Tell One Story

If you listen to music, you’ll notice every good song repeats parts over and over again. Stories are the same way. What’s deceptive about story telling is that every story really tells one story from different points of view. This creates a unified and rich story that creates a fully satisfying emotional experience in the end.

In “The Greatest Showman,” the basic story is about finding acceptance. The hero, P.T. Barnum, starts out poor but falls in love with a girl who was born in wealth. His whole goal is to prove himself to the world that he’s more than just a con man but someone worthy of respect.

To highlight this story, the other characters tell similar tales. P.T. Barnum’s wife wants his respect regardless of how much money they have. She just wants to be with him no matter what other people might think.

P.T. Barnum takes on a partner who comes from a rich family but falls in love with one of the circus act’s trapeze artists, who comes from a poor background. Now this partner has to show his love for the trapeze artist while dealing with the disapproval of his rich parents.

In pursuit of an act deemed cultural significant, P.T. Barnum discovers a woman who sings beautifully knowns as the Swedish Nightingale. When P.T. Barnum helps promote her to America, she’s an immediate hit and P.T. Barnum finally feels like he’s been accepted by the rich.

However, this Swedish Nightingale woman also comes from a poor background and is attracted to P.T. Barnum because he comes from the same poor background while also striving to gain acceptance from the rich.

To further enhance the same story, the circus “freaks” struggle to find acceptance in society that views them as abnormal. This represents another struggle to gain acceptance from the rich.

With so many stories echoing the same theme of finding acceptance with the contrast between rich and poor, “The Greatest Showman” tells a single unified story with multiple stories that enhance the single theme. As a result, “The Greatest Showman” is a compelling movie.

Now watch a bad movie (“Cold Pursuit”, “The Spy Who Dumped Me”, “Mortal Engines”) and you’ll see this lack of unity. Instead, you’ll find characters who pursue different types of goals or don’t have any goals at all. This creates a disorganized, unfocused, and ultimately dull and unsatisfying story.

Study good and bad movies and look for this focus. Good movies are focused. Bad movies are not. That’s really the main difference you need to know in writing your own screenplay.

2 thoughts on “Tell One Story

  1. Aditya Sam Abraham says:

    I disagree completely with your opinion that “The Greatest Showman” is a well-structured movie. It has a good story that is poorly executed on screen.

    There’s zero – on-screen conflict — the climax is resolved too quick. Scenes just rush into one another and a great movie that could have been ends up with a well-deserved 56% on rotten tomatoes.

    I challenge you to apply the fifteen minute movie method to this crap script and prove that this is well-structured movie. Now, I agree, that it has a good synopsis and a theme. Most of the scenes are on-theme but it simply fails as a screenplay.

  2. Aditya Sam Abraham says:

    Dear Wallace,

    I read your analysis of the story structure of The Greatest Showman.

    I agree completely with you that structurally – it’s fine.

    But the conflicts are too easily resolved.

    His wife leaves him — he goes to her — they sing a song — they are back together.

    Zendaya doesn’t want Zac — they sing together — they get back

    He loses his stadium — zac offers money — they’re back

    I think the film has a fantastic opening sequence/song — it opens with Hugh Jackman and he becomes a boy. Now that’s visual storytelling with emotion.

    The rest of the movie doesn’t have this. There is no relationship established with Hugh and his “oddities”, So when he refuses them from entering the ball — their subsequent song is bereft of any emotional heft.

    The whole theme is “who you are is enough”/”accept yourself” which is great. But the movie doesn’t visually express this. It doesn’t prove the theme.

    Now how would I do it?

    I’ll have to think 🙂

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