What do you mean I don’t have a good story?

It’s amazing.  Wherever I go, when it’s found out that I’m a screenwriter, I will get approached by someone who says, “Oh my God!  You write screenplays?  I have the BEST idea for a screenplay…” In fact, this happened to me about a month ago at a coffee shop that I frequent.  I was working on a screenplay, and the woman at the table behind me started talking with me, wanting to know what I was writing.  After she learned that I write screenplays, she said, “I have the best story ever for a comedy.” Without hesitation she began to share.  Of course, she was not too pleased with my response. I said, “You know, that’s a really funny scene, but I’m not sure it’s an actual story.  You will need to develop a story-line in order for it to work as a screenplay.”

The nub of it…you cannot build a story on a scene.  I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work.

Whaaaaaa?

Another factor to consider when writing your screenplay:  You cannot just cram together various scenes, that have no connection with each other.  That is like trying to squash a square peg in a round hole; it will never work. They must be cohesive.  Like building blocks–they need each other to stand.  So, a good story needs to promise something from the beginning.  There must be a hook, and everything that you write from the first word to “The End” must lead to a final goal. Every sentence, every stitch of dialogue, the scenes, the descriptions all connect, and an audience or reader is magically drawn in.

So, the elements that you provide for the audience or reader actually draws them in, and keeps them engaged with the story and the characters.  Good stories are made up of various elements.  There are guidelines, not hard-fast rules, but structure and strategy is paramount.

Aristotle claimed, “the ability to plot, or to create a powerful structure, is the most important aspect of writing.  Good writers serve their stories; bad writers serve their own agendas.”

A story is evolving, not static.  It is LIVING–alive with anticipation, and that anticipation holds an audience/reader to the premise like glue.

There are reasons that films like: A Beautiful Mind (2001), Dances With Wolves (1990), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Zorba The Greek (1964), Norma Rae (1979), Crazy Heart (2009), The Silence of the Lambs (1995), The Sound of Music (1965), Lord of the Rings (2000-2010), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Whale Rider (2003), Gangs of New York (2002), La Vie En Rose ( 2007), Finding Nemo (2003), Inception (2010), Toy Story 3 (2010), Fahrenheit  911 (2004), Atonement (2007), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), to name a few, have won Oscars.

For screenplay coaching and/or editing:  carlaiacovetti.com

Other references: ReadThrough.com – where screenwriters and actors collaborate online to help bring scripts to life!

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10 thoughts on “What do you mean I don’t have a good story?

  1. You mean the Transformers 2 and John Woo’s Hard-Boiled style of randomly stitching some cool action set pieces together doesn’t work? Hahaha!

    Well, I guess in those two examples I gave, one failed miserably, and the other… well, is still a cool collection of action set pieces.

  2. I agree with you; a scene is like a short story, one little episode and that’s it. A movie or a novel is what happens after that episode and how it connects to the original event. I may be over-simplifying it, but you get the point.

    • Thanks. Yes, I might have over-simplified, but I wanted to lightly stress the point. I suppose this was prodded too by some of the responses I’ve had in my beginning screenwriting course I teach. You wouldn’t believe all the people who try to write a screenplay based on a scene. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment,and for reading my blog post. That’s a rough question, truthfully, and one that really can’t be answered in a little comment here…especially with regard to the difference between writing a novel and a screenplay. I have no idea how many films were adaptations that I like. As far as the differences in the writing process between fiction and screenplays, there are many, and namely in the structure. While there are a number of things that apply to both forms, such as: Plot, theme, story arch, character arch, etc., there are so many differences. Basically you ONLY have 100-110 pages to lay out a story with all of the essential elements revealed in a screenplay, where a novel can endlessly go on and on. Heck, you could be the next Leo Tolstoy and write 2,000 page variation of War and Peace! You might have trouble getting it published, but you can do that none-the-less. However, you are very limited when writing a screenplay. I have always said that aside from poetry, which also can have a lot of structure, screenwriting has more structuring than any other form of writing.
      I hope I somewhat answered your questions… 🙂

  3. I found your blog by chance, but I wanted to let you know I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s nice to hear someone say a lot of the things I myself suspected about the great big world of Writing…but since I’m a n00b, I still doubt and question my own intuition. Thank you for the reminder that I’m on the right path. 🙂

  4. It’s easy to confuse idea and story, one does not necessarily lead to the other. I enjoy good science fiction sometimes and it’s especially true in this genre. Great novels have been turned into bad screenplays, with the result being a bad film. Most science fiction is not well done in film and I suspect it is because the people who write the screenplay and/or make the film simply do not understand it. I think it takes a special talent to make a good screenplay that translates well into a film, whether taken from a work of fiction or as an original work in itself. I think this is part of the point you were making too. Simply having an idea or translating a fictional work is not enough.

    BTW – when I tell people I am a physicist, they sometimes want to tell me of a theory to disprove Einstein or have a new interpretation of quantum mechanics, or have some question they think is clever, as if to say, “Come on, physicist, explain that one, eh?”. I nod politely and listen, and do my best to answer, but it rarely satisfies them. They are convinced they have some clever insight that physicists haven’t figured out yet. It takes more than reading the latest book by Stephen Hawking to understand the subtleties and complexities of the universe at large. Not that it is out of reach of the ‘everyman’, but it just takes knowing the laws, thinking deeply and applying them correctly. It’s much the same for writing, as in other professions I suppose too, so I can sympathize with the reaction you get when you tell people you are a screenwriter. 🙂

    • You’re quite correct, and on several points. Confusing story and idea (or a scene), and the fact that great novels have been turned into BAD screenplays.

      You make an interesting point about Sci-fi… I really have to wonder why that is? I wonder if it is because the writer does not really understand the importance of Story & Character Arc, the protagonists journey, etc.? Of course, when looking at Star Wars, undoubtedly, Lucas understood these elements, because they are seen in the writing.

      I agree with you that it is a special talent to write a screenplay, and not as easy as some might think. I will be bold and say that I believe there is more structure than any other form of writing, baring metered poetry, but that’s a whole different deal altogether.

      Haha! I love that people try and give you a way to disprove Einstein. lol I would love to see you in action responding to this. You are one of the most non-pretentious, REAL, brilliant, but not ego-driven men I know. I have (as you know) read a few books that delve into Quantum Physics, but in no way would I ever begin to assume that I have a clue about the complexities of the universe. People are so funny. Guess that’s why I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE writing compelling, fun characters. 🙂 Perhaps they are emulations of those I have watched maneuver in real life. 🙂 Haha… Perhaps my philosophical side is coming out…

      Thank you for this GREAT post my friend! As always, I do enjoy your mind…

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