Three Story Plots

When athletes train, they off cross-train. That means they perform exercises that may not be directly related to their sport but can improve their performance anyway. For example, boxers may jog to build stamina, football players may study wrestling to learn how to take someone down, and cyclists may swim to strengthen their arm and leg muscles.

Writing is no different. Besides studying screenplay writing books, screenwriters should also study non-writing books to get ideas. One interesting book is “Made to Stick,” which focuses on studying why certain ideas are more memorable than others.

The examples given in “Made to Stick” focus mostly on business situations such as the popular “Where’s the beef?” commercial by Wendy’s or Subway’s former spokesman, Jared, who lost a huge amount of weight just by eating Subway sandwiches (and later got arrested for child pornography).

One idea that “Made to Stick” makes is that if you want people to remember your ideas, tell a story. The book describes three types of stories:

  • Challenge plots
  • Connection plots
  • Creativity plots

The main idea of a challenge plot is to pit an underdog against a heavily-favored champion. This is the plot of nearly all sports stories such as “Rocky” or “Seabiscuit.” When the hero is an underdog, we can’t help but want to root for the hero to win.

Connection plots are different because they focus on bringing people together from different groups. This can be racial groups such as in “Green Book” where a white man drives a black musician around the Deep South and learns to become more understanding about blacks, or it can be the gap between rich and poor such as in “Crazy Rich Asians” where a middle class woman wins over the rich mother of her boyfriend. Connection plots are usually inspiring and emotionally moving because the hero is still an underdog partly because a social gap blocks the hero’s path to success.

Creativity plots are stories about people doing clever, unusual actions to achieve a goal. Think of “The Sting,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” or “Ocean’s 11.” The more interesting and unique the hero’s actions, the more likely that story will stick in people’s minds.

So when writing your own screenplay, make sure your story follows at least one of these plots. If your hero is not an underdog (the most basic story plot of all), then your story will be much harder to get people to root for the hero.

Connecting a social gap isn’t always necessary but can further strengthen your story. “Aladdin” is not only about an underdog peasant boy, but an underdog peasant boy trying to win the hand of a princess (major social barrier). Adding a social gap of some kind makes the hero’s success much more rewarding.

Creativity is necessary to keep your story from being predictable and boring. In “Rocky,” we know he’s either going to win or lose. However, the outcome is more surprising. Rocky loses, but wins the hearts of the world for his persistence and determination, and that’s something unexpected that makes “Rocky” more enjoyable.

So if your story can include a challenge, connection, and creativity plot all together, you’ll likely write a better screenplay than if your story only includes one (or none) of those plots.

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