Add Simple Structure to Your Story
So this next section is called Add Simple Structure to Your Story, and we are going to be using a technique that is very familiar to improvisers, called story spine. And story spine is a great structure. We also have a downloadable for this so that you can have this at home to practice with whenever you'd like to, but also keep it and use it for the work that we're going to do for the rest of the day. So for story spine, I wanted to show you first, that this is often how we think about story structure. So when we talk about story structure, we have kind of an intro, a beginning, where we often learn about the people, the characters, the setting, we get kind of the important information. I like to use the word change instead of problem because I feel like when we're talking about story telling, if we say problem, it implies often something negative has happened to the main character or to the person. But often something has just changed. It's tilted, their world has shifted a little bit...
. And often that can be a very positive thing. So we wanna encourage ourselves to think of it as a change. Then we have the rising action, that's often when we're wondering kind of, what's going to happen to the main character? Are they going to be successful? And then we have a resolution of the change. So we find out because of what happened down here, we find out here is the result of that. And then we like to often wrap it all up, right? We like to wrap it all up, so we sort of know that there's a new happy, healthy normal. Wherever they started here, something has changed, but we're back to their new happy, healthy normal. And that's a very simplified version of it, but I think we're going for simple. We don't wanna overthink it. One of the examples that I like to use a lot is Scooby-Doo. So has everyone in here seen an episode of Scooby-Doo? Yeah, mostly? Have you seen more than one episode of Scooby-Doo? Yes, so the reason I mention that is because Scooby-Doo is the same story over and over and over again. And the fact that we watch it tells us something about what Sammy mentioned of like just tell the story. It doesn't have to be the best, most interesting story. We love stories, therefore, we're engaged because it's a story. So in Scooby-Doo, we meet the characters. They're often at the beach, or they're in the van, right? Or they're just kinda hanging out, like they do. And then they often encounter, in one of my favorite episodes, they're at the beach and they encounter glowing footprints, right? So they encounter something that is abnormal. There's a change in the world. So it's a ghost, it's a pirate, it's a something. So what do they do? They investigate, right? Because that's their world, they're investigators. So they go to investigate. During their investigation some of the same things happen over and over again, right? They often get distracted by food. Those are the characters that are food-motivated. Sometimes they get motivated by fear. There's often bookcases that spin around, there's trap doors. What's her name, Velma always loses her glasses, like every single episode. Someone goes down a trap door and gets stuck. So we sort of-- And they have the same cycle of running through doors, right? They're kind of running through doors and back through doors. So they have all of these cool things that happen almost every episode, and we are usually as excited each time, right? So they bring this stuff back to us. Finally, at the end they usually set up this elaborate, almost like Rubes Goldberg trap, right? It's never like, we're just gonna throw a net over them and catch them. It's sort of an elaborate feat in order to catch them. And they eventually do, often they do so accidentally, something goes wrong and they catch them. The beautiful thing is, after they catch whoever the monster was, the character was, that elicited this change, they unveil, right. They take the mask off. And then, usually it's Velma, tells us who it was, how they did it, why they did it, and then what's gonna happen to them now. So as an audience, we can feel comfortable knowing that this criminal will pay their dues, right? We don't have to worry about what's gonna happen to them. And then they give us the joy of seeing them happy, healthy normal again. They go back to the beach, they go to a malt shop, and it ends with everyone safe and laughing. And this is a really important thing in our stories. In our port key, we gave ourselves the out of giving the conclusion by saying, "That's the end of my story." But it's a really clear way to tell someone, to let the audience know how to listen. We're done now, I'm done with my story. You may react, you may applaud, you may talk, you may interrupt. So, when we don't have the conclusion, it feels upsetting to us. I know there was a book I read which I won't mention, but I read years ago, that I still am obsessed with understanding because it ended, and I thought that I just was missing pages in the book. Because they didn't do this. They stopped somewhere up here in the story. So I have the frustration as an audience member of wondering what happened. The author made the intentional choice to leave it up in the air. It's also the equivalent of this. (knocks on table) You need it, right? Some of your heads moved, your bodies moved. We need that ending. So it is really important for us to think about, how do we bookend? How do we set ourselves up? And then how do we, how do we give ourselves an ending? And this helps our audience know how to listen. So we can apply Scooby-Doo to giving a talk in that way. Giving our intro, letting people know who we are, what our expectation is, what we're gonna talk about. And then we give them perhaps the information that we're going to share. I wanna talk to you today about this, this is this amazing thing that I've discovered. This is something I wanna share with you. This is something I think could change us. And then we start to prove that. We give them the reasons why it matters. In one of our other classes, we talked about problem, solution, call to action. So this is almost a model of that, right? At the end we give them the reason why it might matter. That might be their call to action. It might be a summary of what we've talked about. It might be some really clear data or information that proves what we've talked about. And then it's very important that we let them know that we're done, that we give some sort of, 'I'm Kimberly MacLean, and I've been talking to you 'about why arts and education matters.' So it's a really clear, I'm done now, please applaud. You're welcome, right? But a really clear ending. So in keeping that in mind, we have this wonderful structure that allows us to have some clear sentence starters, and then we're going to improvise the ending. So we get to have this marriage of structure meets improvisation. So I want us to tell a story using this. And you can see it has once upon a time, every day, but one day, because of that, because of that, because of that, until finally, and ever since then. And it's color-coded to match the story structure over here so that you can see where those different parts of the story are. So I would love for us to do this together. I wanna remind you of some of the things Sammy said earlier about the first idea that comes to your brain, that idea being spontaneous. That's the right idea for the story. We're making it up. None of us know what the story's going to be, so whatever idea you have, is the right story. So what we're going to do is use these sentences to help build our story. So, Jim, what's the name of this character in this story? What do you want this character to be called?
