Story is King

//Story is King

Story is King

Bobette Buster is a great name, isn’t it? It has alliteration, punch, and origin. You know you’re not going to meet a mousy woman from Wolverhampton with a name like Bobette Buster.

Bobette, who is a story consultant for Pixar among other things, took to the stage last night at the Hay Festival to tell us about story. We know story, of course we do, but we don’t always know why it works. Why do some stories capture hearts, and others leave us with a  shrugged ‘meh’? Well, Bobette’s got more understanding about that than she could possibly cram into a fifty minute talk, but she gave it a jolly good go.

She brought me to tears three times with her choice of film clips (thankfully she didn’t show *that scene* from Toy Story 3 or it would have been embarrassing), and showed that the principles she was identifying could be applied to non-fiction, and real stories, not just ‘the movies’. Most powerfully she used a 90 second youtube clip of a woman hearing for the first time, thanks to a cochlea implant, and after we were all in tears, Bobette identified all the elements in play: two worlds colliding (hearing/non-hearing), the protagonist’s want/need (to hear), the courage to transform (the operation), the overwhelming joy at its success. We don’t think about these elements consciously, or even have to see them all, but as story beings we understand they are there and respond emotionally.

This was the first thing I was really struck by, and it’s the same thing I was talking about in my last post. The little vibration at your core. We are messy sacks of emotion, and stories help us understand what we’re feeling, even when we can’t verbalise why it works half so well as Bobette. Whenever I cry at a film or a novel, I’m crying because of some emotion that belongs to me – the story just makes it vibrate enough for me to access it. This controlled exploration of things like fear, love, loss, and grief through story makes it easier for us to embrace these emotions when they come at us for real.

The second thing is more personal. I have this line that goes around my head whenever I sit down to write and it goes like this: “I know I can write a good sentence, but can I tell a story?” The unspoken answer from my self-sabotaging psyche is ‘No you can’t’. One of the first things Bobette said last night was, “We are all storytellers. Everyone is interesting.” And a little something chimed inside me.

Couldn’t make it to Hay?

Last year Bobette did a talk for the Do Lectures (which all  look amazing), and the video is online: Can you tell your story?

She also wrote a book for Do Books: Story – How to tell your story so the world listens. It’s very good.



  1. Elizabeth May 27, 2013 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    I think the “thing” we are responding to in a good story is recognition. Recognition of the emotion and/or story arc being portrayed in the story. A thankful feeling that yes, someone else has felt that exact feeling before and I am not alone.

    I’m jealous you were at the Hay. I loved that place.

    • Joanne May 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Yes, you’re right. At the heart of it is a desire for connection, and an emotional connection is so powerful because emotions are so hard to verbalise.

      I haven’t been to Hay for a few years. It is great, but it is, of course, raining and raining and raining…

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