Storytelling Tips From the Pros

As mentioned previously on ETY, stories are increasingly being used within medicine (and other industries), as a way to more deeply engage with patients and customers. A colleague, Ed Tori (@rookiedoc), passed on what seems to be a great resource for writers and storytellers, Aerogramme Writers Studio, and I wanted to pay it forward for those who might be interested. The blog shares writing tips from the likes of Pixar Story Artist, Emma Coats, Filmmaker/Writer/Director-with-a-cult-like-following-of-fans-and-cast-members, Joss Whedon, and more.

Following are a few of their tips for ETY storytellers-in-training, seasoned writers and those simply interested in the art of storytelling. Please share your thoughts on how they might help healthcare providers better understand and share in the life stories of their patients and families, or how they might help care providers make sense of their own experiences within healthcare.

From Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips (click on his name to see the full post):

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think…

From Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, which evolved from Emma Coats‘ Twitter feed (click on her name for the full post):

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

And finally, a storytelling tip of my own:
Explore and dissect as many stories in all their glorious forms as possible (books, movies, short stories, flash fiction, documentaries, web series, etc.). Think about what you liked. What you didn’t like. Take notes and use those devices in your own stories. Here is a recent favorite from a story expedition I went on at #SXSW — a trailer from Joss Whedon’s latest, Much Ado About Nothingdue out June 7th. It is an incredible remake of Shakespeare’s timeless work, showing that good stories–stories that have at their core the emotions universal to all of us–never die, they just gain a larger audience.

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