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Video transcript

hi I'm Derek Thompson and I'm a story artist here at Pixar I'll be your host for this third lesson on storytelling which is focused on story structure and I'm joined by some colleagues my name is James Robertson and I'm a story artist at Pixar my name is Mary Coleman and I'm the head of creative development I'm Kevin O'Brien and I'm a story artist my name is Robert Graham Jones and I'm an editor here at Pixar remember in lesson one when Val told us that in simplest terms a story is a series of events it begins something happens but between the beginning and end of a story many things will happen the ordering of these events known as the structure can have a dramatic impact on how an audience responds to a story let's get a little bit more detail about structure from our Pixar friends I think about story structure as pouring the foundation for a building and that if you don't have that solid concrete foundation to support the pillars and the struts and all the weight-bearing elements of the building the whole thing can collapse so I think that it's essential and I remember interviewing writer Mike aren't we were talking about the importance of dialogue because I loved his dialogue and little miss sunshine and he said well dialogues just wall paper and I thought really your dialogue is amazing he said it if you put the wallpaper up but the walls in the wrong place then it was a complete waste of your time you may gain something very valuable from just sitting down and just writing a story from the beginning but to me it's important to structure your story like when you give a speech you tell the audience what you're going to tell them then you tell them and then you wrap it up and you remind them of what they've just been told when you're just starting a story it can seem daunting to figure out however you we'll fit together how a story should flow so it's helpful to find simple ways to think this through one way to do this is by coming up with the most important moments in your story which we call story beats this is the first of many bits of terminology we're going to introduce throughout this lesson it's helpful to know these words but don't let them overwhelm you you can always refer to the glossary at the bottom of this lesson if you want a refresher beats are the kinds of things you'd mention if you described what had happened yesterday in 30 seconds so when we are trying to define our story beats let's say we're writing up a beat outline or putting index cards on a wall with distinct beats we try to challenge ourselves not to get into detailed plot but to identify the beats based on whether the protagonist is making a clear decision right or wrong or there's a clear cause and effect so that you know a happens and therefore B happens so that it drives the story like a character walks across the street has a beat they stop to pick up a thing as a beat and they almost get hit by car which is a B in Toy Story 2 when Buzz Lightyear discovers that there is in fact another Buzz Lightyear when he looks at the whole array of toys that is a story beat Buzz has realized there is another buzz in the world and the reason that's important in the process is that if you get too caught up in the plot details the how of it instead of the what's happening you can lose track of the thread of the structure the beats are building that structure another way to think about this is using something called a story spine which was popularized by improv instructor Ken Adams he noticed that most stories can fit into the following simple pattern let's try to fit one of our films into this story spine I was thinking about finding Nemo once upon a time there was a fish named Marlin who loved his son Nemo more than anything and every day Marlin tried to protect Nemo from the ocean which he feared until one day Nemo was taken away by a scuba diver and because of this Marlin had to leave the safety of his home reef in order to find his son because of that Marlon ran into sharks jellyfish and other dangers and because of that Marlon was forced to take a leap of faith until finally Marlon learned to let go of his fear and trust the Nemo had what it takes to free Dory from the fishing net ever since that day Marlon gave his son Nemo the space he needed to learn on his own and the moral of the story is parents need to let go in order for their kids to grow up notice how the story spine allows us to compress a complex film into a series of simple beats in the next exercise you'll have a chance to try this out you can fit your three favorite films into the story spine as well as generate spines for stories you may want to create