Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's the Story spec?

We all know what a story is.  My six year old nephew knows what a story is.  But I know that when I ask my script writing students to tell me what it is, they have a tough time nailing it down to something that isn't vague, or open to interpretation.

Today, while teaching my first scriptwriting class of the new semester, it occurred to me that what we really need is a spec for a story.

If my class was car design, first we'd have to agree on what a car IS before we can make one.

So we have to agree what a story is, before we can make one.

The "spec" for a car is an engine, wheels, a steering wheel, brakes and a way for an operator to manoeuvre it.  That's I think, the bare minimum requirements to define the spec for a car.  It doesn't specify what a table or a carrot is.  It's a car.  No debate, no opinion.  That spec could lead to a Ferrari or a Toyota or any other car.  And we could argue about the quality of the final car, but we shouldn't be able to argue about whether it is a car.

In the same we, we need something that is clear, specific and non-debatable as a spec for a story.

It seems to me that any analysis of good stories, particularly movies leads to the story template that I've blogged about on here in the past:  Character/Action/Goal/Adversary.  Those are the minimum requirements for a story.  They're the steering wheel, engine, brakes and wheels equivalent.

And of course there's a relationship implicit between those four elements:  Character DOES the action FOR the goal OPPOSED by the adversary.

That's our spec.  With that spec, you know what you have to make.  There's no way of knowing whether it will be a good story or a bad story, but it will be a story.
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