Telling a Good Story

In addition to reading and writing, I also love to watch movies. I enjoy many different types of movies, but I have the best experience with movies when I can watch them with my husband. He prefers action and suspense movies (with a little horror or questionable 70’s movie thrown in) and I prefer intelligent comedies and independent films (with a little romance or animated movie thrown in).

Often it is difficult for us to agree on a movie to watch. Most of the time, we take turns choosing the movie. He is willing to try my recommendations from Filmspotting, the movie podcast I listen to. I am willing to try the movies that peak his interest after searching the OnDemand or Netflix listings.

So as you can imagine, some movies I like, some he likes, some neither of us like, and some we both like. For the movies that we both like, the commonality seems to be one thing: a good story. And how do we appreciate a good story? Good storytelling.

Whether it be movies or books, what engages me most is how the story is told. Is it suspenseful? Is it funny? Are there engaging characters? Does it show me a compelling situation/location/condition that I have never seen? Or does it resonate within me… something I have experienced myself?

So assuming the critical elements are there to capture my interest, the next key is to KEEP my interest. The story needs to keep me engaged throughout. After all, I do have the option to turn it off (or walk out of the theater) at any time. The often short attention span of a viewer demands that something happen. Frequently.

Cover of

Cover of Meet the Robinsons

Follow all that? Let me use one of my family’s favorite movies as an example. Meet the Robinsons (2007) is on frequent rotation in our house. It is the story of Cornelius (or Lewis, as he prefers), an orphan with a brilliant mind. IMDB describes the story as:

Lewis is a brilliant inventor who meets mysterious stranger named Wilbur Robinson, whisking Lewis away in a time machine and together they team up to track down Bowler Hat Guy in a showdown that ends with an unexpected twist of fate.

So what makes the telling of this story so interesting? With a close look, the elements of the story are clear. Lewis wants to be a part of a family. Everything else in the story drives towards that. His creativity and inventing brings him closer to finding a family that is the right fit for him. He is challenged to fix a time machine to save the day, gaining confidence in himself. Lewis is forced to confront the Bowler Hat Guy and the role he has played in his life. All of these actions happen to drive the story forward.

As writers, we can look for examples of excellent storytelling all around us. Great stories told well can be found in movies, in books, in short stories, even in the family tales told by Aunt Eleanor every year at Thanksgiving.

For more thoughts on storytelling and pacing, check out this article about how Pixar approaches the development of its stories.

What captures you when hearing/reading/watching a story? What makes you want to hear/read/watch them again and again?

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