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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Author: C. Scott Wyatt

Writer.