Story and the “Good Stuff”

Story is one of the most complex yet simple art forms in existence. It isn’t until you attempt to tell one that you realize how difficult it is to keep an audience interested.

I often think about the natural growth of a story. The more you focus on a single character and dramatic incident the more clear and concise your story will be. At our core we turn to story to learn about the world around us. Despite the human mind having the ability to understand great complexities and details, it will always require extra effort to do so – effort your audience isn’t looking to produce when they are seeking to be entertained. The more your story is packaged in a centralized question the more digestible your story will be.

My favorite thing about screenwriting has been the impact and significance required for each line. There is no place for waste, laziness, or meaningless repetition. Because screenwriting requires more dialogue than description, I have a bad habit of “hearing the conversation” and writing according to how I imagine it might play out. This isn’t a fundamental error, as it improves the natural flow, but it becomes easy for a character to repeat themselves and shine a spotlight on their personality rather than the problem that is being overcome. Furthermore, the natural progression of a conversation does not incorporate any character change or overwhelming obstacles. The most memorable and impactful moments of any story are the actions your character performs that betray what their former self would do. How common is it for a parent to be petrified of their child drinking, smoking, or using drugs? Yet the origin of that fear often comes from knowledge of our their own experience and how it affected their lives. That is a character change.

I do feel our most fascinating ideas and concepts should always reserve page space in what we write. One of the most entertaining shows of the last 20 years is South Park. It is easy to watch this show, enjoy it, and feel it is nothing more than an escape from the pressures of the world. But in reality South Park incorporates a 3 act structure, a climax, and a theme. One item that differentiates South Park from other comedies that fail to hold our attention is the constant comedic gems. Family guy, on the other hand, is all comedic gems with no importance given to the story. I am convinced each episode of South Park is guided by an absurdist idea that brings the writers to crack up laughing. They know their idea is hilarious and find a way to make it a staple that falls within the necessity of the story requirements.

I feel there are far too many suspense, mystery, and action stories that stray so close to plot points that they lose sight of what keeps viewers interested in the first place. Your audience will never be a soulless academic who marks off a story-checklist with each page that they turn. You’ve got to include the good stuff that makes your audience uncertain about how they would handle a similar situation. Such is the conflict that produces an intriguing premise.

On top of writing this morning, I am hoping to record the content for another YouTube video. I return to work tonight and will be preoccupied with the daily grind for the following week and a half. I am eager to make the major changes to my script today in order to begin casting the roles and finding my locations. Enjoy your own daily pursuit and make the most of the hours you have been given.

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