When I work with rookie screenwriters, one of the biggest issues I encounter is that they fail to see the point of their story.
They’re fascinated by plot and theme and setting and, occasionally, even character, but they often miss the point.
Here’s a question that illustrates my argument:
Why do you tell a joke?
Do you want your audience to nod in solemn agreement, validate your point, and praise you for your wit and intelligence?
I hope not.
You tell a joke to get a laugh. That’s the point of a joke.
The point of a wacky comedy script is to get the audience to laugh.
The point of a family tragedy script is to get the audience to cry.
The point of a gruesome horror script is to get the audience to hide their eyes in terror.
What do all of these have in common?
They’re all emotional responses.
Story Into Screenplay’s Fundamental Theorem of Story (™ PENDING): The point of any story is to provoke an emotional response in the audience.
Not to teach a lesson. Not to make a statement. Not to show how smart or sophisticated or skilled you are as a writer.
Your job, first and foremost, is to provoke an emotional response in your audience.
If your story does not provoke an emotional response in the audience, YOU HAVE NO STORY!
You may have a sequence of events or a narrative, but you don’t have a STORY.
The VOTE Method can be highly effective at helping writers find the emotional response that they want to get from the audience. The E in VOTE can also stand for “Emotion”. The E answers the question, “What is the Emotional need the character needs to satisfy as they pursue their Victory, overcome their Obstacles, and apply their Tactics?”
While the first three elements are unique to the character, setting, and story, the Emotion should be something that everyone in the audience can understand.
Love. Revenge. Grief. Fear. Redemption. Validation.
These are all emotional needs that everyone feels at one time or another.
These are all examples of the types of emotional needs that you need your characters to pursue.
These can all be examples of the emotional responses that you need to evoke from your audience to make your story a success.
You can even apply this theorem in a specific scene.
In this scene from Inside Out, the writers knew the emotional response they wanted from their audience: they wanted them to mourn the death of Bing Bong.
How did they get the audience to mourn a character who was, up to that point, annoying, useless, and more of a hindrance than a helper?
They built up the audience’s hope through Joy, the sunniest character in the film. They showed the near-misses that Joy and Bing Bong had as they tried to escape. Then they showed the only possible solution: Bing Bong’s sacrifice.
When Joy escapes the pit, she starts out happy. When she sees Bing Bong still in the pit, she realizes that her escape came at a cost. When Bing Bong waves goodbye and tells Joy, “Take her to the moon for me”, as he disappears, Joy (and the audience) tear up at the loss.
Before you sit down to outline your script, think of your audience.
What emotion do you want the reader to feel when they get to “FADE OUT”?
What do you want the audience to feel when the end credits roll?
What do you want them to tell their friends about their emotional experience after going through your story?
When you can answer these questions, then you just might have a story worth telling.
If you need help finding these answers, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer coverage reports, script consultations, rewrite services, and much more.
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