When it comes to storytelling, no one inspires me more than Pixar’s Andrew Stanton. I love how is writing is inspired by the things that he knows, the experiences he’s encountered, and how characters should have a moral spine. If you haven’t seen Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk “Clues to a Great story,” you are seriously missing out.
“We all love stories. We’re born for them. Stories affirm who we are.”Andrew Stanton
Andrew Stanton, the executive producer of many Pixar films, shares his storytelling commandment: “‘Make me care’ — please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care.”
We’ve all had instances where we didn’t care about stories. Often in life, people will endlessly scroll through web streams of information, cycle through television channels, and a waltz by books at the book store. Now and then, a story will stand out and command people to care. The secret to engaging readers is context.
Context provides the background information that makes stories relevant. It offers a setting, a hint of a character’s strengths and weaknesses, and can enlighten an audience of impending conflicts. Without context, the story falls flat, and it is likely many people will just glance over.
“Context is God,”Gary Vaynerchuk
Another author who has inspired my writing is Gary Vaynerchuk, author of ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World.” Vaynerchuk argues excellent content derives from context. He also looks at how writers can use context to improve their non-fictional writing strategies and engage the psychological needs of an audience.
Pixar and Andrew Stanton also target the psychology of viewers by employing the “unifying theory of two plus two.” Stanton adds: “Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four; give them two plus two.” A master class of this practice in action is Pixar’s Wall-E.
For those unaware, Wall-E’s opening scene provides the context needed to make this story engaging and worthy of a viewer’s care. The first few minutes include large rubbish piles, a solitary robot returning home from scavenging artifacts, and the robot watches in wonder as a love story unfolds on a recycled TV. The scene didn’t have any dialogue; however, the context provided the entire story and hooked the audience’s wonder. It is simply beautiful.
Channeling my inner Stanton and Vaynerchuk
Since February 2020, I started a documentary film project ‘Restart 2020.’ The film tells the story of the transformative effect artists have had on New Bedford, Massachusetts. The film also follows artists as they newly navigate COVID-19, and the shutdowns that followed.
I recently needed funds to develop a virtual streaming event, and to complete the film. I turned to crowdfunding through Kickstarter.com. I don’t indentify as a strong writer, and knew I would be challenged to communicate the project clearly. My first draft was way too wordy, and didn’t explain what I was trying to do succinctly. I must’ve edited the campaign website at least 20 times. Each time I made an edit, I would visit Google Analytics, and see in real time if the writing had improved engagement.
I reflected on Stanton and Vaynerchuk’s approach to writing, and started to craft instagram posts with context, leaving wonder, and ultimately increasing engagement with the Kickstarter campaign. I’m so happy to share with you that my fundraising campaign was successful! I attribute this success directly to adapting and augmenting my writing style that embodies Stanton and Vaynerchuk’s approaches. I’d like to really thank Quinnipiac University’s Professor Phillip Simon who helped me improve my writing!
If Vaynerchuck is correct in saying “context is god,” consider me a pious follower. I’ll see you at church on Sunday morning, right after I finish watching ‘Wall-E.’