Creating Better Stories by Learning the Real Lesson From “Barbie”

The “Barbie” movie has not only made millions of dollars, but it’s been critical acclaimed as well. What’s the secret?

The secret isn’t that people want to see a movie about a toy doll but that every movie needs to be about something other than what you see. When a movie just shows you lots of action, that may be entertaining but ultimately forgettable like “Fast X” or “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

What every story should really tell is something important that reaches beyond the details of the story. For example, “Titanic” wasn’t just about trying to survive on a sinking ocean liner, but in trying to dig up the courage to live your own life.

“Die Hard” seemed to be about one man fighting an army of terrorists alone in a skyscraper, but at its emotional core, it’s really about a man willing to do anything to get back with his wife.

There’s a reason that until recently, most movies based on video games fared so poorly. That’s because the movies simply tried to show the action of the video game with no sense of meaning or emotion behind it. That created boring movies.

Watch the latest batch of movies based on video games and you’ll see they have an emotional story at its core like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”, which is about Mario and Luigi not just starting their own plumbing business, but having the belief in themselves to be a true hero in the eyes of others.

So when creating your story, ask yourself what is it really about? If all you can answer are details of what your story shows (Tom Cruise jumps off a cliff on a motorcycle!”), then you need to look at what your story means to you and how that meaning can appeal to others as well.

The key to an emotional story is that it can appeal to everyone. Everyone has felt lonely at times, so they completely understand the love story behind “WALL-E.” Everyone has been scared to blaze their own trail so that’s why people love “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Titanic.” Everyone has dreamed about having a far more exciting life, so everyone can relate to the emotional story in “Star Wars.”

The bottom line is that if your story lacks an emotional core, your story is just a lot of action, empty of purpose. Give your story meaning and all your action suddenly makes sense. Omit an emotional story and all your action will be easily forgotten.

“Barbie” isn’t just a story about a doll, but about women fighting for equal rights. Strip away this emotional story and all the action and visual effects in “Barbie” will never hold your interest for more than a few seconds.

What made “Barbie” so appealing is this emotional story hidden beneath the visual effects and action. Do that for your own story and it will suddenly be far more than the sum of its parts.

So what type of story do you want to write?

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