Advice for Actors: The Storytelling Secret
Do you remember the moment in E.T, when the kid, Elliot lures E.T into the house? Are you too young for E.T?
Okay, I’ll describe it.
E.T (A space alien) is befriended by a small boy called Elliot. He wants to protect the alien, so he lures him into the house using jelly beans. As E.T eats each jellybean, he moves forward to the next. That way, Elliot can get him into the safety of his house. One jelly bean at a time.
(I’m fairly sure similar scenario exists in the Simpsons with Homer following a trail of food… Someone help me with that?)
So, what has this to do with the secret of storytelling?
Okay, okay, I’m getting to that!
As actors, when we get a script, we tend to focus on the most heighened ‘state’ a character experiences. If they’re angry, if they confronting someone, if they are revealing a secret — that’s where our attention seems to go. In effect, we anticipate the most important part of the scene, and paint the whole thing that colour.
But the secret of storytelling, is to be like Elliot, and to make the audience follow you, one. jellybean. at. a. time.
Take your time to leave a trail of jellybeans that they can follow. Don’t just give them the entire bag of sweets all at once. They will gorge themselves, and soon lose interest.
So if you know that at the climax of the scene, you confront the other character, then gently leave a trail that leads to this point. Direct your actions to build slowly towards this point and it will keep the audience engaged and intrigued until you get there.
It’s the same as joke-telling. You don’t tell them the punchline and then go to the set up, no one would find it funny.
Give them one little bean at a time, and they’ll follow you all the way to the end of the scene.