Bobette Buster, Hollywood screenwriter and author of Do Story: How to Tell Your Story So The World Listens, has been hailed as “Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret.Today she’s an in-demand story guru for studios like Pixar and Disney, but her storytelling education started long before she hit Tinseltown. Bobette grew up in small-town Kentucky—a region credited with producing legendary orators such as Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali as well as the celebrated novelist Wendell Berry. According to her, everyone from the shopkeeper to the pastor, could keep you spellbound, teaching Bobette at a young age: Everyone has a story to tell. The challenge is learning how to tell it well.
A great story, Bobette says, should ask a question that is audacious and personal at the same time.
The Best Picture-winning film Argo is a high-stakes Cold War spy drama, but at its core asks a relatable question: “What’s the best bad idea you can come up with in a difficult situation?” The 2015 Oscar contender The Big Short takes on the complicated, arcane subject matter surrounding the 2008 financial recession, but brings the story to life by filtering the topic through the personal lens of a few counter-thinking traders.
Finding and refining that personal lens for the story can take a long time, and it means storytellers have to be willing to make themselves vulnerable to their audience. Bobette advises that you should “tell your story as if to a friend” to help it feel relatable.
“The audience is looking to connect with you,” she explains, and if you tell your story in an authentic way, they will gladly follow along.“Great storytellers always listen to how their story is connecting to the audience. They remember the first time they laughed or felt an emotional punch—and then they work hard to orchestrate those emotions in their story so that they always land,” Bobette says.
It’s easy to see the throughline in this philosophy in the work of the expansive oral storytellers of Bobette’s youth to the Pixar maestros she works with today: All of them keep audience reaction at the forefront of their art and endlessly refine their narratives until they’ve found the perfect rhythm.
The best stories should feel like something greater than the sum of their parts and create an emotional experience that transcends description. “At the end of a great movie, you tell your friends they have to see it,” Bobette says. “And you can’t articulate why, but you know you want to experience it again.”
The Future of StoryTelling (FoST) is an annual summit and creative community dedicated to exploring how stories are evolving in the digital age. http://www.fost.org