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jonpiper
07-06-2008, 11:37 PM
We've talked about how to write a logline.

We've talked about loglines written after the screenplay is completed, loglines geared to selling the screenplay or attracting a Read. We've also talked about writing a logline before writing the screenplay, a logline to guide us as we write the screenplay/story.

But how about the story itself? What are the ingredients of a great story? Some movies are packed with action, others are more dramatic. Yet both kinds of movies may or may not be about a great story. In fact I've heard comments like, " it kept me in my seat, the set pieces astounding and the acting superb, but it didn't have a story."

It also seems that the movies with great stories have longer legs than summer blockbusters without stories.

So what makes a great screenplay story?

clockwork
07-06-2008, 11:51 PM
Characters you believe in and care about what happens to them. I think it's the only constant throughout all great stories. VMMV

icerose
07-07-2008, 12:23 AM
Characters and character goals are pretty much what make stories great. I agree with Chris, they seem to be the only constant.

jonpiper
07-07-2008, 02:56 AM
What about the character's problems? What about how the character goes about acheiving his or her goal? What about obstacles?

I've seen movies that start off good. An interesting protag is introduced along with a goal the protag must acheive, but the story falls flat after that. I'm assuming the screenplay was written that way, so the screenplay must not have told a great story.

icerose
07-07-2008, 03:27 AM
What about the character's problems? What about how the character goes about acheiving his or her goal? What about obstacles?

I've seen movies that start off good. An interesting protag is introduced along with a goal the protag must acheive, but the story falls flat after that. I'm assuming the screenplay was written that way, so the screenplay must not have told a great story.


Perhaps I wasn't being clear enough but that's what I was saying. The characters, their journeys, and their goals, their pains and so forth are what make a great story to me.

As for movies that fall flat, bad writing. They didn't follow through.

jonpiper
07-07-2008, 07:49 AM
Perhaps I wasn't being clear enough but that's what I was saying. The characters, their journeys, and their goals, their pains and so forth are what make a great story to me.

As for movies that fall flat, bad writing. They didn't follow through.

Icerose - or anyone else - who didn't follow through? The director or the writer.

Did the screenplay actually contain a great story that the Director screwed up, or was it a weak screenplay story that the studio wanted to make because the screenplay was for the right demographic and had some impressive set pieces.

dgiharris
07-07-2008, 08:43 AM
I think a vital ingredient to a good story is "stakes".

THere must be something on the line for the MC (main character). The stakes should be high, the consequences dire. Similarly, I think character growth is something that really bonds the reader (or audience) to the story.

The character must suffer, real suffering not token suffering. He/she must learn and grow.

well, those are my two cents

Mel...

Raghu
07-07-2008, 01:27 PM
Jonpiper,

Here (http://www.writersstore.com/article.php?articles_id=10) is an interesting article that just about answers all your questions.

Hope you find it interesting.

Raghu.

icerose
07-07-2008, 08:01 PM
Icerose - or anyone else - who didn't follow through? The director or the writer.

Did the screenplay actually contain a great story that the Director screwed up, or was it a weak screenplay story that the studio wanted to make because the screenplay was for the right demographic and had some impressive set pieces.

Both sometimes, either, or, depending on the story.

There've been some great screenplays destroyed by bad acting, bad directing, and just bad everything production wise, and there've been some decent movies that had a horrible script but the cast and director were able to pull it off and improve it.

War of the Worlds is a good example of a great story that disappointed. Bacteria? I mean really, what was the point of following the main characters all this time if bacteria was just going to do the bad guys in?

jonpiper
07-07-2008, 09:40 PM
Jonpiper,

Here (http://www.writersstore.com/article.php?articles_id=10) is an interesting article that just about answers all your questions.

Hope you find it interesting.

Raghu.

Raghu, great article. This is what I've been looking for to guide me as I try to turn an idea into a great story/screenplay. The nuts and bolts of actually writing don't stump me. The hard part is what my story should really be about

From the article, it seems a threat that causes a problem which brings about a change of fortune is at the core of every great story. When there is a change of fortune someone tries to solve the problem and reverse the state of misfortune.

