My approach to story is probably the same as yours, in that I’ve taken the things that resonate from a collage of sources. Naturally I’m familiar with the Hero’s Journey, and I take a lot from Campbell and Vogler’s work, particularly around the purpose of story itself. But I’m also partial to those who focus on emotionally priming the writer for their journey through the work.
There are some people who believe structure and creativity are antithetical. I absolutely disagree. The best stories unite creative, inspired, refreshing elements with a structure that guides the audience through a satisfying emotional journey.
Structure is not a dirty word. But without inspiration, a structure’s just an empty shell. And conversely, inspiring, great, creative art needs a form – even improvised music takes you on a structured journey, otherwise it’s just notes thrown against a wall.
I ask structural questions so the story can give creative, striking answers.
So if that’s inspiration and structure, what about drama – the nuts and bolts? Well:
“Somebody wants something very badly, and they’re having a lot of trouble getting it.”
That’s the legendary Hollywood definition of drama. Simple, and oh, so true. But it’s not the whole story. It certainly won’t give a whole story. For that, we need:
- An intriguing, empathetic protagonist
- A deeply challenging goal
- Daunting forces of antagonism
- High stakes
- A compelling concept
- A profound premise – the moral argument within and expressed throughout the story
And last but not least…
- A personal journey
Does the protagonist change? Do they grow? How do they demonstrate their growth? If they refuse to change, are they defeated? Or does their defiance inspire change in others? How do these journeys reflect the premise of the story?
And what does this story say about us?
Those are my basics, learnt from Vogler, Hauge, AFTRS and my favourite teacher in Australia, Allen Palmer. You can see a list of some of my favourite screen stories here. I think the films listed there have all the elements above, not least because they have clear, intriguing and grand answers to the following questions:
- Whose story is this?
- What do they want? What do they need?
- Who, or what, is stopping them?
- What’s at stake?
- And why do we care?
If any of that resonates with you, I’d love to talk about why.