The Story Behind the Story is the Story You Want To Tell

Most novices come up with an idea and then write a screenplay based on that idea. However, a good idea is rarely enough. Trying to stretch one good idea into a full-length screenplay inevitably means either writing a screenplay that’s far too short or padding it with irrelevant scenes and plot twists that simply weaken the entire story.

A much better solution is to tell two different stories where you tell the main idea first. Then you explain how this main idea is important by telling a second story based on an emotional problem the hero needs to solve.

There’s an Irish comedy called “Extra Ordinary,” which is about a woman who has the power to communicate with ghosts. The main story is about the hero trying to help a man save his daughter from a washed up entertainer who wants to sacrifice the daughter to Satan. In return, this washed up entertainer hopes to make a comeback album that will bring him riches and success once more.

However, the second story is that the hero needs to redeem herself for his father’s death from a supernatural encounter. This provides the emotional story while saving a man’s daughter from being sacrificed to Satan is the physical story.

Dissect any good movie and you’ll find both a physical story and an emotional story. Bad movies simply focus on a physical story, which is the reason why they’re so awful.

When you tell a hidden, second, emotional story, you can drop hints of this second story from the beginning. Then this emotional story gives the physical story meaning. By achieving the goal of the physical story, the hero can achieve the goal of the emotional story, becoming a better person in the end.

“Die Hard” appears to be nothing more than a story about one man fighting an army of terrorists alone (the physical story). But the second, emotional story is that this one man is trying to get back with his wife. This makes all his actions meaningful because he’s simply trying to save his wife.

Watch any of the numerous bad “Die Hard” sequels and they drift further away from any emotional story whatsoever and focus solely on more action, explosions, gunfire, and car crashes. That means nothing.

“Terminator 3” shows us plenty of action, but without an emotional story, all the fighting, destruction, and explosions mean nothing.

The bottom line is that stories are great when they include an emotional component. Ignore this emotional component and you’re left with mindless action. Add an emotional component to any physical story and you can create a great movie like “Terminator 2” or “Die Hard.”

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