Making the Story Clear

There’s nothing more confusing and boring than a story that seems to have no purpose or point. When you don’t know what’s going on, you have little incentive to find out more. That’s why every story absolutely must make its main point crystal clear right from the start.

Think of every great movie and you’ll see that the hero has one goal in the very beginning that never gets achieved until the very end. In “Die Hard,” the hero wants to get back with his wife and finally does. In “Avatar,” the hero wants to get back his ability to walk on his own legs again and by the end he finally does. you can often spot a mediocre or bad movie just by asking yourself if the hero’s goal is clear right from the start.

Pick a mediocre movie and you can see that the hero’s original goal is either murky in the beginning or unfulfilled in the end. In “Batman vs. Superman,” the hero seems to be Bruce Wayne and in the beginning, he’s upset that Superman has caused so much damage, even though Superman is simply trying to protect the city from a villain. Because Bruce Wayne’s goal isn’t quite clear, the rest of the story suffers.

Apparently Bruce Wayne’s goal in the beginning of “Batman vs. Superman” is to fight Superman. Yet by the end, he’s helping Superman. This throws the entire story out of whack because the story seems to be about fighting Superman but the ending is really about working with Superman. Because theres’s such a mix up of goals and endings, the entire story is flawed.

Another story that’s not quite clear is “Joy.” If you watch the trailer for “Joy,” all you’ll learn is that Jennifer Lawrence plays the hero named Joy, and that’s about it. If you watch the movie, the beginning shows the hero’s dream of making something for others, which in the end she does. What gets murky is her path to that goal since every moment of the movie doesn’t seem focused on her goal of making and inventing things.

There’s a long stretch of “Joy” where Joy is simply shown to be downtrodden in life with an ex-husband and a father living in her basement with a poor job where she can barely afford to pay her bills. This is necessary to know the hero’s background, but it seems to lose the thread of the story, which is to create something and get a patent on it. “Joy” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a tightly focused one and suffers as a result.

When your story doesn’t stay focused completely on the hero’s goal, you risk diluting your story and your audience’s attention. Your hero must have a crystal clear goal, that goal must be understandable, and the hero must keep striving towards that goal at all times until he or she finally achieves it or not.

In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero dreams of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant for children. That’s her goal in the beginning and every part of the movie shows her struggle to get to the pageant and compete in it. The story remains focused on this single goal and that’s what makes “Little Miss Sunshine” so successful in ways that “Joy” and “Batman vs. Superman” fail to do.

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Story Structure

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