Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Tag: story (Page 1 of 3)

Looking for story ideas? Try the supermarket.

Looking for story ideas? Try the supermarket.

Writers welcome story ideas. Often those ideas come from inspiration, from notes, from good old ass-in-chair work. But sometimes you’re just plain stuck.

shopping cart - look for story ideasTry looking and listening while you’re shopping in the supermarket. The other day I spied a man in a kilt in Trader Joe’s market. It was the second time I’d seen him there. And the staff knew him. He talked to them about being out of town for a while. So I wondered: what’s his story? Why the kilt? It wasn’t a costume. It was an authentic, styled kilt. Why?

A while back I asked the woman who was checking out my groceries, how is your day going? She began talking about her plans for the evening, ready to celebrate a young woman’s one-year sobriety. She herself was a recovering alcoholic. What’s the story there?

So many stories among the everyday.

Every character should want something

In one of her Brain Pickings online posts, Maria Popova spotlights storyteller Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing a great story.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I find tip #3 easy to forget. Every one of my characters should want something. Every one. It’s easy to overlook when I’m writing. Characters can become fillers, like background in a movie. They’re in the scene, talking, acting. But not always wanting something. Not always hungry. Not going somewhere.

If my writing is working, the hunger is there. If I have done a thorough character profile before I start the story, the want, the desire, will reveal itself. But there are times when I have to stop to look for the hunger: what does this character want now, in this moment? The character may be desperate to find a lost sibling, for example, but what does he want this morning, when he gets up? Breakfast? Coffee? A shower? Or does he wake up so anxious to meet with an investigator that he skips food and even a shower?

Every character should want something.

Finding the way to greatness

I find the tweets of playwright John Patrick Shanley to be inspiring. Today’s tweet: “Martin Luther King found his mission and became a giant. Kids want to find their way not simply to prosperity, but to greatness. Help them.”


Worthy words for teachers and for storytellers. In story our kids will find their voices, and in their voices they will find their way to greatness.

Story is the message of giants.

Tell your story

“Tell your story. No one else can.” A tweet from playwright John Patrick Shanley.

Tell your story

Tell your story

Many talk about finding your voice. Maybe the point is using your voice, more than finding it. Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “If I don’t write this, no one’s going to write it. If I die, this idea dies with me.”

Only you can tell your story, and only you can discover that story by starting to write. You won’t have a story till you begin to write it. Let it come. Let it find you.

A Brazil Few People Know

“Most movies we present show a Brazil that few people know.”

Cecilia Queiroz

Cecilia Queiroz

Film festival curator and manager Cecilia Queiroz has exhibited more than 500 Brazilian films in global markets. Her responsibilities include organizing workshops, networking and pitching with professionals in the film industry at the festivals.

A country the size of Europe, Brazil has many cultural themes and story traditions that run through the films produced there. “We try,” says Queiroz, “to get out of the stereotype of mulatto, caipirinha drink, samba and soccer. Of course, many films have some of those elements, but the audience tends to be surprised. Our stories and documentaries unveil a modern, rural, technological, industrial, romantic, and humorous Brazil: five different countries in one Brazil. We aim to make our international audiences see Brazil with other eyes, stimulating their curiosity to consume our movies and purchase our products and services.

“We want to make BRAFFTv (an annual Brazilian film festival in Toronto) a window for our movies, music, crafts, for our natural and industrial wealth, and for the great opportunities for tourism, thus facilitating partnerships and business between countries.”

Queiroz says that comedy and drama are currently the most popular film genres in Brazil. Grants programs support the production of documentaries as well. “We present commercial and acclaimed films and directors, and also we open space for new talent. The domestic production in different genres and formats,” she says, “is growing every day and catches the attention of audiences.”

Director Marcelo Galvão and his film Buddies

Brazil’s film market has grown substantially in the last five or six years. “There are many financial incentives coming from tax waivers and grants in Brazil to produce films. With so much money available, the industry is growing and becoming specialized, generating income and both direct and indirect jobs.”

Productions and co-productions are encouraged by government agreements with different countries, says Queiroz. “However, the government does not invest in the distribution of these films at the same rate, which means that many of them do not reach the general public, ending up on the shelves of producers.”

Director Cao Hamburger and his film Xingu

“For twenty years production was almost nil; far from the 500 films (short and feature) annually produced today. In its annual report, Ancine – the regulator of cinema in Brazil – indicates that 127 features were screened in commercial movie theatres in Brazil in 2013, against 83 in 2012. Of these, not more than one third got over a thousand people, and more than two thirds did not reach 10,000 people. The 127 films released got from 100,000 to 499,000 spectators. Nine percent, or eleven films, had more than 500,000 people who bought tickets.

“From all the films produced, 20-30 % participated in festivals or entered the commercial TV and film circuit. Despite the mismatch between production and distribution,” Queiroz affirms, “our industry is hot and has real opportunities for the independent market.”

Suggested Films:

Here are several other filmmakers/films/actors Queiroz suggests are representative of the Brazilian film scene:

Director Vicente Amorim and his film Dirty Hearts

Director Renata Pinheiro and her Love, Plastic and Noise

The actor Selton Mello in The Clown


Want to view more Brazilian films? Take a look at


Expressions of Brazil

Film, Media & Social Engagement in Digital Age Conference 2013 (legendado português)

5º BRAFFTv – Brazilian Film and Television Festival of Toronto

PINK LATINO DIVERSITY 2013 – Opening Night!

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