Plot vs. Relationship

Every story has a plot. The plot basically defines what happens to a character such as the hero. However, what’s far more important is who the plot happens to and how that person reacts.

Many stories share the same plot. “Rocky” is about an underdog boxer. “The Bad News Bears” is about an underdog baseball team. “The Karate Kid” is about an underdog martial art student. Yet while all these movies share the same plot, it’s the specific character that matters.

Don’t worry about creating an original plot. Focus more on creating original characters. Plots are the same. It’s who the plot affects that really matters.

In “La La Land,” the real story isn’t about an aspiring actress trying to break into show business, but about her relationship with a jazz musician who wants to break into the music industry and own his own nightclub one day. The movie captivates us not only because of who the hero is and who her mentor is, but how they learn and struggle with each other to achieve their dreams. In other words, we’re really more interested in how they achieve their goals than what their goals might be in the first place.

Every story is predictable. We know the good guys will usually win and the bad guys will usually lose. What we don’t know is how they’re going to do it and why should we care. We care only when a character is particularly interesting. To make a hero interesting and likable, stories typically make the hero a likable victim.

In “Titanic,” Rose is the hero and we feel sorry for her because she feels trapped into marrying a man she doesn’t love just for the money. In “Spiderman: Homecoming,” we feel sorry for Peter Parker because he wants to be a hero but gets ignored by Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers. In “Baby Driver,” we feel sorry for the hero, nicknamed Baby, because he’s forced into working for a criminal mastermind.

Besides making the hero a victim, stories must also make the hero admirable. Typically this can occur when the hero does something noble or possesses a unique skill. When heroes strive to do what’s “right,” that can make that person sympathetic and likable in our eyes. When a hero can perform a unique skill, that makes us like him or her more, especially if they use this unique skill to help others or to overcome their own negative situation.

In “Sleight,” the hero is a street magician who makes money doing magic on the streets because he’s trying to support his little sister. His magic is impressive but because he’s doing it for a noble cause, we like him even more.

Essentially, plot is ordinary but relationships between the characters and the hero and the audience is what’s really special. Stories often borrow plots from one another, but the real creativity lies in crafting memorable characters who must overcome unique problems in their own world. When you create memorable characters, audiences will want to root for their success every step of the way.

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