August 23, 2015

'Talent is Bulls***.' Comic Artist Ty Templeton's Blunt Advice on How to Tell Better Stories

Even though we're all born with an innate ability and desire to tell stories, actually putting them on paper is a skill you have to learn.

Yeah, I said skill -- not talent. This is a lesson revered comic artist and writer Ty Templeton wants all of us to learn, that having "talent" is a myth, that hard work, practice, and dedication are the things that make artists great. In the first episode of Raindance Step & Repeat, Templeton shares some great insight on what it takes to write a great story. Although the video is no longer able to be embedded (you can watch it here), here are a few takeaways from the video:

Talent is bullshit

This is great news for people who have thought their whole lives that they weren't born with what it takes to be an artist. Great art comes from great amounts of work -- practice and diligence toward attaining new skills. No one is born with an innate ability to perfectly construct a narrative or write natural dialog. These skills are earned, so the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. 

"Tell a story your audience thinks they know how it will turn out."

"And then don't let it turn out that way." Your audience should never be one step ahead of you. They should never be able to solve the mystery of your unfolding narrative before you begin to pull up the page, because more often than not, this makes for a boring experience for the viewer. Templeton explains it like this:

So what happens is I've got you now, because you think you know the story I'm going to tell you. And I'm going to tell you some of the story you think is coming up, or else you won't be satisfied. But I'm going to delightfully confound the story you expect, or you won't come back for another one. And that's the basic secret: tell people a universal story they think they know is coming and screw around enough that they don't get the one that they paid for.

Don't let your humongous ego take the focus off of your story

You see this all the time in beginning writing classes: writers coming up with complex narratives full of motifs and metaphors that, in the end, just become convoluted ego-strokes in written form. I'm guilty of this. Most of us are. However, Templeton says that the less you focus on being a great writer, the more you can focus on writing something great. Templeton brings up a great point, that the "prettiness" of an image, whether it's an illustration or a moving image, is irrelevant if it doesn't help tell a story. So, whether you're writing something or shooting something or editing something, it all must serve the story.

Audiences want to be engrossed in your narrative, but they can't do that if they're constantly being reminded of your -- genius. That's not to say you shouldn't include complexities and profound storytelling techniques, if you can then you should, but just don't let that overshadow the real reason why people are watching your film, which is, of course, to experience a story that moves them.      

Your Comment

18 Comments

This constant talk about "telling stories" has reached absurd levels on nofilmschool. It's a nonsensical word to be used in such all-encompassing way. Making a movie is making a movie, and telling stories is telling stories. It's a bad word to use even for literature, since a good novel is much more than just "telling a story". You tell a story to a kid before he goes to bed, you don't describe writers work as telling stories (especially if he is a good writer). It's an infantile speech, especially when the word "story" is used like 10 times times in a short article. It's like some site that focused on making music started preaching about "telling stories" with music.

Also, having a talent is no myth. There are some people who for some reason do great stuff and they don't work nearly as hard as some people who for some reason do terrible stuff. You can work hard all you want, but if your taste is bad or you aren't very intelligent, then you will just become really proficient at doing stuff that you consider to be good, but which is actually bad.

August 23, 2015 at 3:59PM

0
Reply

Well said... I feel like I'm going insane with how nutty and self-absorbed this generation is becoming. The narcissism level of people these days is reaching all-time highs... with the spreading of such asinine philosophy like "nobody is actually talented". Some people are very talented and most people aren't, and it's not because nobody "gave them a chance" or that they "didn't have a proper budget" or "didn't have the time to practice enough"... that mode of thinking is such post-modern garbage. People are different people... and some are just plain better at things regardless of input.

August 24, 2015 at 1:56PM, Edited August 24, 1:56PM

0
Reply

It's a Rene article, what do you expect? She only posts hipster nonsense.

August 24, 2015 at 2:19PM, Edited August 24, 2:19PM

0
Reply
avatar
Zgjim
34

Hahaha I learned not to comment on her articles.

August 24, 2015 at 3:50PM, Edited August 24, 3:50PM

0
Reply
avatar
Edgar More
All
1027

Thank you. As an actual story teller I'm glad someone else is pointing this out—although I resent the idea that storytelling is something only done for children. And at bedtime. You really should step away from the screen for an evening and attend an actual, live storytelling event for adults. A great storyteller can really transport you and it isn't something everyone can do. I agree there is an innate connection to narrative for most people but formulating those narrative bits into a coherent and interesting story is always a learned skill/talent. Ok, back to casual tech-geek lurking...