As others her have said, the story must have characters you believe in and care about what happens to them. The characters, their journeys, and their goals, their pains and so forth.

Also a vital ingredient to a good story is "stakes". There must be something on the line for the MC (main character). The stakes should be high, the consequences dire. Similarly, I think character growth is something that really bonds the reader (or audience) to the story. The character must suffer, real suffering not token suffering. He/she must learn and grow.

But before all this, it seems to me that at the core you need a threat and a problem upon which to build the story.

jonpiper
07-07-2008, 09:51 PM
Both sometimes, either, or, depending on the story.

There've been some great screenplays destroyed by bad acting, bad directing, and just bad everything production wise, and there've been some decent movies that had a horrible script but the cast and director were able to pull it off and improve it.

War of the Worlds is a good example of a great story that disappointed. Bacteria? I mean really, what was the point of following the main characters all this time if bacteria was just going to do the bad guys in?

If you analyse the screenplay/movie according to the article Raghu referred to, the story begins with a threat (the invaders from outer space) and a problem (they seem invincible, even our army cannot defeat them. Will the m.c. save his family? How can the world be saved).
The ending is from the original novel and it was sort of an easy solution, but I don't think that was the problem with the screenplay.

There was a strong core to the story, a threat and a problem. The other elements you and others talked about were missing or poorly executed, I think.

Raghu
07-08-2008, 02:25 PM
Jonpiper,

Henry James once remarked,

“What is character but the determination of incident and what is incident but the illumination of character?”

Believe it or not it took me days to figure out what he really meant.

Most people seem to attach too much importance to character which I agree in part but you need to understand that it is the incident that reveals the character, which brings us right back to story and story elements.

Action is character and therefore a character is what he does and not what he says he is.

I was once working on a script and the structure of the script demanded that the MC be created in a particular way, a handicapped person, which I did.

Either you revolve a screenplay around a key incident or you create a key character and revolve the screenplay around him. But you still need a key incident to illuminate this character of yours and therefore you are back to the story once again.

Coming back to your question about what “ a good story “ is all about, I have an opinion and I’m not at all sure any of you will endorse it but here it is all the same.

" Story " and " story telling " are completely different animals. A story is a….story, but story telling is your screenplay.

You can take an great story and with good story telling deliver a good film.
You can take a lousy story and with great story telling still deliver a great film.
But you cannot take a great story and make a great film with BAD story telling.

So you see, a good film is not about a great story but all about fabulous story telling.

The Shawshank Redemption is an highly acclaimed film, appreciated by lay persons and film critics alike. It depicts Tim Robbins being wrongly accused of murdering his wife, spending 20 years in jail and finally escaping. You call this a great story? Phooey!

In Jaws a small town is terrorised by a killer shark and a bunch of guys go capture it. Great story?

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is about a guy in a mental asylum and his tormentor the head nurse. Interesting story? Nah!

But you see all these film had excellently crafted screenplays and that’s why we still keep talking about them.

When I was studying in the Film Institute, I used to challenge my class mates and tell them to make a film without a real story and still keep the audience enthralled. " That " I said, " would be the true mark of genius, the final recognition that you have mastered the art of screenplay writing ". Nobody listened !

So, jonpiper, you quit worrying about stories and concentrate on honing your screenplay writing skills and one day you will be able to bestow the world with an extraordinary film.

Raghu.

:):):)

FinbarReilly
07-08-2008, 05:07 PM
1) Realistic characters with identifiable personalities and definite goals.

2) A story wherein those goals are either attained or traded for others.

3) A story wherein the characters are tested and either pass gloriously or fail while learning something.

Note that am purposely ignoring antagonists (some of the greatest movies have the protagonists fighting themselves or just trying to survive some sort of environmental problem), even though if you do have one, make sure that he's a challenge to the hero.

The Hero's Journey is also a decent blueprint, but don't feel necessary to follow it; it's a great guideline, but you don't need to follow it too closely. Just have fun with it....

FR

FinbarReilly
07-08-2008, 05:15 PM
The Shawshank Redemption is an highly acclaimed film, appreciated by lay persons and film critics alike. It depicts Tim Robbins being wrongly accused of murdering his wife, spending 20 years in jail and finally escaping. You call this a great story? Phooey!

