in. Situation, to situation, carries the story along of who is Alan becoming?

There's someone else in the story in the movie that didn't change. The hunter, I don't remember his name. He's like I know how these velociraptors work. He did not change. He went to hunt them in the jungle and what happens? They outsmart him. Clever girl. He changed too late. He noticed that he thought he was an amazing hunter and better than all these animals and he knew better and he realized he had to change. If he would have changed he would have survived but his arc did not complete. Did not change.

You can take something like I learn to love kids. Might have been a car accident or something did. Not dinosaurs, you can relate to the movie with emotion and arc of that change. I'm already at time and there's so many things we can talk about with stories, please ask your these are the three things you need. Any moment in your life. Any time you feel like you changed as a person. Figure out these three things, collect that story. Figure out when you changed and what conflict you overcame that drove that change and why that change was important. If you have those three things you can make very memorable stories. People are amazing at finding patterns and figure out why it is that oh, yeah, I do that too and you can tell your own story in your own way with these three things and your stories are going to be so much better. That's all I have. Thank you.