August 24, 2015 at 9:24PM, Edited August 24, 9:24PM

0
Reply

Talent is not taste or intelligence. There are certain idiosyncrasies in some people that could be considered talent. Someone like Ginger Baker that has perfect musical timing was "meant" to be a musician.

The true point he was making is that most people are unwilling to put in the effort to be great at something. Nearly anyone could be a great filmmaker if they actually got out and wrote/shot/directed A LOT of videos instead of reading NFS and ogling gear while hyping themselves up every 4 months that they're really, actually going to do something this time.

Most people "with talent" practice and produce constantly. The "talented" artist in everyone's group of acquaintances is good because they sat inside and drew at recess and kept drawing whenever they could. They didn't go outside and climb trees because they were drawing. They didn't play touch football because they were drawing. When they got older they didn't go to as many parties or events as others because they were spending all their free time just making art. That is what 99% of people consider to be talent; the ability to give up free time to get better at something.

August 25, 2015 at 12:47PM

3
Reply

When I'm talking about talent I'm talking about artistic talent, and not about somebody who has technical skills (ie. is very good at drawing, playing instrument etc.). I believe to create a work of art, you have to be extremely intelligent and/or sensitive (most likely both), both being traits that cannot be acquired through hard work, but only through early life experience, plus you have to have the right genes. 20 year old artistic genius will "destroy" 99.9% 50 year olds who have been working hard in creative fields for all of their life. Actually, lots of truly creative people become worse with time spent "working hard", they lose their raw touch that made them famous when they were young.

Again, I'm talking about the legit artists, not some guy who read "how to make screenplay" book, hustled hard, and is now a "successful screenwriter" (ie. makes money doing it).

If all it takes is working hard then everybody who works hard should be better at their 40s than all other equally hardworking people at their 30s if they all started at 20s. But that is clearly not true. There are old hard-working people (most of them) who cannot do what some artistic geniuses do when they are 25 years old. How come, if talent is bullshit?

And there is of course not just geniuses and people who do terrible stuff. There is a whole spectrum, and for each person alive there is a line on that spectrum that they *cannot* cross, no matter how hard they work.

August 26, 2015 at 1:36PM, Edited August 26, 1:46PM

3
Reply

Great find! Thanks!

August 23, 2015 at 6:49PM

1
Reply
avatar
Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3826

Thanks for sharing that!

August 23, 2015 at 8:58PM

0
Reply
avatar
Kevin Jones
Editor
778

I have to somewhat disagree about the talent thing. It's the old question about genius vs hard work. Yes, a diligent person can add many skills to their arsenal but some people just know how to do something, e.g., when I was very young, I could just do art when the other kids in class couldn't. At age 11, I could reproduce a photo very accurately in pencil. No one showed me how; I just did it.
Frank Frazetta had a lot of training and experience but still, the decisions he made when producing his art still amazes me and is why he is (or was) taught in some art schools such as Ringling.
If you are born with artistic qualities, you will display great interest in that arena and will find learning the skills comes easier than it does for those without the imbued talent. I've seen plenty of kids trying to become comic book artists and they struggled much more than I did (It's not what I do for a living, just to be clear). I believe this is because we are more than material DNA; we are spirit beings also. I believe God creates a new spirit at the moment of conception. He puts certain qualities within that spirit that suit His purposes. He's the greatest artist possible and shares some of that with many of us.
He did this later in life for these guys in Exodus 31:1-6 (they were said to be "gifted" but God added "wisdom" to the gifting), " Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, 5 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.
6 “And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:"

August 23, 2015 at 9:14PM, Edited August 23, 9:18PM

0
Reply

man, did you just quote the Bible? swerveeee

August 24, 2015 at 12:07AM

0
Reply
avatar
Paul-Vincent Alexander
Storyteller
86

The Lord said, "Let there be Light".

Then the Lord said, "Camera, Action !"

August 24, 2015 at 4:37AM

0
Reply
Saied M.
1026

I'm actually going to have to disagree, here. Sure, you'll never break into any industry without hard work and dedication- talent alone won't carry you there- but a natural aptitude for one creative discipline over another isn't a crazy thought.

We all have that friend who can just pick up an instrument and start playing after a couple minutes of fiddling around. Or that friend who's able to inject the kind of life into their drawings that the rest of us can only dream of. We can accept that these people exist, and that they've just got an aptitude, a natural talent. Why is it so hard to accept that this might exist in story-telling, as well?

