Every Great Story Should Begin with a Life-changing Moment
Do you ever wonder where most scripts go wrong?
Here’s a clue; think about your favorite films and TV series. Most (if not all) really engaging stories begin with a change in the main character’s life.
What Change Looks Like In A TV Pilot
Let’s look at this year’s Emmy nominees for more examples. Back in season one, the pilot of “Stranger Things” started with Will going missing, changing life for the entire town of Hawkins. Bonus change – at the end Dustin, Mike, and Lucas meet 011. Even the first episode of the latest season starts with a change to the status quo as a new threat brews.
What Change Looks Like In A Feature
As for films, no matter how commercial or art house, they also usually start change.
Sometimes it’s big, like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” opens with Peter’s identity being revealed (okay yes, a hold over from the last movie but still) and now he’s got to make some changes or else.
“Lady Bird” and “Coda” both start with the characters’ senior year in high school, a time in everyone’s life that is full of change.
“Get Out” starts with Chris Washington going to spend the weekend at his girlfriend’s parents’ house – seems pretty small, right? But it changes everything in his life.
Books Are About Change As Well
Books are by and large the same, by the way. At least the ones best suited to be adapted for film and television. “Big Little Lies” begins with Jane moving into town and lives unraveling after that. “The Wizard of Oz” more or less begins with a tornado transporting Dorothy and Toto to a whole new dimension. “The Godfather” starts with the patriarch looking to turn over his crime dynasty to his son. Any cozy murder mystery opens with not just a body (a big change for someone) but often a change of location for the amateur detective.
Change Is In The Air
Call it the inciting incident, the call to action, the catalyst, or eschew putting a label on it at all, it doesn’t matter. Something happens either to the main character or some change happens in their life very early on to catapult the story into action.
And here’s the really trippy thing – the characters begin an emotional as well as physical change. Oh, they won’t be all the way on the other side until the end of the movie or the end of a season or series, but they start down that path right from the front. Ted Lasso will soon have to deal with the emotional fallout of the collapse of his marriage. “The Wizard of Oz” has possibly one of the crappiest emotional journeys when at the end Dorothy’s take away is there’s no place like home but…
What about your script or book?
What happens in your story? Does it happen soon enough? Is it clear enough? Does the audience at least think they know what your story is about? And most of all, do they care?
I work with writers every day to bring their stories into sharper focus.
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If you want to learn more about other mistakes to avoid in either your TV pilot or feature script, join me for my free webinars on Eventbrite.