In my travels I meet film producers in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their common complaint is never about getting the finance. It’s about finding quality projects. The producers moan that writers don’t seem to understand which of the seven story types they’re using.
There are approximately 50,000 new spec screenplays in circulation each year, with roughly one of every 5,000 sold! There has to be something wrong. Could it be that all the screenwriters writing scripts are talentless dreamers? Or could it be that they are following the wrong strategy with their stories.
The trick it seems is to find which of these seven story types works for you, and then to add in other elements such as the tool of genre to really make your writing stand out.
In my early years of Raindance I read – for money – about 2,500 scripts, and some days I read as many as four scripts. Never did I read a bad idea for a script, What I did read every single day, was poor execution of the story. I believe this is caused by poor understanding of the seven story types.
Allow me to explain.
Seven Story Types Professional Storytellers Use
Remember this key point: I am not talking about the tool of genre. All commercially successful movies fall into a genre. We’ll consider the role of genre at another time.
1. The value story
As we grow older our values change. As generations grow older their values become different to those of a younger generation. Sometimes this creates conflict as in the flower and hippy generations of the 1960’s and 70’s. Other times the new and older generations coexist relatively peacefully side by side as the millenials next to the baby boomers.
A successful value story is created when the writer establishes a strong value and then seeks to defend it and hopefully create acceptance in the mind of the reader.
Children’s stories are full of values. The Ugly Fairy teaches self-acceptance
Bible stories like Noah’s Ark show the value of innovation and collaboration
Stories with a labyrinth teach the value of patience
The Beauty and the Beast definitely shows the value of self-acceptance along with loyalty, justice and love.
2. The ‘why’ story
In a why story you show why you (or the main character) is so driven. As a writer you need to reflect on your deepest motivations and see if these can be translated into your story.
One can be driven by an event
One can be driven by a motivation
One can be driven by the need to find the truth
History is full of stories of people who found the ‘why’ they were motivated.
Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t stop drawing machines with wings that flapped like birds. He drew thousands of them. Why? These drawings and the machines he constructed were the precursors to our airplanes.
Amadeus Mozart had a dull and boring job in Salzburg. He found his passion when he finally escaped to Vienna. While there he created stupendous operas and orchestral works like Don Giovanni, an opera that influenced everything that came afterwards.
Mick Jagger’s parents sent him to the London School of Economics where he was distracted by the electric blues coming out of America. He started his musical career with little experience but was motivated by the Blues to write lyric after lyric, something he was much better at than studying corporate finance.
I started Raindance at a low point in my career. But I loved movies and was motivated by the ‘why’ and ‘how’ careers succeeded. That was a quarter century ago – and now I know Why I Raindance
The common thread: everyone was playing like a child, but with the experience of an adult. Get a deck of cards. Make a mood board. I don’t know! Play. You will find your motivation and the ‘why’ leaping out at you.
3. The origin story
Take the stat of any movement or thought or life story and boil it down into the key moments. Before you know it you will have a story, and you will find one of the characters speaking to you in the strongest voice. This surely will become the lead character, the hero or protagonist in your story.
That is the hidden secret of the Oscar winning 12 Years A Slave.
4. The vision story
Sometimes you will have a vision of where you think a movement or social structure is headed. This could be a dystopian future, or a way you think that relationships are headed.
We are in the middle of a social movement at the moment with the #MeTo movement which is exposing sexual malpractice in the workplace – in all different industries from Hollywood to hi-tech, politics and education.
Can you show us your vision simply and clearly? Can you show us a pathway that is tangible and easy-to-follow?
If you can create a vision with a pathway that is clear and tangible you could well hit a goldmine.
5. The teaching story
This is the most common type of story and one that is perhaps the easiest to write. Decide which lesson you want to teach and then work backwards.
6. The impact story
It seems that in times of political, social and environmental unrest impact stories take the forefront. Typically in documentaries.
A great impact story will highlight an issue, and then show us, the viewer, the return on investment (ROI) if we follow through on the message.
Everyone is now talking about the plastic in the ocean. This awareness was largely kickstarted by a brilliant documentary we screened at Raindance in 2016 – call Plastic Ocean. The filmmakers made sure it was screened in parliaments around the world as well as at the United Nations. A very effective example of the power of the impact story.
You can watch the trailer here and donate to the cause by purchasing the movie online for a few bucks
7. The objections story
Overcoming an established opinion you feel is wrong is a challenging and exciting way to develop a story.
Perhaps start by asking yourself:
What I hate/fear/avoid more than anything is _________.
This will give you fertile ground for an idea that just might get you moving.
In 2010 Raindance showed a powerful documentary by the Canadian Brent Leung who believed the day when the world would be AIDS-free was closer than you think. His documentary challenged the medical establishment’s definition of AIDS.
Understandably the documentary brought him a torrent of abuse. However, if you watch the documentary to it’s full extent you too might be forced to revisit your own attitude to this terrible health problem and join Brent in helping to eradicate this ‘dis ease’.
I’m sure I have missed out details of your favourite story type. Please do me two favours:
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