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Finding Your Story

What is Your Dramatic Moment?

Who Are Your Main Characters?

What is Your Big Idea?

What is Your Story?

Exercises


The Art of Storytelling: Finding Your Story

    We all know people who are gifted storytellers - people who can captivate a crowd with their tales. While most of these people are charismatic and have a flair for language, they also have one important quality that you don't see: they know what makes a story worth telling.

    All good stories have a few elements in common: they contain interesting characters, who are involved in dramatic situations, and they all have a point, or a controlling idea. No one will be enthralled by a story that lacks these key elements.

    If you are visiting this Web site, you are, for one reason or another, compelled to tell a story. You may already have a sense of what makes a good story, but you may not be sure where to start when crafting a story of your own. Do you start with an interesting character? A dramatic moment? An intriguing idea?

    Different experts have different notions about the best way to start a story. Some say you should begin with a character. Syd Field, the screenwriting guru and author of Screenplay, says that characters are the heart and soul of story. Not only does a writer need good characters in order to engage the audience, he also needs his characters to show him how the story will evolve. Field argues that once you develop your characters and set them in motion, you'll discover what your story will and will not be. Field's method is well tested: several writers claim that their characters develop wills of their own, suggesting what the next turn of events or turn of phrase might be.

    But not every expert agrees that writers should begin with characters. Some claim that a good story begins with an idea. Robert McKee, author of the influential book, Story, argues that all stories are based on archetypal ideas like redemption, coming of age, and so on. Like the well-developed character, a strong archetypal story idea serves both audience and writer. First, an archetype presents the audience with something both universal and familiar: the story idea offers the viewer something to relate to. Second, the archetypal story idea provides the writer with a structure that is tried and true. For example, the archetypal love story follows the same structure: boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy wins girl back (or some gender variation thereof).

    Clearly, a good story should have dramatic characters and a good dramatic idea. However, when you're writing a short film, there's a third possible starting place: the dramatic moment. Longer films give you more time to explore character, to develop plots and subplots, and to suggest ideas. But in the short film, you need to be economic and find a quicker route to your story. A truly dramatic moment has everything a good story needs - interesting characters in compelling situations, who are wrestling with a big idea. If a moment strikes you as dramatic, and you learn how to unpack it, you'll have all the important elements of a good story.



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