Creativity,  Screenwriting

Know Thy Story

“Know thy story,” and your story is the answer to these eight questions

If you’ve ever finished the first draft of your screenplay and then received feedback suggesting that your character is boring, unlikeable, not driving the story, or that the supporting characters are more impressive than your protagonist; or you find that people just don’t get it; or you yourself draw a blank when someone asks you what your story is about, answering the eight questions in this article will take care of all of that plus help you…

  • Write faster
  • Create a protagonist who drives the story
  • Write a powerful antagonist or antagonistic force 
  • Not paint yourself into a corner 
  • Write scenes that almost write themselves  
  • Create a touchstone for when you get derailed or stuck
  • Brainstorm settings, scenes, dialogue
  • Create powerful turning points  
  • Find the best inciting incident 
  • Eliminate the overwhelm of approaching a first draft or rewrite
  • Make writing your marketing content easy 

Most of us have all seen the questions I’m about to share. We may have answered them at various times with zero commitment so that we can just get on with the writing. 

Sometimes when I give clients an exercise to answer these questions they will say, I’ve seen those before, let me look through my past documents and see if I can find the answers. This defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

If you can’t answer these questions right now, before you write, or rewrite your story, or before you market your story then that means you may not know your story.

What happens when we gloss over these questions is that we discard the most powerful tool we have in writing. And that tool is knowing your story.

Knowing the answers to these questions will prevent you from ever having to look like a deer caught in the headlights when someone asks what your story is about.  

The questions are essential to writing or rewriting a script that is going to deliver powerfully.

Eight Questions to Know Thy Story

This is your story profile. Fill it out and keep it next to you every time you sit down to write or ponder your next move. (You’ll want to do one for each main character where applicable.)

  1. Who is the main character or characters? 
  2. What do they want?
    1. External
    2. Internal
  3. Why do they want it?
    1. External
    2. Internal
  4. How do they go about getting it?
  5. What are the central conflicts or what stops them?
  6. What are the stakes or consequences?
  7. What is the tone?
  8. What is the main theme?

The example below was from a webinar by Netflix Creative Development Executive Christopher Mack. As you study this example, imagine how valuable this information would be if you were sitting down to write an episode of Breaking Bad, write a logline, create a powerful short pitch, outline a structure for a pilot or feature, or brainstorm possible scenes, settings, or dialogue. Think of all the time, mental energy, and overwhelm you would save. 

Who is Walter White?

A down-on-his-luck high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer. 

What does he want?

External: Money

Internal: To be “awake”

Why does he want it?

External: To provide for his family before he dies

Internal: To make up for his past

How does he go about getting it?

Cooking and selling the highest quality meth in New Mexico. 

What are the central conflicts?

Family, drug dealers, the law

What are the stakes?

Death, jail, family

What is the theme? 

Good people can turn bad

Tone: Black comedy, gritty

Enjoy getting to know your story!

Laree’

P.S. If you need rewrite coverage or rewrite coaching, I’m here to help. And, if you sign up already having the above questions answered, you get 25% off as a bonus! How’s that for a little incentive.