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Great Stories Make Great Promises

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I’m stealing a TED Talk. Kinda. A friend at my day job sent me a link to a TED Talk by Andrew Stanton. Andrew Stanton is the writer/director of Wall-E and several other major Pixar films. It is a short, but poignant lecture on what makes a great story. I’ll wait here while you go watch it.


One point he makes, that I’d like to zoom in on, is the idea of promises. All great stories make great promises. Promises that they fulfill. If that story doesn’t do it, it upsets your audience. It is a very fundamental human reaction. If someone offers you the promise of a free cookie, and then doesn’t deliver, I think you’d be upset.

Who wouldn’t? It’s a cookie!

Promise is also known as foreshadowing and the phrase, “Chekhov’s Gun.” These ideas are something I’m always striving to keep in mind while I’m writing. I want every element in the narrative to have some meaning later in the story. Every character interaction or action on the part of the characters should be relevant in some way.

For me, it is always fun when something that I thought was an innocent moment ends up being extremely relevant later on. Oceans 12 does an incredible job of this. It is one of the reasons I really enjoyed the movie when I first saw it. Every movement on the part of the characters mattered. And it ended up being a fantastic ride with a satisfying payoff.

Promise is such a key element of story telling. It is what keeps the reader turning the page. Without it, there is no reason to invest the time, right? Write.



  1. beatbox32 says:

    Great post. I also love it when something is put out there that may seem inconsequential at first but comes roaring back at the end of a story. That’s the type of thing I strive for in most of my writing; to create that same feeling in my readers.

  2. philosophidian says:

    Another really great example of this is the M. Night Shyamalamadingdang movie “Signs.”

    Wait, where are you going? Come back! I’ll explain.

    I know it wasn’t the best Shamalamadingdang movie, but when they tied up all those seemingly random bits at the end…the baseball…the glasses of water…his wife’s cryptic last words…even his son’s asthma…that was a fantastic example of fulfilled promises. It all came together and made sense.

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