Joey Baloney. (Sammy chuckles)
Joey Baloney, great. Once upon a time, there was a little puppy dog named Joey Baloney. Every day, someone say, every day, and tell us what Joey Baloney did every day.
Every day, Joey Baloney was very excited to find a new shoe to chew, and usually it was the dress shoe of the mom of the family.
Yes, every day Joey Baloney would find a new shoe to chew, and usually it was the mom's shoe, right. But one day, something changes. What changes in Joey Baloney's world?
Because of that.
Give us, but one day first.
But one day, because of that--
Nope just, but one day, try just but one day.
He's like ever since then.
But one day.
But one day the mother couldn't find her shoes and she ran screaming around the house. (Kimberly gasps)
Because of that, what happened? I see eyes lighting up, so whatever I did, you had. That's the right idea. Because of that, what happened, yeah.
Because of that, Joey Baloney went to investigate to find these shoes.
Because of that, Joey Baloney went to investigate to find the shoes, and because of that, what happened?
Because of that, he found Nicodemus, the Rat King, who had stolen many shoes.
(excited whisper) Oh, Nicodemus! And because of that what happened?
The man in the house, because of that, took out a secret rat trap and prepared to capture the rat.
The rat, Nicodemus. (gasps) Until finally, what happened? Alva, do you have an idea your face lit up. What's your idea?
I can't wait to find out.
Until finally, Joey Baloney and Nicodemus schemed to keep the shoes available.
Oh come on! (class laughing and clapping) Joey Baloney would.
Joey Baloney betrayed us everybody, yeah. So Joey Baloney and Nicodemus schemed to keep the shoes available to them, is that right?
Oh, I'm so mad.
And ever since then, what happened, Sammy? Bring it home for us.
I can't, I'm too emotional about it.
You're too emotional about it? (class laughing)
Kim bring us home!
Ever since then, what happened?
Ever since then, they've been eating mommy's shoes little by little, day by day, happily ever after.
And ever since then they've been eating the mom's shoes day by day, a little bit at a time, is that what you said?
Tiny, tiny bite at a time.
Tiny, tiny little bits at a time. Do you need a minute?
Yeah, I know.
That is not the Joey Baloney I thought--
We didn't know, we didn't know!
It was such a different--
They changed Joey Baloney.
Who knew, we didn't know it was gonna be a drama. We had no idea, we had no idea. And that drama would not have been possible if I had told the story myself, or if you had, right?
Something about the beauty of telling it, we get different ideas and different minds and then that means that we have this amazing collaboration together. So that's just one way to use, I know, feel it, just feel it man, just feel it.
I would flip this table if I was strong enough. (class laughs) But I am not.
Keep working out, keep working out.
So it's a great, fun way to play with structure. Sometimes it does affect us, it impacts us emotionally. But it's a great way to just start playing with structure and of course we can use this structure by ourselves as well. I can tell a story all by myself. I can also use this to build a talk. So there are times where, if I'm giving a presentation, not long ago I had to tell a story that was actually very personal, and so therefore it was really hard for me to think about how to have this conversation in a way that I didn't tell all the detail, because it was so much about me, it was hard to distill the information down. So I started with story spine for my presentation. And I really thought about, what is that story I wanna tell? And I did a few different iterations of it, right. I did it once and was like, oh it's not right. And so I would edit and try again until I built the perfect story spine for me for that moment, for this instance. And then I built my talk out from there. So it's a very simplistic structure that then allowed me to grow out, as opposed to thinking about something huge and writing a huge talk, and then trying to edit that down. And that felt really useful and helpful to me. There've been a few other ways that we found, using story spine, working with clients. Do you wanna talk a little bit about some of those?
