[00:00:00] What we're going to talk about is how to even test your story's value in the first place. How do you choose the right story to tell?
[00:00:19] What does it mean to even tell a story? These are some foundational concepts we need to talk about now so that you can make sure that whatever you're building is actually great, which is the goal. It shouldn't be mediocre. It should be fabulous, and it should fit everything that we need it to to be commercially successful, to have mass appeal, which we should want.
[00:00:41] That doesn't make you a sellout. It makes you good. Let's be good. So, choosing your story. Everyone starts too soon. Everybody thinks that if they have a computer they can start writing. And you shouldn't. You shouldn't. There are things that you need to solve before you sit down to write. So everybody gets started too soon.
[00:01:01] What is a story in the first place? How do you even know if you have a good story? I'm going to give you a definition of story. And then I'm going to break that definition down and help you to see what is a story. component parts you need in your story in order for you to have the ingredients to make it great.
[00:01:18] You want to know that you have all the correct ingredients from the get go. This is about saving time, saving effort, saving pain because you did the work prior to sitting down to write that story. And this is part of that process. So in order for you to be able to see if even the story idea that you have in your head is viable, is good enough to spend all this time working on, I want to walk you through what a story is so that you can see how your story compares.
[00:01:52] And notice we're getting into the basics, right? This is going back to the basics. A lot of good storytelling is actually about getting back to the basics and thinking through these things. So, what is a story? What is a story? Well, a story is the telling of an event that happens. to an individual or a group of individuals.
[00:02:13] That's it. A story is the telling of an event that happens to either one person or to several people. That is a story. Now, if after roughly 10, 15 pages, your reader doesn't know what your story is about, you're in trouble. They're going to put that book down. Or if you're writing a screenplay, they're not going to keep reading.
[00:02:39] They need to know what it's about within a pretty short time frame. And we'll talk about how you do that in another session. But for now, what we need to understand is that Story is a telling. It is not a slice of life. A story is not a slice of life. It is a selection of details that fit a theme, a trajectory, whatever your character has to go through on their journey.
[00:03:05] You have to choose what's important. Have you ever had somebody tell you a story? But they go off on these tangents and you have to be like, but wait, what happened? What happened? Wait, go back to that. What are you talking about now? Wait, go back to the thing you were talking. Oh, right, right, right. Because they've gotten off.
[00:03:23] That is where a person is kind of giving you a slice of life. They're not really telling you about something. But when you have a telling, it means that everything in that telling. Has been selected carefully. Everything in the telling has to do with the telling. Has to do with that particular story. That is what I mean by it is a story.
[00:03:47] telling. It isn't a slice of life. Alfred Hitchcock once said some people want to make movies that are a slice of life. I want to make movies that are a slice of cake. We want to tell stories that are delicious, that are so rich in their storytelling because everything that is there, it's dense, it matters.
[00:04:10] and everything has to be there to complete the flavor of that particular slice of cake. So what does that mean though in terms of that they're not slice of life? Well that means that they are not meant to be as close to real life as possible. Real life is slow and tedious and boring. Real life Doesn't have sustained heightened conflict, but story world does everything in a story is either at the highest level of conflict, or it was just there and now it's coming down, or we're about to go into it.
[00:04:48] Everything in story world has sustained heightened conflict. We couldn't live there in our real lives. It would give us all heart attacks. It's too much. It's too much. But in story world, everything is up here. We are constantly in a state of heightened reality. Stories are better than real. A story is also something that is deliberately and meticulously crafted.
[00:05:15] Every word, every detail in your story must have something to do with that story. There can be nothing unneeded, nothing unnecessary, nothing superfluous. It's always about setups and payoffs. Everything that you're doing plays in the narrative in some way. It is a tight unified whole. A story is a telling.
[00:05:37] It is not a slice of life. Okay? Number two. Story is the telling of an event. Which means that something has to happen in order for there to be a story about it. If it happens, it happens in real time, which means that the story had a moment when it started, and then it will have a moment when it ends. And by the way, this is one of the things that's so tricky about people that are writing memoirs.
[00:06:07] Because in our memoirs, if we're writing our own memoir, we haven't ended yet. And everything that starts it actually goes back to way, way back then. You have to understand all this exposition and backstory. And so people tend to give way too much information because they can't contain it to a certain period of time.
[00:06:27] Well, it really starts with my grandfather who was born on a da da da da da. And they go way back there because In our own lives, we know that all that is relevant. It really did play a role into our story. And yet, it doesn't work. It's too much for probably what we're trying to do. So, in our fiction stories, when we're writing our fiction stories, we have to Really choose, where does that story start?
[00:06:53] Where does it actually start? What starts it? And then where does it go? How does it end? It has to have an ending. It has a moment when it begins, and it has a moment where it ends. Now also, a good story is something that sweeps your readers up in the very beginning. And carries them on a journey until the end.
