Focus on the Characters and Then Worry About the Plot

Too often, screenwriters try to come up with an original plot that surprises audiences. Here’s he truth. Most stories recycle the same plots. If you spend all your time trying to come up with original plots, chances are good you’ll fail. After centuries of story telling, most plots are fairly simple.

Just look at the underdog stories like “Rocky” and the semi-sequels “Creed.” That same plot is used in “The Karate Kid” except instead of boxing, it’s about karate and instead of an aging man, it’s about a growing teenager.

Have you heard the story about a woman who buys a race horse that turns out to be a winner? That’s the plot of “Secretariat” and “Dream Horse,” both based on true stories. So you can see that plots can be nearly identical but what makes a story compelling are the characters in that story and how they interact with their setting.

So what’s really important isn’t an original plot, but original characters that we care about. Once you can get an audience to care for a character, they’ll be willing to cheer that character on to the end.

Focus on characters with clear emotional motivations. In “Dream Horse,” the hero is a middle-aged woman stuck in a boring job working in a supermarket and forced to take care of her aging parents. Yet in her youth, she raced pigeons and won awards and she cares for animals such as ducks and dogs throughout her house.

So right away in the first 7 minutes of the film, we learn what he hero is and what she wants. More importantly, we also feel sorry for her because she’s stuck in a dead end, boring job, which many of us can relate to. So the hero has a strong motivation to achieve a better life than the one she has, which is also highly relatable.

Define a strong motivation for the hero and make the hero’s dead end life relatable and that’s the combination to grab the audience’s attention. From that point on, the hero needs to overcome specific details in his or her setting and other characters.

Seeing Rocky deal with the boxing world is unique compared to seeing a teenager in “The Karate Kid” deal with the martial arts world. The plot may be identical, but the setting, character, and motivation is different, and that’s what makes an original story.

Original stories are never based on the plot but on the unique characters striving to succeed within that plot. Keep that in mind and chances are good your plot will be familiar but your story will feel completely original and unique.

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