It’s easy to identify the story structure in a good movie like “Star Wars” or “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s also easy to notice something wrong when you watch a bad movie. However, one movie tow watch that isn’t a traditional story is “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
This odd comedy is a mock documentary about a supposed journalist leaving Kazakhstan to learn what life is like in the United States. The actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, basically wandered around the country, pretending to be a foreigner and meeting with Americans trying to make them look foolish. Yet what makes this movie work isn’t just the comedy but the story structure underneath. Watching Borat go from one odd situation in America to another would eventually get tiresome, so the basic story is that Borat comes to America, sees Pamela Anderson on TV, and then decides to go to California to make Pamela Anderson his wife.
So Borat’s goal isn’t just to make fun of Americans around the country but to keep moving west so he can eventually meet Pamela Anderson.
Without this goal, the entire “Borat” movie risks becoming repetitive and dull. Yet with this simple goal, the various scenes of Borat interacting with Americans suddenly makes sense. That’s the importance of having a single goal for your main character to pursue from start to finish. Without a goal, a movie risks aimlessly showing scenes that have no relation to each other. Yet with a goal, every scene must work towards advancing the character closer to that goal.
Another interesting movie to watch is “Team America: World Police.” Unlike traditional movies, “Team America” is played entirely by puppets. Yet these puppets also follow a well-structured story where a villain plans to destroy the world and the main characters (Team America) have to stop him.
Besides having a goal to pursue, the characters in “Team America” also go through a range of emotions as well. So “Team America” isn’t just a comedy with puppets doing bizarre things on screen (like having sex), but it’s a story that has a goal where the comedy comes organically from the characters’ pursuit of their goals. “Team America” shows the importance of giving each main character a goal of some kind.
When you watch either “Borat” or “Team America,” you can see how pursuit of a goal is the underlying structure of every good story. We must know what the main character wants and every scene must show us how that character gets one step closer to achieving that goal or overcomes yet another obstacle blocking his or her path to that goal.
Goals are crucial in giving any story focus. Without a goal, even the best directors and actors can’t tell a good story.