Storytelling advice from a screenwriter and filmmaker

I asked my friend, Eric Stirpe, a screenwriter and filmmaker living in Los Angeles — and a super awesome illustrator — to share advice he can give us digital media folk on telling a great story. Thanks Eric! What makes a compelling story? In my experience, the three most important elements in making a compelling story are A) a relatable protagonist (more on that in a sec) who has [B)] a clearly defined and emotionally-driven goal or goals as well as C) interesting situations and circumstances separating them from that goal. If we like our protagonist and understand what he/she wants, then we will root for them and want to watch the story unfold. What are common mistakes people make in storytelling? In moviemaking these days, one of the most common mistakes I see is the belief that you MUST stick to the three act structure, or the Hero’s Journey or the Save The Cat structure or some other book of story development. Knowing these structures and techniques is all well and good, (In fact, it’s downright recommended to deal with executives) but it should be remembered that they are just tools and not the end all be all. In the last 3 years, I have seen dozens of (usually big-budget) movies destroyed by trying too hard to adhere to some structure or another. Storytelling is not some science or logic puzzle – it’s just about telling a good story! Another trap that’s really easy to fall into in storytelling is getting too ‘claustrophobic’: after months of working on the same story, you start to get bored. You start...

Angry Birds Hallowe’en Parody

My latest free ebook of a classic piece of literature featuring my illustrated cover of a related reference to digital culture is The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (.epub, .mobi). Just in time for Hallowe’en! Angry Birds is the digital cultural reference for this release. In case you aren’t familiar with Wells’ classic, Martians resembling octopi invade Earth. The vision of Martians dropping from the sky made me think of the birds being sling shot into the pigs in the Angry Birds game. However, I initially worked on a totally different idea for this cover. Email spam. Well, it’s like an invasion. My concept had many cans of Spam (the food item) —with an octopus on the label— invading the Earth. Fortunately, I thought of and proceeded with the Angry Birds concept. I like it very much! Not sure was Wells would think, though! I had also originally planned a companion release. The script of the famous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles (no relation). I had planned to continue with the Angry Birds theme but using a caricature of Orson. Alas, I had discovered that the script is in fact not in the public domain. Anyhoo, here’s the pencil sketch of my Orson Welles caricature. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is available for free in both .epub and .mobi...

Trying out watercolors

My 4th Sketchbook Video has me flipping through my watercolour Moleskine sketchbook from sometime in 2008 or 2009 (I really should add dates in my sketchbooks). In spite of having grown up frustrated with the medium, I was inspired by the beautiful watercolour work by Calvin & Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson. I thought perhaps I should give watercolours another try. Plus, it gave me an excuse to buy the watercolour Moleskine. Also featured in this video is a wordless comic strip mystery. Can you figure out what is happening in the...

Drawing using no erasers

My latest sketchbook video features the sketchbooks I used to draw my Snert Oh No web comic in 2010. I’d draw a one-panel comic during the 1.5 hour wait for my Toastmasters meeting every Wednesday after work. Then I used my iPhone for photographing, post-processing and posting (until a suitable app came along) it on snertohno.com (I wanted to use my laptop as little as possible). You can read all about it on my blog from way back when. I enjoyed the challenge of drawing in ink without means to erase any mistakes. It sharpens your drawing skills. You’ll see evidence of that in the video – I call them...

Sketching in Paris

I mentioned my 2007 trip to Paris in my last Sketchbook Video. So the sketchbook I used during my trip is featured in my latest episode (I like how that sounds. I guess I’m a video podcaster now). It’s a Paris Moleskine City notebook. I highly recommend these little things. They are the tour guide you create yourself! You’ll see quite the strange colour palette I used in this sketchbook. That’s the fault of some Japanese markers I bought in a Japanese store in Pairs (go figure!). They came in weirdest combination. Though frustrating, it did provide some creative ideas on its own (as seen in my previous...