What I Want in a Story

When I read a story, I’m a “journey” reader. I want to read the “hero’s journey” or the “personal journey” story. I’m starting to believe more novelists and short story authors should read screenwriting books. Too many novels are poorly paced, with no compelling character development. I’ve admitted that I’m not a literary reader. Give me a fun story.

I am not every reader, but if you look at book sales the ones that are chart toppers are the ones with great character development. Young adult literature authors are particularly aware of the need to tell compelling journey tales.

If you aren’t familiar with the journey structure, read about screenwriting. Why do I suggest screenwriting books? Because they are about structure: Hollywood readers reject scripts that don’t follow standardized structures. In feature film scripts, the mythic journey is a standard formula. In screenwriting, the journey goes by many names with slightly different models, but these differences aren’t nearly as substantial as their proponents claim.

Chris Huntley, author of the essay “How and Why Dramatica is Different,” describes six popular “journey” models in these words:

  • Syd Field describes a dramatic structure he calls The Paradigm, which is a plot structure with a Main Character woven in.
  • Michael Hauge describes two throughlines as the Outer Journey (plot) and the Inner Journey (journey to fulfillment for the Hero).
  • Robert McKee describes two throughlines blended together—collectively called The Quest and the Central Plot.
  • Linda Seger describes an “A Story” or “story spine” as the major thread of a story coupled with Main Character development.
  • John Truby describes two throughlines blended together in his “22 Building Blocks” of story (which is an expansion of his 7 Major Steps in Classic Structure). These two throughlines are similar to Vogler’s hero’s inner and outer journeys.
  • Christopher Vogler describes two throughlines as the Hero’s Journey and the Hero’s Inner Journey.

My point is that blockbuster films (as opposed to art films or experimental films) are generally stories about personal development and discovery. There is a clear plot “spine” of events in a main character’s life upon which the story is constructed. The story is about a person becoming something, someone, different.

I’m not suggesting any one screenwriting book over another. I have a shelf of them. Read them all. I also recommend reading blogs by screenwriters and every screenwriting magazine (all two or three of them) you can locate in a bookstore.

In a future blog entry I will explain why the journey model is such a compelling model for mass market novels.

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