Yeah one really recent example is, I've been working with some filmmakers who are trying to raise money to make a movie, and we did this particular exercise for each slide of their pitch deck for the investors. Because, you know, a pitch is a really big story, but every aspect of a pitch has its own little kind of like, subplot to it. And so they were really struggling with the chapters of the story, if you will. They knew the big picture, and they could give you kind of that one minute elevator pitch of the entire thing, but when they got on each slide and needed to camp out and talk about who this movie would be for, and how they were gonna get their money back if someone invested in it, they were really struggling. So we used this particular exercise for the entirety of the pitch, but also each slide and aspect of the pitch. And with practice, they raised their first round of funding just about a month ago. So it's very effective to let you kind of, either boil down a big story into something that feels like it's more bite-sized, or take something that is small that you're like, I don't know how to make this bigger, and to kind of expand it and give it structure.
Yeah, and we've yeah, we've found it really useful. So I think there are a lot of different ways to apply this beyond what we might think of as a story, because really everything we're doing is some sort of a story. We're telling some sort of a story in some way, even if it isn't a once upon a time kind of feeling. So there are a lot of ways to use this. So we wanna try this solo. We wanna teach you how to do this on your own. I would love to invite someone else up, and then we'll walk you through what exactly we're gonna do. So I'd love to have an audience volunteer. John is ready, ready!
Here comes Jonathan, and he walks out. (chuckles) Give him a round of applause. (class clapping)
Let's find our light here. We have your beautiful X yep. So here's what I want you to do, and this is a big ask, and I want to acknowledge that just coming out of the gate. So I wanna remind us this is a workshop, you don't have to get it right, you're gonna do this one time and then you can do it again as many times as you want later on. So I want you to try to give us your origin story using story spine. So I might start with once upon a time, a beautiful child was born in Florida. Or I might start with once upon a time, Kimberly moved to San Francisco. So you can start wherever you want, and just give us a little bit of you, just using story spine, does that make sense?
Great I won't go too far.
How much time do you want me to?
Let's put uh--
Keep it under four hours, maybe.
A minute or two on the clock?
Sure you wanna do that?
Let's try that. Can we have two minutes on the clock, thank you.
Once upon a time I was born in San Francisco, and I grew up on the other side of the bridge and I wanted to get away, so I went to the other side of the bridge to Berkeley, and I went to UC Berkeley. And then, I didn't--
Every day, would you be every day then?
Every day at UC Berkeley. But one day, I decided to leave UC Berkeley and go to Italy. So I found a castle in Italy, and I went to live in that castle. And because of that, I started to drink a lot of wine every day. And because of that, I learned how to make pasta every day, with mushrooms and tomatoes. And because of that, I started buying olive oil to go along with the wine. Until finally one day I started getting so large and so big that I had to come back to America. And I realized when I got back to America that I loved to travel. And ever since then, I've always looked to find a new place to go in the world to drink wine, make pasta, and meet new people. And, I'm Jonathan Lipman, and that's my story.
Yay! (class clapping) That was delightful. I loved that. How did that feel?
It was a little challenging.
It is, right? What's challenge, can you say what's challenging about it?
Well, still learning the form a little bit.
And I think the concept of trying to create this, you know, this rising action, and knowing, are we getting to the middle, and are you gonna start to get down toward a conclusion. But it was also sort of fun to have that form as well.
Yeah it's restrictive. It can feel restrictive in good ways, and it can also feel restrictive in challenging ways, right, because there's so much more to that story. There's so much more. But this might be a great starting place for you, if you're gonna get up and talk to us about traveling, or about the need to work with different cultures right, whatever that sort of, that thing is that lights you up. This might be a great place to start with that, and use this structure, and then maybe take away the parts, like maybe you don't wanna start with once upon a time. Maybe you do, because when we hear that, especially in kind of Western culture, when we hear that, that triggers a very specific idea for us. And most cultures have some sort of phraseology like that, similar to once upon a time. So we sort of know immediately how to listen, of like, (gasps) oh there's gonna be a story! So there's something really wonderful about that. You take a seat, thank you for that. Let's round of applause. (class clapping) From the audience, quickly, how was that to listen to that story in that way? What'd you come away with, what'd you learn, what'd you notice?
I like the structure, it prevented rambling. And it gave a little bit more concise areas, and I sort of traveled with him.
Yeah, so you knew how to listen.
It's the idea of, I know how to listen, and I know how to be with you in the story, great, thanks. Any other observations about this story or even just about story spine and using this structure? I love it.
Yeah as you said, it's great for someone who talks a lot and doesn't know if they're going in the right direction. Like, has a story, but needs to self-edit on the fly. It's really good for giving your story structure. 'Cause even though you might not think of these prompts as Kimberly has taught us, we're used to hearing them, reading them in books, and then seeing them in TV shows, movies, and plays. So you know what they are. You know when those beats of a story happen. Just like she was using Scooby-Doo. But getting really good at knowing how to use them yourself will make all of your stories more impactful and we really do plug in once we know that, oh it's a story, and it's going where it should, and it's very satisfying that it was resolved in that particular way. And you've mentioned many times before, doesn't Pixar use this as a way to kind of, prototype story ideas?
Yeah they've talked a lot about using story spine, and how it has helped them just sort of, an ideation and creation of story telling.
Yeah, so a very proven technique.