The Ups and Downs of Story Telling

A story should feel like an emotional roller coaster that takes audiences up and down. A story without these ups and downs will simply feel flat. Flat stories lead to dull movies.

Every movie is about ups and downs of the main character’s fate. In the beginning of every movie, the hero is in a down position where life seems stuck permanently in neutral. By the end of the movie, the hero should be in an up position where life seems wonderful again.

Nowhere is this up and down contrast more apparent than the midpoint of the movie. The midpoint marks the end where the hero achieves a False Victory that seems everything seems to have worked out. Then immediately following this False Victory is the beginning of the hero’s descent into a down position.

In “Avatar,” this up or False Victory moment occurs when the hero finally gets to spend the night with the alien girl. Everything appears peaceful at this moment until the villain intrudes with bulldozers to plow the forest apart. That’s the immediate down emotion.

In “Star Wars,” Luke seems to have reached his destination and everything looks great. Suddenly, he’s caught in a meteor storm, which is really the remnants of Princess Leia’s planet that the Death Star blew up. Then he gets tapped into the Death Star, which is a definite down emotional moment.

In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis achieves his up emotional moment when he finally gets someone from the outside to realize there’s a terrorist take-over of the building. Immediately afterwards, the FBI and the police show up as the terrorists blow up the police armored car, which is a definite down moment since that makes help seem further away than ever.

This up and down emotional moment not only occurs at the beginning and end of every movie, but in every Act, and in every scene.

A scene may start as either up or down, but by the end, it should switch places. In “WALL-E,” WALL-E first sees Eve land in her rocket ship and it seems like an up moment because this is the first company he’s seen in years. Just as he’s about to move, he knocks over a rock, causing Eve to blast it into nothing. Now WALL-E is terrified, which is a definite down moment.

Take the final Act in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart is ready to jump off a bridge and kill himself, which is a definite down moment. By the end of Act III, Jimmy Stewart has learned the true meaning of Christmas and is happy, which is an up moment.

The contrast between up and down emotional moments is what gives your story motion and movement. A scene where the emotional level doesn’t rise or drop is flat, dull, and boring. Make sure your story and every scene in your story embodies this up and down emotional roller coaster to keep your audience interested and wanting to come back for more.

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