Hey auditionhackers ! In these difficult and uncertain times, I want to bring you guys a beginner’s guide on how to start a story and of course by that I mean on how to write a good story. It does not come directly from me but from John Truby, one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry. His students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood’s most successful films, including “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Scream, ” and “Shrek.” Here we are going to deliver a step by step guide on how to flesh out a skeleton for a great story, would it be for a novel, script, or play. This article will give you exactly what you need to get started but if you guys want to dig deeper into the process of writing a great story, I highly recommend The Anatomy of Story. (*Disclaimer : There are examples in this article that could be spoilers !).
I. Start with an Ideas Fest !
Whether you are working on your story alone or with other people, just start getting it out there. Is it going to be about a musician in search for greatness ? A soldier hesitating to follow orders ? A group of young women rebelling against the status quo ? Whatever comes to mind, just write it down, and let it infuse. Are you done with your Ideas Fest ? This was the first step on how to start a story. You can know proceed to select the idea that you will keep.
II. Select the idea you care the most about and that has the greatest potential
Writing is a long, patient process that can keep you busy on and off for weeks, if not years. That is why you want to be sure to write something you deeply care about. Something that will never, ever get you bored over time. Maybe that story idea has to do with mental health ? Or with inequality ? The strongest you can relate to what you write, the better. Have you short-listed the ideas you care about the most ? Great. Now it’s time to select the one you think will potentially have the greatest impact on a potential audience. Maybe one of your ideas talks about something people are currently going through ? Maybe it talks about something that is being ignored by the mainstream film industry ? Find the one idea that is the the most promising in your opinion and stick with it. Done ? You can now start to flesh out the structure.
III. Find your Hero a Weakness and Need
Whatever story you chose, try and find one or more great weaknesses that are holding back your hero. Something within your hero is actually missing and it is making his life truly difficult. This hero will have a related need that he must fulfil in order to have a better life. Here are some notable examples :
- Weakness : Otis is very shy, insecure and although he won’t admit it, suffers from being unnoticed at his school.
- Need : Otis has to overcome his insecurities by gaining respect from his peers.
- Weakness : Arthur Fleck suffers from a life totally out of his control and from loneliness.
- Need : Arthur has to overcome his loneliness by taking control over his life.
Whatever you choose as a weakness and as a need, make sure it is something that directly, from the start, appears clearly in your story. That weakness and need has to be strong and interesting enough so that withing the first few moments of your hero being introduced, the audience is hooked because people are asking themselves : Will the hero overcome his weakness, and how ? Will the Joker turn his life around, and what will he do, as he can’t keep living like this ? Will Otis do something about being unnoticed ? You want people to mentally interact with your story, and that require these clear elements from the very beginning, when you start a story.
IV. Find your Hero a Desire
The desire is the driving force in the story. It is what ultimately justifies most of the actions of your hero. It derives from the need and gives it specificity.
Otis eventually wants to go out with Maeve, and gets there by gaining respect from his peers with his sex advice service and by showing himself he can “do it” with Ola.
Arthur wants to watch the world burn as much as he burns inside.
The desire is actually what gets the story going and hooks up the audience until the end, so that desire often can’t be satisfied until the resolution at the very end. Make your desire something that has huge stakes for your hero. Maybe he wants to catch a criminal ? Or find the cure to a rare disease ?
V. Find your Hero an Opponent
A huge amount of good stories have really good opponents. It does not have to be a purely evil person. It can be a fake ally that turns opponent, it can also be a few different opponents that keep coming into the way of your main hero. Let’s look at some examples :
German soldiers constantly threaten Schofield’s life in his task of delivering the letter.
The Demogorgon, never totally undefeated, keeps coming back in various form to threaten the Hawkins’ Community.
A very good way to make your hero and opponent having a great connection and conflict is to make them ultimately compete for the same goal. When you do that, they will constantly have reasons to clash over and over again in different contexts. In 1917, British and German soldiers are ultimately competing over the same thing : winning the war, hence why Schofield has to survive, escaping death over and over again. In Strangers Things, the Demogorgon wants what the community in Hawkins has : the control over the city. In The Dark Night, Batman and the Joker ultimately want the same thing : make Gotham believe in their view of the world. If you achieve this deep connection between your hero and opponent, I assure you that it will keep your story interesting and your audience hooked.
VI. Find a Plan for your Hero
Giving your Hero a Plan in order to deceive its opponent and reach his goal will help your story to stay on track. Let’s look at some examples :
Frank Castle will hunt and eliminate every single person that had anything to do with his family being slaughtered.
Combat Medic Desmond Doss will meticulously find every single injured american soldier in his battalion and bring them to safety.
The plan has to be able to be summarised in one sentence and establish a clear path for your hero to achieve his goal. You can retain information of course but there has to be some clear led out path so that you can reel people in your story. This is an essential step in our guide on how to write a good story.
VII. Bring an Epic Battle
Your audience awaited that moment for such a long time. Your Hero and Opponent are finally having a strong confrontation, would it be of words or of violence.
Othello insults Desdemona based on the false information he has, and not much later, decides to kill her.
YOU Season 1
Beck and Joe explains their true selves to each other while Beck is being held hostage.
The Battle is arguably THE most awaited moment of any story, and therefore, a crucial thing to master when you learn how to write a story. It is when the goal of your hero and the one of your opponent finally cross path and clash. You want to make sure that this part of your story is gripping and that the confrontation unleashes everything that was held back out before. The hero can finally, for example, tell his opponent what he has been thinking about him all along. The opponent can finally try and take advantage of the weakness of the hero. Don’t hold anything back at that point !
VIII. Unfold a Self-Revelation
The self-revelation is closely related to need. It is the moment, during or just after the Battle, when the hero realises who he really is. The hero finally sees himself honestly for the first time. This moment is what justifies the whole story, it is what brings to your hero the growth he needed to get in the first place. Let’s have a look at some examples :
After having killed Desdemona, Othello realises that he made a huge mistake and was betrayed by Iago. He is ashamed of being the evil person he has been accused to be his whole life.
Sex Education Season 2
Otis realises that he is worthy of Maeve’s love and that he has been lying to himself all along.
IX. Find a New Equilibrium
This is the last step of our guide. The Hero has now moved to either a higher or lower level, depending on the kind of revelation he had. If he has a positive revelation, he moves on to a higher status or better situation. If he has a negative revelation or is unable to actually even have a revelation at all, he will be fall to a lower level/situation ad be destroyed. Let’s look at some examples.
Flight : Negative self-revelation
After admitting his potential responsibility due to his alcohol addiction, Whitaker ends up in jail.
12 Angry Men : positive self-revelation
Among the jurors, after the last advocate of the guilty verdict finally agrees to a non-guilty decision, the defendant life is spared.
There you are auditionhackers, you now have an easy to follow, step by step guide on how to flesh out the structure for an amazing story ! In these difficult times writing could be a great way to make the most out of self-isolation. Stay safe everyone <3.
2 thoughts on “How to Write a Great Story from Scratch”
Excellent post! Although living under quarantine conditions sucks, the best thing we can all do is stay home and work on our stories. You’ve provided some really solid tips here. Cheers
Thanks so much Darius! Indeed, a lot of us say that we don’t write because a lack of time. This quarantine is a great opportunity for writing !
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