Do you consider learning from people outside of your own industry? When you’re already considered an expert in your field, one of the best learning opportunities is with experts in other fields!
Often, many of their hard-learned principles apply in your field more easily than you’d think. Two weeks ago, Patricia Fripp and I went to a Screenwriters’ Summit in Las Vegas. It was set up much like Lady and the Champs, where they had five World-Class Experts at one event. I was excited to sit ‘at the feet of masters’ and be a hungry student.
Who were the masters? Syd Field, John Truby, Linda Seger, Christopher Vogler, and Michael Hauge were in town. You may not have heard of them, even though they’re each outstanding representatives of the industry we call Hollywood. They teach and coach screenwriters, much like World Champions’ EDGE teaches and coaches presenters.
I was familiar with two of them. In a lucky conversation with a famous Hollywood star (who asked me to not use her name), she had advised me to get Sid Field’s The Screenwriter’s Workbook. I knew of Michael Hauge from Fripp’s interview with him for the EDGE community (find their conversation at www.WorldChampionsEDGE.com). Each of them has too many distinguished credits to list here.
What did I learn from them? First, I’ve never heard the word “structure” used so often in a two and a half days. Wow. That’s a lesson to all of us. We have both the structure of the whole presentation and the structure of each story. Ever consider that? Here are the best secrets from my notebook that weekend, and how you may be able to adapt them for your use.
#1) Syd Field, “You can’t fix nothing from nothing.”
Sid is saying that in order to tell a great story, you have to be willing to tell the story. Start telling it even if it’s really bad at first. Then you can sit down and improve it. It’s impossible to edit it in your head.
How can you use this: Start by recording a story as you tell it to your friends and then transcribe it. It’s easier to improve your stories when you see them on paper. Great stories aren’t told, they’re re-told. There’s a process to developing a great story: keep telling it and improving it. By the time we see a screenplay, it’s gone through countless re-writes. The value of your stories can be measured by your results, your re-bookings, and how well your speech is remembered.
#2) John Truby, “The need is inside, the goal is outside. The need is the psychological weakness and the hero should not be aware of their need.” John is telling us that the heroes of stories have a goal on the outside, where the audience can see it – as well as an inner need or wound that can be healed by the pursuit of that goal.
How can you use this: When looking for ways to improve your stories, look at the characters. What do they want? What are they trying to achieve? Your story may come to life when you reveal the emotion of the character and, more importantly, their change of emotion during the story.
#3) Christopher Vogler, “The best dialogue is no dialogue.” Think of your favorite movie moments. What’s happening? Is there a powerful moment that tells the story in silence – when much is happening but nothing is said? It was mentioned during the conference that one reason actor Will Smith wanted the lead role in the movie Pursuit of Happyness was the powerful yet understated moment when the lead character got the job.
How you can use this: Most speakers telling a story are so focused on what’s said that they don’t show what’s happening without words. For example, in my story about telling my parents that I wanted to be a comedian, the emotional moment is when they say nothing – yet you can read what they weren’t saying on my face. In another story, when I hand my coach, Mark Brown, my speech, I let the reaction linger before Mark says anything. The audience response told me how powerful those moments became. Pick a moment in your story and tell it in silence.
#4) Linda Seger, “Ask yourself, what do you deeply care about that I can share?”
Linda’s talking about the majority of her clients who write screen plays that they think will sell, which is not a good path. We write best from our passion and when we’re trying to find our voice. Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, and Woody Allen have unique voices when telling their stories. Find yours.
How you can use this: Emerging speakers waste time looking for a ‘hot’ topic about which they can speak to earn money, rather than speaking about their passion and then finding an audience that wants or needs to hear that message. Use stories and create metaphors from your favorite pursuits. You’ll come to life when you talk about what you care about, and that’s where you’ll convey your universal lessons.
#5) Michael Hague, “One primary goal of all storytellers is to elicit emotion. Emotion grows out of conflict. Desire does not cause emotion, but it does drive the story.” Wow, that’s deep. You may have to read this over a couple times to fully absorb it.
How you can use this: When telling stories, do you consider the desire of the character? What they’re looking for, what they’re trying to achieve? What’s their conflict or obstacle? You’ll tell a better story when you can answer those questions. I had a three and a half minute story that I told in my speeches until my coach showed me the only important part of the story. Now, that story is 30 seconds – and more powerful.
If you love stories, you’d have loved that weekend with those screenwriting pros who have so much to teach about great storytelling. These are just a few of the highlights that I picked up at the event – and you may be certain that I’ll use them my own storytelling.
If I carried away only one powerful message, it was about the value of structure. I’ll now start to craft stories more purposefully, starting by getting the elements down and looking at the structure, desire, and emotion of my characters.
You? Which of your story ideas is your favorite? How will you use these nuggets to strengthen your story? Please post your comments here on my blog!