Everyone has an idea for a movie. The trouble is many people’s ideas are not big enough.
Big stories don’t mean massive special effects, explosions, and millions of spaceships crashing into each other. Big stories are about something life-changing in the end. When plotting your story, look at your ending. Is your ending changing someone’s life irreversibly? If so, then you have a big idea for a story.
Let’s take a simple idea for a story. Imagine a typical horror story where a serial killer is chasing a woman. So the woman’s main goal is to escape from the serial killer. That’s fine, but it’s not big enough.
A story is rarely big enough when the hero is threatened. To make the story bigger, threaten someone the hero loves and cares for. Now the hero is forced to defeat the villain not only to protect him or herself, but to protect a loved one who may not be capable of protecting themselves.
To make a story even bigger, the villain must not only threaten the hero and threaten someone the hero loves, but also loses of innocent people as well. Think of the following as ways to make a story big:
- Threaten the hero
- Threaten the hero’s loved ones
- Threaten innocent people the hero doesn’t want to see hurt
In “Die Hard,” the story isn’t just about the villain trying to kill the hero (John McClane). It’s also about the villain threatening to hurt and kill John McClane’s wife. Then it’s also about the villain threatening to kill all the innocent hostages.
If a story is just about threatening the hero, it will often be kind of dull. Just watch any bad karate movie where the hero and villain fight and there’s usually nothing interesting other than visual, physical action that you’ll forget about in an instant.
Make a story about threatening the hero and someone the hero cares for and the story is suddenly a little more interesting. Make the story about threatening innocent people and the story gets even bigger.
Big stories = interest. Of course you don’t need massive explosions and airplane crashes to have a big story. A simple romance story can be a big story. First, the hero risks losing true love. Second, the hero risks a loved one getting hurt. Third, the hero risks innocent people getting hurt.
In “The Proposal,” the hero is pretending to marry an American so she can stay in the country. Not only does she fall in love with the man she’s pretending to marry, but she also falls in love with the man’s family. To go on with her lie means she risks hurting the man she loves and the man’s family as well. On a lesser level, lying also risks hurting the man’s relatives who she doesn’t know that well, but doesn’t want to hurt either. That ramps up the risk and forces the hero to realize she can’t go through with her plan.
Caring for others can always make a story bigger, so make your story as big as possible by threatening the hero, the hero’s loved ones, and innocent people.