Sure, talent isn't everything. Talent is often very little, in the grand scheme of things. And sure, yeah, great art does indeed come from huge amounts of work, rather than raw talent. But that's not to say that talent doesn't exist.

August 24, 2015 at 5:47AM

2
Reply

I have a friend that can pickup an instrument and start playing it... but he played piano since he was 6. He also had musical siblings. And whatever 'skill' he displayed on a 'new' instrument was rudimentary at best until he had time to practice (like anybody). His 'talent' wasn't innate, genetic, God-given or voodoo; it was his exposure (family), curiosity (inclinations to pursue knowledge/ experience) and behavior (practice, study, etc) that gave him the skills to do what he does -- pickup most any instrument and display even a slight competency in the most basic of musical talents. I'll spare you the same story for my tattoo artist and comic book illustrator friends -- they too share this same 'talent.'

I used to subscribe to 'some kids have it, some kids don't' mentality when I was young. It distinguished myself - and whomever else was bestowed the label 'talented' - from the heard of other children. The truth is other kids didn't do the things I was 'talented' at (ie. drawing, writing, photography, hockey, boxing, etc.) It's no surprise one has 'talent' in the eyes of adults when you display an aptitude for things other kids simply don't do, or don't do with any regularity as to develop a distinguishable level of skill. True, I, and others, were told we had a 'talent' in things that I had ZERO experience in... but if you break it down there's more to it than a superficial term. Ex. Marksmanship -- I watched enough movies to know how to hold a gun; played enough sports to develop stabilizing muscles; developed fine tune motor skills in drawing and other skill -- all of this aided me in marksmanship, a skill I had no previous experience in. Do you ever wonder why an athlete in _____________ is also adept in new sports they may try? It's not 'talent', it's pre-developed skill sets in other facets of life that contribute to said 'talent.'

If ever 'talent' existed it's in the raw mindset that builds a person's identity. Persistence, focus, adaptability, confidence, stubbornness, etc. 'Talent' has, and likely never will be, a unit of measurement for one's innate abilities. Biological inheritance in things like intelligence (criticized and studied to this day) has inklings of validity but they too are not concrete.

If there was any true 'talent' that existed it's surely negligible to any learned skill one acquires with dogged persistence of one's craft.

August 24, 2015 at 1:57PM

2
Reply

Talent IS pure bullshit. It's an excuse for lazy people to not try hard to achieve (and possibly fail). But of coarse no one achieves anything without failing... if you can't do it it's just because you didn't try hard enough. Fail and try again. No mathmatician is born with numbers and equations in their head (even the ones with genetic aptitude). No one is born with words in their head (no matter how eloquent they become later). No one is born with images of sunsets, cities, and characters in their heads (not even Miyazaki). But I guess there will always be lazy people crying about talent. Whatever. They can eat my dust. Ill provide the spoon.

August 24, 2015 at 8:02AM

0
Reply

Talent isn't bullshit.
But talent alone won't cut it.
Hard work and experience will turn talent into skills.

In that sense: yeah, just relying on talent is bullshit.
Like one of the other replies said: "talent is just a excuse for being lazy", although a bit harsh and black and white as a statement, it reminds me of the Hare and the Turtle, where the Hare was so certain of his naturally born speed he became too arrogant to take the effort of the Turtle serious, untill it was too late.
On the other side: everyone rejoicing in the 'liberating news' that it is only about hard work: hard work doesn't equal good work by definition.

In other words: work hard, keep learning and be honest to yourself.

August 24, 2015 at 12:36PM

0
Reply
avatar
WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8724

Is talent paradoxical? Does it both exist and not exist at the same time? You bet your ass... So is it all perception? Yes... Is ultimately stating for certain that talent is or isn't bullshit useless? Of course

August 24, 2015 at 5:14PM, Edited August 24, 5:14PM

4
Reply
avatar
Trenton Massey
Director of Photography/ DIT/ Camera Operator
90

thank you so much for sharing this. I absolutely loved it.

August 26, 2015 at 11:58AM

1
Reply

Do the work. Be humble. Work with and learn from people who are better than you. Whether you believe in"talent" or not, 80-90% of accomplishing anything is WORK. Talent is irrelevant.

August 27, 2015 at 7:11PM

0
Reply
Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
173

Frankly...I think the the guy is full of it.
He just likes saying the word...makes him feel like a big deal.
Talent is based on the old nature vs. nurture conundrum...either you have it from the get go or someone helped you develop it.
Go back to your cube wanker.

September 3, 2015 at 1:04PM

0
Reply
avatar
Lee Albright
Owner-Albright Films
81