What’s the Heart of Your Story?

There are two parts to every story. First, there’s the external action such as car crashes, gunfire, and explosions. Second, there’s internal action that involves emotional change.

Good movies focus on emotional change but disguise it with lots of action. Bad movies ignore emotional change and just emphasize lots of action.

People will watch a bad movie once. However, people will watch a good movie multiple times because they enjoy the emotional experience. How many times have people watched “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “Titanic,” or “Brokeback Mountain”? They already know the plot and characters. What they want is to re-experience the emotions the movie gives them.

So before you get involved in telling your story, start at the beginning and ask yourself what’s the heart of your story. In other words, what’s the emotional change of the hero?

In “Love and Monsters,” the physical action involves a world where mutated animals have become gigantic and taken over the world where human survivors hide in shelters. However, the real heart of the story is about one teenager learning to become a stronger person who actively changes his life by no longer letting others decide his fate for him.

“Die Hard” isn’t about one man fighting terrorists alone, but about one man learning to accept that his own arrogance is the reason why his relationship with his wife is broken. Once he realizes that, he can become a better person and get back with her.

“Titanic” isn’t about a woman trying to survive a sinking ocean liner. It’s really about a woman learning to become strong and take control of her own life.

So what’s the heart of your story? If it’s all action, it’s not a story. Until you can identify the emotional change of your hero, your story will be nothing but action and that’s the recipe for a bad story.

Find that emotional heart of your hero that forces him or her to change, and that’s the real key to your story that will elevate your screenplay from just being about action to being about emotions that people will want to experience over and over again.

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