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Basic Storytelling Concepts

1. People watch movies to be entertained.

Want to send a message? Use Western Union. “Preachy,” “heavy-handed,” “too earnest” and other so described stories are the result of writers who start the process with a particular agenda they want to convey, then they write situations that allow their characters to preach at other characters.

That’s not the way to do it.

First tell a great story that engages the audience, gets them to care about the characters and the situations they’re placed in. Allow your audience to escape their problems and somehow enjoy living through someone else’s life for a couple hours. Once that’s happening, then consider how that experience will influence their choices and change the world.
2. People watch movies to see characters make MORAL CHOICES.

I can’t stress this enough. Movie characters make many decisions, but if it’s all about where to go for dinner, which wine to drink, whether to take a cab home or walk, etc., the audience gets bored. The reason is, the choices don’t have an effect on the character. They doesn’t reveal character. They don’t contribute toward the meaning of the story.

Instead, the character should choose to the restaurant because it shows he’s finally gotten over the breakup he experienced in the restaurant before. Gertrude will drink the wine from Hamlet’s goblet because she knows it’s poison and she gets to save her son AND punish herself for her sins. He chooses to walk home because he’ll get to pass HER house, even though she’s dating his best friend. MORAL CHOICES!
3. People watch movies for an emotional experience.

Cultural explorations and rational debates can be fun, but audiences want to be moved.


John L. Sullivan

I want this picture to be a… document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity… a true canvas of the suffering of humanity.


But with a little sex in it.

John L. Sullivan


But with a little sex in it.

* Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels

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