What story doctors do

Hollywood executives reject most stories that come across their desks. Screenwriters have the same problem as creators of business and instructional narratives. Their stories are boring. Screenwriters get sent away to do rewrites. Some call in story doctors to help them "fix their script". Here's a cursory look at what those story doctors do to access the power of storytelling.

No identification with the lead character(s): The viewers cannot take the journey through the eyes of the protagonists. The audience is left behind as bystanders until they can empathize with the hero/heroine/anti-hero, feel their pain, care about the desired outcome, fear the same dangers, and value the sporadic progress.

Empty promises: The ending fails to deliver on the expectations created from the start. The climax is a let-down or a betrayal. The audience does not feel rewarded until the plot includes a big enough twist or a sufficiently dramatic conclusion to bring closure to the issues raised.

Doors left wide open: The protagonist finds "easy outs" to avoid his/her destiny. The audience feels manipulated until the character's fate is sealed and the suspense is heightened -- by the character realizing there is "nowhere to turn but within".

See it coming: The plot is too predictable, unfolding according to plan or getting a straight shot at the goal. The audience feels over-confident until they are setup to expect one thing and faced with a surprise or they are presuming they know it all and then find there's a gap in their understanding.

The hook comes up empty: Fishing for the audience's commitment fails to catch their curiosity. The viewers stare in disbelief until they get hooked by a luring discrepancy or baited by an unsuspecting character asking for trouble.

Crap shoot of random consequences
: The world the characters live in -- has no rules to live by or ways to succeed. The audience will feel hopeless until there's evidence of causal relationships between events or games to "play for keeps" in this world.

Absurd coincidences: The story seems laughable and ridiculous. The audience will scoff at the story until there is foreshadowing and payoffs or revealing clues and satisfying conclusions.

Shallow characters: The characters have no credible reasons to react the way they do. The audience will find the story incredible until characters reveal their back stories through conflicts or personal dilemmas.

When a story gets scrutinized and transformed in these ways (and many others) the audience becomes fully engaged. The boring narrative becomes a spellbinding story that sinks in deeply and changes their outlooks.

No comments:

Post a Comment