In Jaws a small town is terrorised by a killer shark and a bunch of guys go capture it. Great story?

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is about a guy in a mental asylum and his tormentor the head nurse. Interesting story? Nah!

Er...I hate disagreeing, but you have three great stories here. Two of them are about a lone man against the system, finding allies, and then escaping the system, which almost always makes for an interesting story. You then have a story about a guy with the dual threats of the system and nature itself, which again makes for an interesting story.

Now, trying to selling a story about chess, a spelling bee, or even debate club....

FR

nmstevens
07-08-2008, 07:32 PM
Both sometimes, either, or, depending on the story.

There've been some great screenplays destroyed by bad acting, bad directing, and just bad everything production wise, and there've been some decent movies that had a horrible script but the cast and director were able to pull it off and improve it.

War of the Worlds is a good example of a great story that disappointed. Bacteria? I mean really, what was the point of following the main characters all this time if bacteria was just going to do the bad guys in?

Well, that's how the novel ends, and it certainly works -- and it's worked for over a century.

The point is -- every story that, for instance, takes place in World War II, isn't about the main character hunting down and killing Hitler and thus bringing about the end of World War II -- because, let's face it, that's not how World War II ended.

No one character ended World War II. So whatever story you tell about that war, or any war, isn't going to be about "winning the war" -- destroying the entire enemy such that the war is now over.

It's going to inevitably be about some story that takes place within that larger conflict.

That was what H.G. Wells was doing. He wanted to tell the story of England invaded -- what it would be like for that familiar, comfortable environment that had never known an enemy occupation, had never been overrun, in living memory, by a ruthless invader with overwhelmingly superior weapons -- what would it be like?

That was what War of the Worlds was about. Not "the winning of the war" -- that was incidental -- as it always has been and always will be to the poor helpless civilians who get caught in the crossfire of every war.

For those poor dopes it isn't about how do you defeat the enemy. You can't. All you can do is try to survive, try to keep your family alive, try to keep other desperate refugees from stealing your food and hope to live another day and hope that just maybe the invaders will be defeated by somebody or else go away or maybe if they don't they won't kill you.

There's a reason why the whole "bacteria" element doesn't really work in a modern story -- because the original story made presumptions about the nature of micro-organisms that simply don't fly in modern times.

But that some force outside of the control of the protagonists ultimately destroy the invaders -- that's the least of what's wrong with the modern version of War of the Worlds.

NMS

Don Allen
07-08-2008, 07:37 PM
That was a good article, summed up in one word....CONFLICT.

If you don't have it you ain't got a story I don't care how you spin it. The more conflict you have, find or create the better the story will be.

You can make a story about choosing bubble gum if you can express the conflict of choice.

stc
07-08-2008, 08:11 PM
"In Jaws a small town is terrorised by a killer shark and a bunch of guys go capture it. Great story?"

Well, yeah. It's a fun monster movie with fine acting that follows a basic template--In The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker calls it the "overcoming the monster" plot. The characters kill the monster and restore order, normality.

Does anyone else here like "Five Easy Pieces?" What's that movie's secret? The script doesn't seem to follow a traditional template. The movie's largely episodic. The main character is passive. He's a failure. He visits his family only when urged by his sister. At the end, he deserts his girlfriend. He's conflicted--that's his past, present, and future; but in the end, there's no change, resolution. He runs away.

The movie has a distinctive appeal. Nicholson is great, as is the cinematography. What do y'all think of the story? I'd be interested in your thoughts. Why does the movie work so well?

"You want me to hold the chicken."

jonpiper
07-08-2008, 09:22 PM
Jonpiper,

Henry James once remarked,

“What is character but the determination of incident and what is incident but the illumination of character?”

Believe it or not it took me days to figure out what he really meant.

Most people seem to attach too much importance to character which I agree in part but you need to understand that it is the incident that reveals the character, which brings us right back to story and story elements.

Action is character and therefore a character is what he does and not what he says he is.

