Theme Defines Structure

There’s a huge difference between a good movie and a bad one. In a good movie, all the parts work together. In a bad movie, nothing seems related or connected in anyway as if the director simply tried to make each scene as amusing as possible without regard to what happened before or what will happen afterwards.

Bad movies are disjointed and feel disconnected. Good movies feel unified and focused. What makes movies good is that they have a strong theme that permeated the entire story.

Basically, the theme defines:

  • Hero in beginning is the opposite or negative aspect of theme
  • Hero in end embraces the theme
  • Hero’s emotional dream is the theme
  • Villain is like hero in beginning, anti-hero
  • Ally has similar emotional dream as hero
  • Mentor teaches the theme to hero

Look at any good movie like “Titanic” and you’ll see how the theme defines the overall story:

  • Rose feels trapped in the beginning
  • In the end, Rose learns to embrace life on her terms
  • Rose longs for freedom but thinks suicide is the answer
  • The villain is Rose’s fiancé who wants her to be a trapped woman he can control
  • One of Rose’s allies is Molly Brown, who befriends her and also embraces the idea of being free on her own terms
  • Jack teaches Rose how to truly live life on your own terms

Now watch any bad movie and you’ll notice multiple problems. If the story lacks a theme, the movie will be weak and disjointed. No matter how good the individual scenes might be, they don’t work together.

If the story does have a theme but the hero doesn’t change, then you wind up with a lot of action but no emotion. This creates a bad James Bond-type movie where the hero remains perfect from start to finish so the only way to create any type of interest is to display more special effects, gunfire, and meaningless explosions.

If the story has a theme and the hero does change, there may not be a mentor or an ally, or the villain may not represent the evil version of the hero. Without a villain, the hero has nothing to fight against and the story becomes boring. If the villain has no believable motivation, he or she seems to exist just to get in the way of the hero, which creates another boring story.

The theme is crucial in creating a great story. Start with a theme and use it to shape your hero, villain, ally, and mentor. Then you’ll have a solid foundation for telling the rest of your story.

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