Great stories are transformative: They can plunge readers into richly imagined fantasy worlds, build bridges between people, and make even the most mundane situations feel full of magic. But telling a great story isn’t easy. One wrong move, and the illusion that keeps the reader engrossed can be broken. 

Fortunately, award-winning writer George Saunders has some advice for aspiring storytellers. In the short documentary George Saunders: On Story, which premiered this week on The Atlantic, Saunders shares his secrets for constructing an engaging story, and reveals some of the pitfalls of bad storytelling. He’s helped with his explanation by a cast of beautifully drawn paper puppets, operated by puppeteer Deborah Hertzberg, who act out his main points. 

Saunders is known for surreal and satirical collections of short stories like CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Tenth of December, and has been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Harpers, and more. His stories take place in haunted theme parks, dystopian futures, and everyday suburban communities. “For Saunders, storytelling is a stand-in for day-to-day life,” says The Atlantic. “And the same considerations you take when approaching how to tell a story mirror the freedom to self-determined identity that you give your loved ones.”

George Saunders: On Story is part of an ongoing short film series about writing created by Redglass Pictures. Check it out above.

[h/t: The Atlantic]

Banner Image Credit: Redglass Pictures, Vimeo