“What is character but the determination of incident and what is incident but the illumination of character?”

I've heard that quote before, and am still not sure I understand it completely.

First of all I think he's referring to character as an individual within the world of a story. I think he is also talking about characters in novels, for movies were not yet born. But his observation can be applied to screenplays even more than to novels.

Incidents (actions, events, etc.) do illuminate and reveal the character in film but I don't see that as the only function of incident. Incident also reveals the story. So I'm a bit confused.

The characters in the story do determine many of the incidents, but many incidents are the result of how you construct the plot. One event leads to another event, the second event a logical consequence of the first event. I'm a bit confused here too.

I was once working on a script and the structure of the script demanded that the MC be created in a particular way, a handicapped person, which I did.

Either you revolve a screenplay around a key incident or you create a key character and revolve the screenplay around him. But you still need a key incident to illuminate this character of yours and therefore you are back to the story once again.

Coming back to your question about what “ a good story “ is all about, I have an opinion and I’m not at all sure any of you will endorse it but here it is all the same.

" Story " and " story telling " are completely different animals. A story is a….story, but story telling is your screenplay.

You can take an great story and with good story telling deliver a good film.
You can take a lousy story and with great story telling still deliver a great film.
But you cannot take a great story and make a great film with BAD story telling.

So you see, a good film is not about a great story but all about fabulous story telling.

Good points.

But don't forget that the screenplay is the first step in turning the story into a movie. So you can take a great screenplay about a great story and deliver a terrible movie.:)
Here is one definition of a story, paraphrased. I don't remember where it came from.

Something extraordinary must upset the balance of a protagonist's life which impels the protag to take action to pursue a goal that will bring his or her life back into balance.

In pursuing the goal the protag will face obstacles, anatgonistic forces, until he or she succeeds or fails to reach the goal. During the journey or effort to reach the goal, a point of change from which there is no going back wil be reached, and in this way a new order is established.

That was supposed to be a definition that covers all stories, but there are various storytelling templates, e.g., the hero's journey.

The telling of the story or the screenplay, and then the movie itself, is not the story. They are an interpretation and presentation of story. And any story can be told and presented in any number of ways.



The Shawshank Redemption is an highly acclaimed film, appreciated by lay persons and film critics alike. It depicts Tim Robbins being wrongly accused of murdering his wife, spending 20 years in jail and finally escaping. You call this a great story? Phooey!

In Jaws a small town is terrorised by a killer shark and a bunch of guys go capture it. Great story?

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is about a guy in a mental asylum and his tormentor the head nurse. Interesting story? Nah!

But you see all these film had excellently crafted screenplays and that’s why we still keep talking about them.

When I was studying in the Film Institute, I used to challenge my class mates and tell them to make a film without a real story and still keep the audience enthralled. " That " I said, " would be the true mark of genius, the final recognition that you have mastered the art of screenplay writing ". Nobody listened !

So, jonpiper, you quit worrying about stories and concentrate on honing your screenplay writing skills and one day you will be able to bestow the world with an extraordinary film.

Raghu.

:):):)

So, you believe I will be able to turn a sow's ear (crappy story) into a silk purse ( a great screenplay without a story)?:)

GigiZ
07-08-2008, 09:41 PM
A great story will make me feel and think at the same time. I guess you can say I like symbolism more than anything.
I think that great stories that I love, starting from the Iliad and the Odyssey to great novels of the 19th Century or even some Chekhov plays have characters that in some way represent an ideal, a way of living your life.
Characters are in a way symbols that evoke something beyond their own personal experience, something that is inherent in all of us.
Some triumph, others fall but in the end I walk out of the experience of reading/watching, contemplating my own beliefs about how I want to live my life etc.

That doesn't answer your question directly. It's just my fifty cents.

Raghu
07-08-2008, 10:20 PM
FinbarReilly,

Er...I hate disagreeing, but you have three great stories here. Two of them are about a lone man against the system, finding allies, and then escaping the system, which almost always makes for an interesting story. You then have a story about a guy with the dual threats of the system and nature itself, which again makes for an interesting story.

Now, trying to selling a story about chess, a spelling bee, or even debate club....

