Your Story is Never Really Your True Story

This is a huge mistake most writers make. When they try to think up a story, they focus on the external plot and action such as saying, “My story is about a woman forced to rob banks so she can support her two children after she loses her job.”

Although that sentence or log line might describe what your story is about, that’s not your real story. That’s because your real story is always (yes, always) the emotional change that occurs within your hero.

In “The Black Phone,” the physical story might be about a kid who gets abducted by a serial killer and must find a way to escape with the help of a black phone that lets him talk to the past victims of the serial killer, but that’s just the plot. The real story is that a kid must learn to stand up for himself, and nothing can force him to stand up for himself faster than having to face a serial killer. Now he has no choice. He must stand up for himself or he’ll get killed.

In “Die Hard,” everyone thinks the real story is about one man fighting an army of terrorists in a skyscraper, but the real story is about one man who wants to get back with his wife. The army of terrorists just happen to make that goal as difficult as possible.

In “Barbie,” the story seems to be about a toy doll who lives in a fantasy world, but the real story is about a woman who needs to choose her purpose in life.

If you just focus on the physical action, you’ll create half a story. Every physical plot must have an underlying emotional story as its foundation. Without that emotional foundation, even the best plot will falter.

Just look at all the bad sequels (“Shazam! Fury of the Gods”) that strip away all the emotional story that made the original so good, and replace it with more physical action that simply creates a more jumbled, disjointed story.

Look at all the bad movies out there that all begin with a good idea, and then fail to execute on that good idea. “The 355” was a story about a group of female spies. That sounds great, until you realize that movie is completely empty of an emotional story so it’s nothing more than a bunch of women fighting, shooting, and running around with no sense of emotion whatsoever.

When you create a log line, you must also create an emotional log line that describes how your plot forces the hero into changing emotionally. Without an emotional log line, your plot log line can be great, but it won’t matter unless it’s paired with an emotional log line that defines how the plot attacks the hero’s greatest weakness to force him or her to change.

Hollywood keeps cranking out bad and mediocre movies because they keep focusing on the physical plot and ignoring the underlying emotional story that’s necessary. By avoiding this simple mistake, your screenplays can be more structured and focused than 90% of the screenplays on the market.

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