Saturday, July 21, 2012

Life Lessons

Tomorrow night I am giving my 8th speech in my Toastmasters Group. Three more speeches to be deemed a "competent communicator". Woot. I love my group, and have gone from thinking I will throw up before a speech, to enjoying the experience and having fun with it. I hope this will translate into pitching scripts, which was my reason for going. I couldn't have gotten worse. And the fact that I'm not obsessing, feeling ill, or getting nervous ticks indicates I've come a long way baby.

In any case, my speech tomorrow night is about storytelling, and what life lessons it's taught me, so I thought I'd post it, as I've been slack with the posts, and what the hell, I'm a lazy ass and this is already written.

I have been learning how to write screenplays for a while now,  through books, university courses, online courses, seminars, coaches, consultants, managers, agents, website and webinars. For the most part, from what I can see, there’s a definitive way to tell a good story.

You have a beginning, something happens, there's trouble, it goes from bad to worse, then completely horribly wrong, there's a choice, fight back, a crisis, win/lose something (often both), a resolution.

That’s pretty much how most stories go. Give or take.

But a good story isn’t just structure. And here’s where storytelling gets interesting. The art of good storytelling is in engaging the audience. Somehow, they have to connect to the story. Become emotionally invested.

How does a storyteller do that? I've narrowed it down to three things.

ONE. Characters. You love them, hate them, they make you laugh or cry. And here’s the catch. The best characters have flaws. They are not perfect. We don’t find perfect characters interesting or endearing. What we find engaging in characters are their flaws more than their virtues.

For example:
Captain Jack Sparrow. He is a bit nasty, and a drunk. But we love him.
Indiana Jones. He’s a thief. Grave robber. Cocky. And he can’t hang onto anything he steels.
Batman. He’s out for revenge. He’s emotionally unstable.

TWO. Villains. We love good villains. Really bad, scare the pants off you, terrifying evil people. Because we love to see them defeated. The bader the better. The stronger they are, the more we want them taken down. The harder it seems for the good guy to win, the sweeter their victory will be.

For Example:
Jaws. That shark is terrifying. Who didn't cheer when that sucker blew up?
Hannibal Lecter. He’s a frickin' nightmare. And a starling has to take him down.
Darth Vadar. He is not just the baddest ass villain, he's your father. Say no more.

THREE. Relationships. We love to watch how characters relate to each other in a story. We want them to have someone to share a revelation with. Or a moment of glory, or the aftermath of victory. Love. Friendships. Rivalry. We can connect to characters based on the relationships in their lives.

For example:
Obviously the romantic comedies like Pretty Woman. And buddy movies like Men In Black, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But take an action movie.
Die Hard. If his wife wasn’t in the building, and we weren’t already hoping they would get back together, it wouldn’t have mattered as much if he won.
The Hunger Games. It’s a sci fi action adventure. But the thing that kept me hooked through the story is who will she end up with? And I loved her because of her unconditional love and sacrifice for her sister.

So, to recap…

1. Being perfect is over rated. It’s boring, and no one will find you interesting.

2. Getting something good is sweeter with sacrifice and hardship. We like to earn our glory. We find it more satisfying to work for it than to have it handed to us.

3. Ultimately, what matters the most to us, are the people in our lives. Without someone to share the ups and downs with, the hardships and the glory, life can be a bit shallow.

Storytelling has taught me to embrace my flaws, welcome my challenges, and enjoy the people in my life. These are the key ingredients to my own good story.