[00:07:17] It's a ride that goes somewhere. One of the sayings that we like to say in the movie world is movies move. The idea is that it should be moving. A story goes somewhere. And it doesn't matter what your genre is. It doesn't matter what your style is. It doesn't matter. If it's a story, it has to go somewhere.
[00:07:39] It can't be stagnant. Now at the end of your story, you should be able to sum up what your story was about in one or two sentences. And this is where things get tricky because most people, when they are asked to describe or to tell what is your story about, they will go to theme. They will say something like, Well, my story is about good versus evil and how good people can be corrupted by evil Unless they're vigilant and making positive decisions and hanging out with good people or something like that, right?
[00:08:15] But that's theme and by the way That was a lot more information than most people would give me even if they were speaking the theme but that isn't story When you are talking about your story, what we want to know is who it is that the story is happening to. That's what matters in story. Who is the main character?
[00:08:36] And we want to know what the actual event is. Not the theme, but the event. So if you're writing a story about a group of kids who get caught up in a hurricane, lose their way, and one of them has to rise to the lead to become the leader to get all of these misfit kids back home. Now, we know who the characters are and we know what the action is.
[00:09:02] That's what we're looking for. We want to know what it's about. So, Jaws. What is Jaws about? Well, it's about a man eating shark and the sheriff that has to stop it. Okay, so now we know what the event is. There's a shark that's on a rampage eating people. And we know who the main character is. It's the sheriff who has to stop it.
[00:09:25] You always want to look at story from those two angles. Who is your character? What is the event that's happening? By the way, I'm a big believer in writing log lines for your story, because when you can write a good log line at the outset, it helps you to stay on track. It helps you to see what your character wants and what they're after, which is actually going to be essential to good storytelling.
[00:09:46] So, in one of our upcoming modules, you're going to be challenged to write a log line, and I have Four criteria that you're going to try to incorporate in that log line, but we're not there yet So keep a lookout for that one because it's going to be very helpful for you before we get into story structure Okay.
[00:10:03] Now while you are trying to capture in essence who it is and what's happening in the story, of course Stories are about more than what they're about. That's called theme, and theme is very important. In fact, were it not for theme, we wouldn't have book clubs. Book clubs are dedicated to trying to pull out these themes.
[00:10:24] That's what kids study in the English classes when they're reading literature, or if you are an English major in college, you're looking for themes. You're trying to talk about those things. And I would argue that Theme is where the meat is, right? It's where the meaning is that we're trying to pull out.
[00:10:39] But that's not actual story. And so theme has to be incorporated in a different way. And we'll talk about that down the road. I want you to learn to separate theme. From story because if you think theme is story, you're not going to have a good story. You're going to have a very slow story that is going to be more pontificating.
[00:11:01] It's going to be more bleh in here. It's not going to be active. And that's what this course is about is trying to put into action your story. So we'll get to that more later. Okay, the point is that story is about more than what it's about. So in the film Magnolia, for example, What is Magnolia about? Well, it's about this group of characters that all are experiencing terrible regret for sins that they've committed in their lives That's true, and they're all in some state of crises however, it's about more than it's about and really What Magnolia is about, what P.
[00:11:40] T. Anderson was trying to do when he wrote Magnolia, which is brilliant, by the way, and if you haven't seen it, you should, but be warned, there's a lot of cursing and it can get pretty dark, but it's so, so good. But basically, he was trying to talk about forgiveness. He wanted to write a story thematically that was about forgiveness.
[00:11:59] But a theme is actually an argument. You need to learn to argue a point in your theme. Theme, it is not enough to say, well, it's about good versus evil, or it's about forgiveness, or it's about blah, blah, blah. That's too flowery. Think of theme as an argument that your novel or your story is making a conclusion, a statement about this particular thing that your story is making.
[00:12:25] So in P. T. Anderson's case, he basically says that The sins of the fathers are being passed on to the children. And it's this generational cycle. And the only way to stop the cycle is through forgiveness and repentance. And by the way, judgment is coming. That is actually what his theme is in Magnolia. And everything in his story is building a case to that.
[00:13:00] He's showing how it's a cycle. The sins of the parents are being passed on to the children and they're living sinful cycles because of the parents sins. And it's this vicious cycle that goes and goes and goes. How do we stop it? We repent! And we forgive. We repent and we forgive. And if that's not enough By the way Judgment is coming and guess what?
[00:13:27] He's waiting for us to repent and forgive. I mean, it's actually a really really Powerful Judeo-Christian themed story. So you should check that out if you can Anyway, the point is that it's always about more than it's about But don't confuse the two And don't worry about theme right now. Most of us don't have difficulty coming up with our theme because we have something we want to say which is probably part of what makes our stories not very good.
[00:13:57] Right now, I'm going to ask you to sus Spend whatever thematic ideas you have, set them on a shelf, put them away. Don't think of it. Try very, very hard to just don't think about them. Trust the process that we're about to go through and instead turn your attention to who is your main character and what is the event that happens.
