Guest blogger: David Cairns
I got into filmmaking because I love stories. I love how stories can make us feel, how they can give everyone a voice and how they can make us think differently about the world. From TV to YouTube to ads to the news, stories are one of the main ways we process the world.
Sadly, a lot of films I’ve seen (and even some I’ve made) have not always shown much care for story, getting more wrapped up in clever visuals and artistic metaphor. Those things are important, to be sure, but a good story is always going to be the most important for connecting with your audience.
So I thought we might spend a few moments to today looking at the bones of a good story; very, very simply, the beginning, middle and the end.
In this very simple three stage story, the beginning, also called the setup), is how you introduce the story, the characters and, sometimes, the theme.
Imagine your story is about someone trying to get out of a big hole. The setup shows the person in the hole, touches on who the person is and how they got there, and why being in the hole is something they want to escape (basically, it’s a hole!).
The basic purpose here is to introduce the person you want the audience to identify with and the situation they find themselves in.
Screenwriters call the middle of a story, the conflict; the part of the story where the character tries to work through their situation established in the beginning.
Going back to our ‘people-in-a-hole’ story, the middle would be the time we see the person trying different ways of getting out of the hole.
This is the part of the story we, as an audience, form a bond with the main character as they try to overcome the trials set before them, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.
Also called the resolution, the end of a story is where we look back at the situation we set up in the beginning and ask ‘how far have we gone?’ Did we succeed or did we fail? Is life better or worse? Did our hero make it out of the hole or are they still stuck there?
How a story ends can really depend on what you want the audience to take away from the story. If you want the audience to feel happy and inspired, you might have the hero climb out of the hole in triumph. If you want the audience to feel a sense of injustice or sympathy, you might leave the hero stuck in the hole without anyone to help them.
It’s up to you, it’s your story.
Oh, one more thing. There are many different ways of telling stories beyond what I’ve talked about here.
But if you like this model and would like to learn more, check out these two books:
- The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
- Screenplay by Syd Field
About the Author
Dave Cairns is a Melbourne-based filmmaker who made his first short film with a group of work friends in 2000. In the time since, he had been involved with the production of a large number of short films and other media content, and now works as the Media Producer for Salvo Studios, The Salvation Army’s media production unit.