'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.