This is the way most people come up with a story. They first come up with an interesting plot. That’s step one, but then they skip the next two steps and rush right off into writing the screenplay. Predictably, having an interesting plot is the least interesting part of any story and following this route inevitably leads to mediocre to weak stories.
Every story needs an interesting plot or story. However, the second step is defining the genre. Imagine a plot about a being from another dimension opening up a portal to this universe to take over the world. This could be an action story, a horror story, or as seen in “Ghostbusters,” a comedy. The plot or log line defines what the story is about. The genre defines how you plan to tell that story.
Take two identical plots, tell it through a different genre, and you essentially have two completely different stories despite having the same plot.
There’s the story of forbidden love where a man falls in love with a woman but outside circumstances work against their love. This is the story of “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story,” which are both tragedies. it’s also the story in “The Big Sick,” which is based on the true story of Pakistan-born comedian Kamuil Nanjiani, who falls in love with a white woman and must deal with the resistance coming from his family and her family. “The Big Sick” is more of a comedy while “Romeo and Juliet” is more of a tragedy despite having nearly identical plots.
A plot is easy. Filtering that plot through a genre further defines the type of story you want to tell. The final third step is defining the emotional experience you want audiences to feel.
“Romeo and Juliet” leaves audiences with the sense of sadness at the failure of Romeo and Juliet to find a happy life. On the other hand, “The Big Sick” leaves audiences with an upbeat, optimistic feeling that despite the resistance of two families, the hero managed to stay with the woman he loves.
When outlining your own stories, define these three steps:
- The plot
- The genre
- The emotional experience
The biggest mistake writers make is trying to create an original story plot, which is impossible since stories have been around for centuries. Trying to create an original plot is like trying to build a perpetual motion machine. It may sound nice, but it’s impossible.
A far better solution is to pick a plot from any story and then adapt it to your particular characters and setting. “Clueless” took the plot of the Jane Austen novel “Emma” and put it in the modern day setting of Beverly Hills.
Once you have a plot, define the genre to determine how you want to tell that story. “Ghostbusters” could have worked as a straight horror movie but it turned out to be a great comedy movie instead. Just by choosing a different genre, you can create an original story regardless of the plot.
Finally, define the emotional experience you want audiences to feel. “Ghostbusters” isn’t about fighting a being from another dimension so much as it’s about the hero finding love.
“Don’t Breathe” is a horror movie about a girl trying to escape from a boarded up house while also trying to escape her dead end life with her mother. “Titanic” is a drama about a woman trying to escape from a sinking ocean liner while also trying to escape a dead end marriage to a man she doesn’t love. The plots and emotional experiences are nearly identical in both stories, but the genre differs.
By mixing and matching plot, genre, and emotional experience, you can create an original story. That’s the real secret of telling a unique story.