[00:14:19] Think about that, think about that, let that ruminate and then when we get into the module where you have to write your logline and you have to kind of describe what your story is about, you'll be ready to do that without incorporating things. Okay. Now, most beginning writers But even a lot of accomplished writers or experienced writers will default back to this at various times in their careers.
[00:14:42] Most writers don't know when to start their story. And so I have a good rule of thumb for you. And that is to hit the ball when it's on the rise. See what most of us do is we go back and we try to give a bunch of exposition. We try to give all the backstory. We try to make sure everybody understands. But you know what?
[00:15:00] We don't have to do that. Today's audience is so sophisticated, you don't even have to explain things. You just have to tell the truth. You just have to tell your story. You have to put it in words. The audience will figure it out. They like it. In fact, they enjoy the process of trying to figure out what's going on without you spoon feeding them all this information that you think is relevant.
[00:15:23] You jump into the action without providing all the history and today's sophisticated audience will pick it up. There's a great playwriting instructor who used to do something to his class. They would write a play for their master program in playwriting and then they would come to the class to turn it in.
[00:15:42] And he would make a big show out of dumping the first 10 pages. And then that would be the beginning of their play. I mean, can you imagine? The first 10 pages! He would just throw them in the garbage. Because most of the time we don't need those. That is us trying to give the backstory. Maybe that's work you need to do to know your story.
[00:16:02] But it's probably not work that needs to go into the audience. Okay. So, start as late as possible, start as late as possible, and that's what we're going to try and do. Number three, a story is the telling of an event that happens to a certain individual or a group of individuals. All good stories are character driven.
[00:16:28] I get so tired of this discussion of, well, is it plot driven? Is it high concept? Is it character driven? All stories are character driven. Even the most high concept piece, if it's good, it's because it's got great characters at the core. And the reason for that is because, A, nothing is new under the sun.
[00:16:47] Every story has actually been told. It's about who it's happening to that really is what matters. And what your audience is resonating with. See, a story is a compact that you're making with the audience. You're asking them to emotionally invest in a character's journey. They have to care about your character.
[00:17:08] If they don't, they don't care how I concept your pieces. They only care about your story if they have a reason to emotionally invest in your main character. That's why it is so essential. that it is character driven. There's nothing new under the sun, it's only who it's happening to that makes the story interesting.
[00:17:31] It's about your character, it's character driven because at the end of the day, every single story is a personal paradox. Which means it's about a character undergoing changes. That is the arc. That is the arc of every single story. A character starts in one place, he goes through some grand adventure, and by the end, they are epically changed by it.
[00:17:56] And that is also why it is Personal. It is a personal paradox. They have to go through the crucible themselves and change and that's why it is character driven. Now here is an example. There is a story about a group of people who shipwreck on a deserted island. Now here's the clincher. The people who are shipwrecked are a professor, a movie star, a bumbling captain and his first mate, the girl next door, a millionaire and his wife.
[00:18:26] Are you getting the picture? Do you know what this story is? Gilligan's Island. Okay, well, now here is a story about a group of people who shipwrecked on a deserted island. Now, the people that were shipwrecked include a troubled surgeon, an alcoholic troubled surgeon, a fugitive that is trying to hide out, an unlucky lottery winner, a con man, a man who was the chief operating officer of his mother's wedding business.
[00:18:58] A dance teacher, you get the idea. You have all of these characters, and you even have some characters that have some supernatural abilities, because this is, of course, a sci fi fantasy type setting, and so it's different. But do you see the point? You've got two groups of characters, both shipwrecked on a desert island, but the stories are completely different!
[00:19:17] It's completely different because of who the characters are. It even changes the style, the genre of the series, depending on who the characters are. Okay. Story, by the way, is all about point of view. A different point of view will change the story. So in your story, You might have multiple protagonists.
[00:19:39] That's possible. However, it should come down to one particular protagonist. There should be one primary protagonist, even if you do have multiple perspectives. And at the end of the day, it is all about point of view. Whose lens are we seeing the story through? I'm going to talk about that more in another session, but I want to mention that here, because your story should be consistent.
[00:20:03] This is where you have to be consistent with telling the story through that person's point of view, because it is about one primary character's adventure, their journey, their change. And if you don't understand point of view, like, even the The sub characters, even the multiple characters that have an opportunity for their stories to be told should have to do with the main story in some way, otherwise it needs to be cut.
[00:20:28] So ultimately they're all playing into each other, even if we don't see it until the end. Ultimately all of the various storylines have to be playing into some one narrative and one primary person who ultimately is the one who changes the most in the story. Alright, so this is just Talking to you about what a story is.
[00:20:51] A story is the telling of an event that happens to a person or a group of people. That's what it is. You need to know who your character is or who your characters are, but in that, who your main character is, and what happens in the story. That's the starting point for all good stories. So, your assignment for today is to jot down some of these things.
[00:21:22] Just very, very, keep it simple, simple, simple. Who is your story about and what happens in the story. Try to come up with a crude log line that we can build upon.