FR

We are talking about the essence of the story here, not the story proper or the screenplay.

Do you think the writers of The Shawshank Redemption would have sat together and said, “hey lets go and write this great story about a lone man fighting against the system, finding allies and then escaping the system” and then gone ahead and written the script?

Would the writers of Jaws gathered together and said “ hey lets write a story about a guy who fights the dual elements of the system and nature” and then gone and conceived and written Jaws?

No way.

My point is this;

Philosophy gets imbibed into a story and story structure AUTOMATICALLY. You don’t have to CREATE it. All you have to do is to recognize its existence and go ahead and enhance it.

It doesn’t make sense to shower praises on a film for its INHERENT positive elements. Remember again that this thread is attempting to dissect, analyze and understand the ESSENCE of the “story”, nothing else.

As for trying to sell a story about chess, a spelling bee, or even debate club, I can refer to a hundred films that include the aforementioned in their plots. Do you want me to?

Raghu.

:):):)

Lillyth
07-09-2008, 12:51 AM
I can't recall where I read it, but I recall reading that a story about Chester the one-armed midget albino Inuit from Alaska is a concept that no one can relate to - it is his love for his daughter, his broken heart, etc. that with which we call ALL identify that makes it resonate.

It happens all the time.

One of the reasons I like Million Dollar Baby so much is that I got stuck into watching it. I had less than zero desire to see it, despite the fact that my favorite director of all time directed it. But it was literally the ONLY movie not sold out the night I went. So I grudgingly sat in the theater to watch this stupid boxing movie.

Little did I know it was not a boxing movie at all.

Little did I know I would walk out of there so profoundly emotionally affected I would need to go have a drink and decompress before I could drive home.

I think one of the things that made that movie so beautiful is that Frankie Dunne had to do the one thing from which he would never recover. He had to go do this thing that would break him forever, and he did it because the need of the other person was far greater than his own and he loved her.

It is the movies in which characters achieve the impossible that make great stories.

Just my take on it...

xhouseboy
07-09-2008, 05:16 AM
Do you think the writers of The Shawshank Redemption would have sat together and said, “hey lets go and write this great story about a lone man fighting against the system, finding allies and then escaping the system” and then gone ahead and written the script?


Stephen King might have had something to say if they did.

More likely the first thing Frank Darabont and the producers did before starting on the adaptation was think.... 'mmm, let's get shot of Rita Hayworth from this title - it doesn't really work for the movie.'

jcribbs
07-09-2008, 08:06 AM
Act 2 makes or breaks a great story.

creativexec
07-09-2008, 12:02 PM
The goal of any great story is to move its audience.

It takes craft and passion to do that.


:)

miggymoose
07-11-2008, 11:59 PM
Hi all,
just doing my first re write of " Suicidal Paradise".. I have taken some time this week to try and put everybodies views from this site. In the last 24 hours my story has developed more scene ideas that put the story together in the first act of the movie as there are missing links later on in the film.. Its great because It will put another 10-15 minutes on the movie and make it more gripping at the start...
Regarding great stories.. John Truby and his mythical 22 act structure versus Syd Fields 3 act Paradigm... I am now thinking of writing the screen play twice.. from both sides, both Truby's and Field's views. See which one fits better... My movie has that much going on in it.. I dont even need obstacles..
A movie is about telling the audience what goes through my eyes and how I see things.. Regards
Sean
UK
I am going to guarantee the winner a six figure salary...! My name is not Alan Sugar, my name is Hollywood, write me a worldbeater...

jonpiper
07-12-2008, 07:21 AM
The goal of any great story is to move its audience.

It takes craft and passion to do that.


:)

That goal, the goal of a story as it relates to an audience, must be evident from the beginning of the story.

The protag's goal is usually defined near the end of the first act.

The screenwriter's goal is to have his or her damn story turned into a movie.

The director's goal is to change the story to make it his or her own.

The producer's goal is to turn a profit.

