Billy Wilder on Story Telling

Part of strategic learning is to fit our learning projects into  fantastic storylines. This storyline is what translates experience into  “insanely great” experience. It is what makes each day unique, as a separate part of stories that are unfolding. We want to be part of that story and to be able to tell that story.

That sounds great, but how does one create stories, fit into them and tell them? Part of this is a matter of belief. If you believe something is great, it becomes great. If you don’t, it won’t, no matter how hard you try to make it great. You can think of this as cognitive “priming” (using a term that I got from Dan Kahneman).

But believing is just the first step. You need to be able to fit experience into story lines. When they do, we understand where we are going. Creating story lines is intimidating for most of us mainly because we don’t do it on a regular basis. We are instead, culturally programmed into passively receiving stories from media.

A first step in doing this is to realize that all great stories have relatively simple structure. It can be as simple as this (from Presentation Zen)

Dream – Reality – Reality Problem – Solution – Next Step

Notice that the insanely great part is the dream, not the reality. It is the starting point. The contrast between “dream” and “reality” can be stark and that is ok – as long as the direction where we want to go is clear.  In other words, stories set directions. They don’t just give you details.

We can a bit further if we keep in mind a few basic rules. Great film director Billy Wilder has a nice list. (also from Presentation Zen). I have modified this a bit below

  1. Fickleness – We  need to be conscious that connections are not made in stone. Great stories make them more solid
  2. Hook and pace – Stories are not about being stuck. They are about the things that produce that feeling and overcoming  it
  3. Respect heroes –  In yourself and in others
  4. Establish direction – We need a clear and simple path to the ending
  5. Hide the plot points – Plot points are the causal events. Stories are not a power point presentation
  6. Fix the third act –  Write from the climax back to the beginning
  7. Let the audience do the math – Stories are not about your opinions
  8. Show, don’t tell – You and your audience have to get it visually
  9. Plot twist in the middle Something always happens in the story and it happens to create the climax
  10. Climax and leave – Be sincere, be brief, be seated
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