What is a story?

A story is not the same thing as a topic.

Topic: I’m doing a story about X.
Story: And what’s interesting about it is Y.
Plot: This happened then this happened … the sequence of events
Them: Why it all matters.  The point.  The message.

Story = Topic + Plot + Theme

Jessica Abel’s Story Formula:

This happened ______________, then this ______________, then this ______________, and then you wouldn’t #$%&*! believe it but _____________.  And the reason that this is interesting to every single person on the face of the earth is __________________.


Ira Glass on Finding a Story:

  • The amount of time to find a story is often longer than producing a story.
  • “If you are not failing all the time you are not creating a situation in which you can get super-lucky.”
  • To find stories, you have to master the art of noticing

(from Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire)


How to Brainstorm Ideas

  • Establish a writing routine … spend time thinking about it.
  • Write what you know … 1:35
  • Game of opposites … Flip existing ideas 2:00
  • Watch other films … and think about how you would do it differently 2:45
  • Carry around a magical notebook to remember your great ideas 3:16
  • Research 4:04
  • List your resources 4:35
  • Keep it simple 5:02
  • Live a little 5:42

The Restriction method

Practical Considerations:

  • Access
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Time
  • Existing Projects

What makes a good story?

  1. Conflict
  2. Dramatic Moments
  3. High stakes.
  4. A reason to care.
  5. Sympathetic characters
  6. Characters are tested, grow and change
  7. A Theme, Point, or Lesson

Story vs. Plot

Story: What happens and why it matters or means – emotional value
Plot: How it happens – the logic of what happens – cause & effect

Your project needs both + a theme.

What’s a theme?

  • Theme: the message, lesson, or point.
  • Not just a topic
  • How to find it?
    • Look at how your character changes and what lessons can be learned
    • Examine the core conflict, what happens, and what it might means
    • Don’t be vague or cliche’

Next Challenge: A Very Short Story

Your challenge will be to write a single paragraph that establishes your topic, story, plot, and theme.  The paragraph should be a short story in and of itself and serve as a setting off point for your journey toward a more complex and complete story later in the course.

On Thursday we will discuss story structure. Until then:

  • Brainstorm your final project and lock in on a topic.
  • Explore compelling story possibilities within that topic.
  • Identify key themes that you might like to explore or express.

And, check out the playlist for this week:

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