The critic's goal is to show how brilliant he or she is by tearing the film apart.:)

Spell-it-out
07-14-2008, 07:39 AM
Er...I hate disagreeing, but you have three great stories here. Two of them are about a lone man against the system, finding allies, and then escaping the system, which almost always makes for an interesting story. You then have a story about a guy with the dual threats of the system and nature itself, which again makes for an interesting story.

Now, trying to selling a story about chess, a spelling bee, or even debate club....

FR


The Great Debaters??

Spell-it-out
07-14-2008, 07:45 AM
About scripts making the film fall flat, never has this been more evident than in 'The Happening'.
Great trailer, very good first 3/4 of movie, then bang!

Anyway, back to what this thread is about!
IMO, what makes a great story is pretty varied and suited to the tastes of the individual,
but this is what gets me.

Mystery,
Strong sources of evil,
Not showing everything too early,
Making us feel for the characters by putting them in situations that we could possibly encounter ourselves.

chewtonglen
09-26-2012, 07:48 PM
We've talked about how to write a logline.

We've talked about loglines written after the screenplay is completed, loglines geared to selling the screenplay or attracting a Read. We've also talked about writing a logline before writing the screenplay, a logline to guide us as we write the screenplay/story.

But how about the story itself? What are the ingredients of a great story? Some movies are packed with action, others are more dramatic. Yet both kinds of movies may or may not be about a great story. In fact I've heard comments like, " it kept me in my seat, the set pieces astounding and the acting superb, but it didn't have a story."

It also seems that the movies with great stories have longer legs than summer blockbusters without stories.

So what makes a great screenplay story?

Mystery, laughter, the unknown and something different

chewtonglen
09-26-2012, 07:53 PM
Mystery, laughter, the unknown and something different

The Great Debaters??

I think you spelled that out pretty good.....THUMBS UP!!!

Lady Ice
10-10-2012, 03:08 PM
Simplicity. Even the most complicated films are based on a simple premise.

garyw
10-24-2012, 08:20 AM
Not only a good story line. But also good characters. Make sure you don't use the some old characters you see everyday. Come up with your own type of character.

If you want more info on screen writing just click on the link below.

Click here to grab your free e book (http://thewritingofascreenplay.com/)

max929
01-03-2013, 10:25 AM
Jonpiper,

Henry James once remarked,

“What is character but the determination of incident and what is incident but the illumination of character?”

Believe it or not it took me days to figure out what he really meant.

Most people seem to attach too much importance to character which I agree in part but you need to understand that it is the incident that reveals the character, which brings us right back to story and story elements.

Action is character and therefore a character is what he does and not what he says he is.

I was once working on a script and the structure of the script demanded that the MC be created in a particular way, a handicapped person, which I did.

Either you revolve a screenplay around a key incident or you create a key character and revolve the screenplay around him. But you still need a key incident to illuminate this character of yours and therefore you are back to the story once again.

Coming back to your question about what “ a good story “ is all about, I have an opinion and I’m not at all sure any of you will endorse it but here it is all the same.

" Story " and " story telling " are completely different animals. A story is a….story, but story telling is your screenplay.

You can take an great story and with good story telling deliver a good film.
You can take a lousy story and with great story telling still deliver a great film.
But you cannot take a great story and make a great film with BAD story telling.

So you see, a good film is not about a great story but all about fabulous story telling.

The Shawshank Redemption is an highly acclaimed film, appreciated by lay persons and film critics alike. It depicts Tim Robbins being wrongly accused of murdering his wife, spending 20 years in jail and finally escaping. You call this a great story? Phooey!

In Jaws a small town is terrorised by a killer shark and a bunch of guys go capture it. Great story?

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is about a guy in a mental asylum and his tormentor the head nurse. Interesting story? Nah!

But you see all these film had excellently crafted screenplays and that’s why we still keep talking about them.

When I was studying in the Film Institute, I used to challenge my class mates and tell them to make a film without a real story and still keep the audience enthralled. " That " I said, " would be the true mark of genius, the final recognition that you have mastered the art of screenplay writing ". Nobody listened !

So, jonpiper, you quit worrying about stories and concentrate on honing your screenplay writing skills and one day you will be able to bestow the world with an extraordinary film.

Raghu.

:):):)

Bumping this, great insight into story/character building.