Larrabee and I love Pixar movies. And we love writing stories. So we were very excited when Khan Academy released the first lesson in a course called “The Art of Storytelling” taught by Pixar directors and story artists.
It’s part of a series of courses called Pixar in a Box, and it consists of short videos and activities. Larrabee and I went through it in a single sitting, although we only did the exercises verbally.
One of our favorite activities was reframing movies in terms of a “what if” statement. For example, what if an overprotective father had to cross the ocean to save his son?
Another of our favorite activities was mixings characters and worlds from two different movies. Larrabee came up with an intriguing idea with a Death Star and a Terminator.
We’re looking forward to the next lesson on character. In the meantime, we’ll do some brainstorming. What if…?
Blaine, Larrabee, and I had a chance to meet Ursula Vernon a couple of years ago at Bookshop Santa Cruz. She is the author and illustrator of the tremendously fun Dragonbreath series.
She told us about how she combines ideas in her books. For example, ninjas are cool. Frogs are also cool. So, ninja frogs would make awesome villains. (See Dragonbreath #2: Attack of the Ninja Frogs).
She also talked about how she plots her books. She said that she puts her main character into some sort of interesting situation (e.g., he falls into a pit or is attacked by ninja frogs). Then she asks herself:
- Why is this happening?
- Who is responsible?
- What happens next?
She proceeded to brainstorm a plot with the kids in attendance. I don’t remember all of the details, but it featured a platypus. Not just an ordinary platypus. A giant platypus. A Platypus-zilla threatening the town of Santa Cruz.
Her presentation made us want to come home and write a story. Or draw a comic book. Or read (or re-read) one of her books. Hopefully, we’ll do all of the above this summer.
Speaking of Ursula Vernon’s books, the boys and I highly recommend Dragonbreath and its sequels. These books are wacky and funny and full of adventure. They’re ideal first chapter books because they’re easy to read, with a mix of text and comic book panels.
There are eleven books in the series to date. Blaine’s personal favorite is Dragonbreath #3: Curse of the Were-wiener (yes, like a hot dog werewolf). Larrabee is just starting the series, but unlike Blaine, he doesn’t believe in reading books in order. He’s partial so far to Dragonbreath #10: Knight-napped.