Two Stories in One

Your story is never about one plot but two or more. One story creates a dull, one-dimensional movie. Two or more stories create a fully formed, multi-dimensional story. Generally you want one story to be about the hero’s selfish goal and the second story to be about the hero’s selfless goal.

In “Concussion,” the story is about a doctor who first uncovered evidence that NFL players were going crazy because of all the concussions they’ve suffered over the years of playing. The first story is about how the doctor is trying to convince the NFL about these concussion dangers. The second story is about the doctor falling in love with a woman who eventually becomes his wife.

By having two or more stories, now the hero faces a greater loss than ever before. If “Concussion” were only about the doctor trying to convince the NFL about the health dangers of playing football, the doctor would risk little other than his own job. However, by having a wife, losing his job also means losing his home that he built for his family.

In “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the hero is a socialite who can’t sing, but wants to sing. When she sings poorly in private, her friends grin and bear it, keeping their thoughts to themselves. However, once the hero wants to sing in Carnegie Hall for the public, she risks her own public humiliation along with the humiliation of her husband and her accompanying pianist. Suddenly the risk of failure is more than just about the hero.

In “Star Wars,” Luke simply wants to get off his planet. When he does, he suddenly realizes that’s not enough. He also has to save Princess Leia and the rebels as well. If he fails to destroy the Death Star, he might die, but he also risks having Darth Vader kill Princess Leia and all hope for the galaxy as well.

The first story in your movie is about the hero. The second story is about other people in relation to the hero. Failure is no longer isolated to just the hero but to people the hero loves around him or her. When your hero fights the villain for a selfish reason, that’s not compelling enough. When your hero fights for other people, suddenly the fear of failure makes the battle against the villain far more compelling. To save others, the hero might risk losing his or her own life.

In “Dr. Strange,” the hero confronts the villain and repeatedly gets killed while stuck in a time loop. Yet he continues risking death to defeat the villain.

In “Die Hard,” the hero risks his own life to save his wife.

The hero doesn’t always face physical death. Sometimes the hero faces emotional death. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero faces public humiliation for herself, but prison for her client if she fails. Death doesn’t always have to be physical but it must be present in the end.

So when plotting your story, look for ways to include the following elements:

  • Give your hero a selfish goal
  • Give your hero a selfless goal to save others (loved ones)
  • Give your hero the threat of death (physical or emotional) to defeat the villain

When you add these elements to your story, you’ll create a far more interesting story than if you just focused on the hero pursuing a goal alone.

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