Find Your Story BEFORE Writing Your Screenplay


Humans have been writing stories to each other since time immemorial. They serve a deep psychological and sociological need.

I’ll examine a few key story concepts to help in writing your screenplay. Screenwriters often forget to fully outline their stories before the start writing. This can lead to all kinds of problems.

What is a story?

Quite simply, it is a journey of inter-connected events with a beginning, middle and an end providing

  • dramatic fulfillment
  • education
  • knowledge
  • entertainment
  • emotional stimulation and,
  • a satisfying conclusion (we love closure)

Stories began as a visual medium when our forebearers painted images on cave walls or drew with sticks in the sand. They were accompanied by words or grunts. As complex language developed, stories were increasingly verbalized, and later written. Stories today can be exclusively composed of images, written words or speech, but often times are a combination.

Stories today can be exclusively composed of images, written words or speech, but often are a combination.

A story must have a purpose

For instance, the Australian Aboriginal woman at a rock formation called “The Devil’s Marbles” in the Northern Territory told stories to keep youngsters away from these rocks to avoid danger.

A story can be as dry as a depiction of actual events or “life-like” events. Even fantasy fairy tales emulate “life-like” events through suspension of disbelief. Whatever dungeons and dragons we use, the events in a story must feel authentic .

Stories also need a theme

It is the wisdom or central message of the story.

What topics or concepts is your story exploring? Racism? The power of the human spirit during a disaster? Love always triumphs over evil? Revenge? And the list goes on. This has been discussed in an earlier blog in the 36 dramatic situations by Georges Polti.  Be careful that you are only exploring one central theme and perhaps one or two minor ones. Otherwise, your story loses focus.

In order to make a story compelling, there must be a protagonist (hero), a goal, a dilemma, conflict, an antagonist (nemesis) and a moral (leading to growth) to create a complete experience. And more importantly, an audience. Stories help us communicate with each other, and add meaning and enrichment to our lives. They bring people together through sharing and help us evolve and grow stronger.

Dramatica defines story as a grand argument dealing with a problem or an inequity. Huh? Basically, it raises the issue of a hero with a conflict as they are forced from their natural world through a critical or inciting incident, and how they go about solving it.

Jen Grisanti (a Hollywood writers’ consultant and a wonderful person too), she spoke of the importance of writers finding their story. What message are you trying to convey to your audience? What do you want your audience to get from watching your film?

She sees stories as media for building communities. Pretty powerful stuff. A good story must have clarity and must be relevant to the times. How does the story make you feel? These are primal concepts, but difficult to nail down. It must also possess deeper symbolism to have a greater impact on us. She sees the important aspects of raising the emotional stakes in a story as being:

  • anticipation
  • expectation
  • participation
  • surprise
  • a delayed payoff

As a special service to my readers, I’m here to help you with your story. Just click the blue hyperlink thingy HERE to find out how.

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For in depth Film & TV script analysis visit Script Firm.

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