Great Storytelling 101 (or: We've Forgotten How to Tell Stories)

I love this quote from Steven Spielberg, because it’s so true:

People have forgotten how to tell a story.

I recently watched a critique of the Star Wars prequel, hoping for a few laughs, but discovered an AMAZING teaching tool for novelists and other storytellers.

You may have been told a million times about the elements of a great story (e.g., protagonist, conflict), but this 9-minute clip has an immediate way of showing you what happens when those elements are missing! Fabulous.

(Note: Try to get past the odd, somewhat off-putting beginning.)

(Also note: This is just Part 1 of a 7-part series. All parts are worth reviewing for storytelling lessons.)

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0 thoughts on “Great Storytelling 101 (or: We've Forgotten How to Tell Stories)

  1. Ben Whiting

    The presentation is definitely annoying and offensive in places (though humorous at times), but so much of what he said in critique of the film was spot on.

    The bit on characters was great. People should be able to describe your characters based on their personality and goals, not just their outfit.

    And the discussion of lightsaber duels in part 6 was really good as well. The action scene should always serve deeper story purposes–physical confrontation should be used to enhance and illustrate the central conflicts of the story.

    This review also serves as a reminder to use a heaping dose of common sense when constructing plots and having characters make decisions. Asking "why?" constantly would have highlighted so many of the problems that bogged down this film.

  2. dave malone

    This is (insert appropriate expletive) great. Thanks for sharing, Jane. I’m going to show it in the film class I teach next spring. I got chills seeing the old Star Wars clips–and I’ve seen the first film, easily more than 50 times, which says something for that story! The narrator for this is dead on. I thought it quite hilarious that he kept mispronouncing prototagaoneest.

  3. Jane Friedman

    Thanks everyone for your comments!

    @Bill – Good note about the R-rated material. Need to be attentive and point that out next time. I wish the guy didn’t feel it necessary to include that other material.

    @Noel – Classic hero quest, yes! There’s a wonderful book, The Writer’s Journey, that breaks down the elements for writers/screenwriters in a very effective way. It’s basically a cliff notes to the Campbell book on myth.

    To all – Even though I usually don’t like using films as a way to show how to write better, the truth is that in today’s culture/market, films have created a lot of expectations (both good & bad) about how stories should be constructed.

    And, in the end, storytelling principles are the same no matter what medium you’re using.

  4. Therese Milstein

    That was excellent! Even though the narrator pretends to be unable to say "protagonist", he articulates the problem of not having one, along with a missing coherent plot. I loved the original trilogy and hated the prequels, but didn’t take the movie apart to figure out why. I’ll keep this in mind when making sure my characters are relatable and my plot, clear. Thanks for a great laugh.

  5. Bill Peschel

    It should be noted that some of the comic elements this guy brings to his critique are not for children (including uses of the F-bomb, a long scene in the basement with a captive woman, and a bloody bathtub).

    OTOH, this guy is not only on-target with his critique of Phantom Menace, he is spot-on with the storytelling lessons fiction writers need. Parts 1 and 2 should be required viewing, as well as part 6 about the role of duels in storytelling.

    This site contains links to all seven viddys:

    http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/12/17/watch-this-70-minute-video-review-of-star-wars-the-phantom-menace/

  6. Noel

    While lugubrious beyond belief, this is spot on.

    My younger son and I have this argument a great deal. I won’t see films that are based on animation vs. story since effects take over.

    The original Star Wars trilogy was entirely borrowed from ever classic hero/quest story in existence, with a very large nod to samurai films. However, they worked.

    The (god this is so pretentious I can’t believe I’m even typing it) "prequel" is every bit as bad as this deeply depressed narrator says it is, and for all the reasons he says it is.

    (I’m truly sorry about his son.)

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