Joe Craig – How to Create a Story

Joe starts by eating the microphone, pretending to tell jokes as latecomers enter, and playing skittles with all his water bottles. Pointing to a blue dot on the floor he quips “You see this? It’s kind of freaking me out. I keep going round it because I’m scare what’ll happen if I step on it.”

(Cue lots of audience participation and lots of kids already on the edge of their seat).

“I’m a really impatient reader… Have you read the Harry Potter books? I read them, enjoyed them, but it really annoyed me that everyone was trying to copy the success of HP by writing about witches and wizards. I couldn’t care less about witches and wizards…but I liked Harry Potter despite the fact that it had witches and wizards. It was exciting – had twists, action, fights, mystery, thriller – and I thought, that’s brilliant. Why doesn’t someone copy that element? So that’s what I set out to do.”

Then Joe set out on his task of helping children to understand how to build a story, starting off with chat about characters – what would your character be like?

“Those characters all sound amazing but when we’re talking about creating a character like this, we’ve made a plan about what they look like etc, but this doesn’t give a story. There’s one thing you need to know about a character that you need to know about a character that’ll give you a story. What would it be?”

Guesses: Abilities, hobbies, background, storyline…

“Hands down, I’ll tell you. First thing, don’t waste time with mapping out what they look like and stuff – what does that character want, if there were no limitations, no rules? What would they want?

Money – why? – to buy new things – how much do they want? – 10 billion –  what else does he want? Power – a pet dinosaur – a cinema. So, they’ve got loads of money, power and can buy lots of things. What else might they want? Normality, friends, the world. We’re getting closer to the story here…but we’re not there yet because at the moment, your story sounds like this… (gives boring rendition using all the elements, funny but not satisfying).

“That’s not much of a story – it’s just about a character who wants lots of stuff, and gets lots of stuff. I want to know why he wants those things…what is it in his background that makes him want these things. What is his motive? What’s given him these desires?”

Guesses: Mad scientist, he went craziness, something happened to him when he was a kid, he wants people to like him, he was weak as a baby…” – excellent suggestion…you just won a book!

Another, more exciting rendition of the story built within the big top follows…

“But there’s one more thing missing – next massive important question. Who’s going to stop him? I want to know who stops Bob?”

Guesses: He creates a super person to stop him…one of the dinosaurs he creates eats him…diarrhea stops him…

So, now you have a story that might go something like this…

The show continued with lots of audience questions, reading from his book, plenty of participation, jokes and laughter.

But it’s not the bribery that has these kids in awe – they’re jumping out of their seats to answer Joe’s questions. It’s the fact that they can connect with him. Joe uses their ideas to tell a story, to really deconstruct how you go about writing a story that excites – with energy. He shows that making mistakes is OK, humour is good, and imagination is key.

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