Month: August 2014

Tell Me a Story… Resources!

800px-Once_Upon_a_Time_LogoI was planning to write a post on some tips and tools for storytelling to wrap up this series.  But there are already so many great free and low cost resources out there that I just decided to curate a list and share with you guys.

Fun things around the internet:

Resources I linked to in this guest post:

Articles from ASTD ATD and other professional sites:


Free tools for telling digital stories:

I know that there are lots of other great resources out there… please share them in the comments and I will add them to this list!

Tell Me a Story… But Edit it First!

Photo by Denny Culbert

Our guest post this week is from Rachel Nederveld, a film producer, writer, musician and all around creative genius who also happens to be my sister. She recently wrote a
series for Vice on living in the swamps of Louisiana and is currently living out her dreams in the other LA, Los Angeles. If you need someone to produce a music video, or a partner in crime for an off-the-wall adventure, this is your gal.


One of the things that I love about film is all of the different aspects of storytelling that are tied into one – writing, lighting, acting, composition, and so on. It’s the director’s job to make sure that all of these are working together during production, the story is being told successfully through the delivery of the lines, the shadows carefully placed, the colors thought through on each set, the angles of the shot are appropriate for the scene. But the thing that really ends up tying them all together is something that all of these art forms have in common, and that is editing. In fact, editing is so important there is a theory that for the Oscars, Editing Nominations predict the Best Picture Winner.

When you go into production, you start with a script. When you come out, you end up with hours upon hours of footage to comb through. The original story is (or isn’t!) in there, but is it the best story? Which ideas on paper actually translated successfully visually and aurally and which ones didn’t? Is there a way to use your footage to tell the same idea better than originally planned? It is rare that the answer is a confident yes. So then the director takes their baby and places it in the tender love and care of an editor with confidence in their ability to do magic.

We_Can_EditOne of the hardest parts, especially in self editing, is to take out something that you love but that doesn’t add to the story. Say you have the most stunning view of a city at night. Or you somehow caught a jack rabbit running down the road into the sunset and it’s the most amazing and beautiful thing you’ve ever caught on camera. Maybe it’s a scene that you wrote that is so profound it made your friends cry when they read the script. And now things have changed and it doesn’t totally fit in, but man it’s such great dialogue how can you possibly take it out?

My favorite mantra in editing all mediums is less is more. When I’m writing even an email I always read it over and think, how can I say this in fewer words and still get the point across? I can’t count the number of times I’ve written a page long emotional email, saved it, then come back the next day and said the same things more successfully in two sentences. The same goes for film. A common rookie mistake is to be down to a 2.5 hour edit and believe NOTHING can be taken out.

Really, nothing?


In the age of the rise of the Indie/low budget everything, we now have the privilege of being able to over-create content. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s worth the time, the thought, and the discipline if you want your end product to be the best it can be.  Just remember, no matter how hard it is, to stick to the core of your story and find the best way to communicate that idea.

Tell Me a Story… In Three Acts

DSC_0035 We have another great guest blogger today! Melissa F. Miller is a practicing attorney and author of the Sasha McCandless legal thriller series. Her debut novel won the 2012 National Fiction Writing Competition for Physicians and Lawyers and she is a USA Today bestselling author. Melissa is an awesome mom, great drinking buddy, and an all around kick @$$ woman, just like the characters she writes. So, read on!


When Allison invited me to do a guest post about storytelling, I figured it’d be a snap to write about telling stories. After all, I’ve written six full-length novels, two novellas, and counting. I thought I could simply discuss my process and that would make for an interesting–or at least worthwhile—post.

I was wrong. Really wrong. Dead wrong, even.


Or perhaps chocolate craft beer?

Part of the problem is that my process is messy and organic. I may tell myself I’m going to outline, or use the Snowflake method, or story beats, or writing from the middle, but what actually happens is I have a plan, the plan goes south, and then I wail to my husband that I’m stuck. He points and laughs at me and tells me that must mean I’m almost done. I grumble, drink some craft beer, and eat some dark chocolate that has been carefully stashed in my desk for just this occasion. And then somehow out of the ooze, the rest of the story results. Not the most interesting topic to read about.

So instead, let me tell you a story. Once a year, I do a story session with kindergarteners at my kids’ school. Some of my storytellers are not yet reading, some are emergent readers, some are fluent readers, but ALL of them are storytellers.

We talk about how a story has a hero (and usually a sidekick), a special tool or skill (historically, the six and under set seems to favor magic and/or superpowers here), and a goal. But our hero encounters an obstacle. The situation looks bleak. Then our hero uses his or her special tool or skill to overcome the obstacle and prevail!

There you have it: A vastly oversimplified discussion of three-act structure.


As a group, we brainstorm and write a story using these elements. They’re all super excited and eager to share their ideas.

But that’s not the neat part. The neat part is that, even at their tender age, these kindergarteners have already internalized this basic story framework. They ask insightful questions like, “What if the main character is the bad guy and he has a bad goal?” Antihero! “What if the hero doesn’t win?” Dark twist! “What if nothing exciting happens?” Literary fiction! Just kidding.

But even very young children can grasp the power of story. Telling stories (and, later, reading stories and writing stories) is how humankind had made sense of the world since, well, since the before the beginning of recorded history. The structure of a story is embedded in our DNA.

And with that the writer relied on her secret weapon (adorable children) to overcome the obstacle of writing a blog post for the delightful and clever Ms. Nederveld. The End.