The best stories move our emotions. If you are bored with a story its probably because you are not emotionally invested in it. You won't care about characters that don't pull at you emotions.
Check out this scene from Phantom Menace.
Qui-gon and Obi-wan are just talking about feelings and boring federation stuff. There is nothing in there to get us emotionally invested and it's the first scene of the movie!! Feelings should be shown not talked about.
Contrast that with meeting (a much older) Obi-wan in Star Wars. He's not doing any cool fight stuff, but he is introduced in a fascinating way. Hes mysterious. He can see things others can't like when he senses R2D2 in the cave. Notice how R2D2 cues us on how to feel with his sounds.
Seeing a character in a vulnerable position helps us to connect with them. Emotions can make us either love or hate a character. That's what we are after as story artist. It is our job to build our characters in such a way that the audience wants more.
Here's a great sequence that really tugs at the audience heart. We see the towns people have no hope of surviving the impending nuclear blast. Iron Giant recognizes this and makes a choice. He doesn't tell us what he is doing, he just does it.
At this point in the movie we've gotten to know the Giant. He's our friend. When he sacrifices himself to save those he loves. It's powerful. It's emotional. It connects with you.
But how do you put this kind of emotion in your stories? You find moments that make a connection with the audience.
It would be impossible to tell a story around every emotional nuance your audience feels. Instead, have your characters experience something universal. This requires your character to act. For example, your character goes through a break up, a family member or friend dies, or they get rejected or they have the best day of their life.
Think of all the news headlines right now about about the US/Mexican borrder. Both sides use different words to play on your emotions. The News outlets know their target audience and use words to excite them.
Plot vs Story
A story isn't so much about the plot. It's more about the growth a character is going through as they experience a journey. Think about the plot of your day. Do you remember all you had to do that day or those few moments where someone did something for you? Or the moment where you felt joy or sadness?
Here's a common story plot for my day:
Milk the cows, make breakfast with family, get to work, draw movie stuff, make up stories to earn money, go home, chill with family, go to bed, do it again.
Pretty boring. My plot is basically a 'shopping list'. If I put this into moments or character growth it will be more interesting.
Milk the cows - I help milk cows at a small dairy once a week. We milk into a 6 gallon stainless steel bucket that weighs 15 lbs empty, after you've milked a couple of cows that bucket weighs about 60 lbs. I have to lift it chest high to pour it into a bulk tank where the milk gets cooled. Nothing I can't handle.
So far pretty boring but I need to give you a frame of reference for the moment I had.
In the first few months after a cow gives birth she produces almost twice as much milk as usual. Two cows had just calved and the farmer had just milked them. The milk bucket was full to the top. He's old-ish and I saw him struggling a bit to lift the bucket so I offered to help. He declined, got another grip, and hefted the bucket up and poured the milk in the tank. After that he proceeded to tell me how he got hemorrhoids from lifting the bucket wrong and got pretty graphic in his description about it. I was kind of grossed out, but what he said really got my attention.
If he had just said, "Lift the bucket this way and you won't get hurt." It wouldn't have made an impression on me. Because he was so descriptive, and I'm a visual person, couldn't stop thinking about hemorrhoids. That stuck with me.
Then he showed me the proper method of lifting the bucket. You know I'm ALWAYS going to use my legs to lift that buck from here on out.
Pouring the milk starts at 0:38
A word about character. The farmer talked so frankly about his roids because life on a farm is very matter of fact. If you're milking a cow and she starts shooting digested grass out the other end you step out of the way, wait for it to be over and keep doing your job. That's who he is and how he lives life. That's his character.
It's not so much about what you are doing, but why you are doing it.
When you are storyboarding look for places where you can pause from the plot and develop your characters. Give your audience some time to get to know your character.
One of my favorites moments in a movie is from DUMBO. Timothy takes Dumbo to see his mom. She's chained up but manages to cradle him in her trunk through the window. As Timothy leads Dumbo away, mom and baby touch trunks as long as they can. You really feel for the poor little elephant.
Working on the Peanuts movie I came across a plot point that needed to be solved with character. In the plot Charlie Brown is accidentally mistaken for a genius. In reality he's far from that but the plot called for him to do something that seemed like genius but really isn't.
Click the image to see my solution:
Seeing Charlie Brown solve a problem that Lucy couldn't solve made for a nice exchange between the two.
Another plot point is Charlie Brown sees the Little Redhead Girl likes to dance. He learns to dance to impress her. Rather than show boring shots of him trying to dance, we got Snoopy involved and had him teach Charlie how to dance. I thought it turned out really nice.
What are your favorite moments from movies?
Time to write a story!
In this course you are going to board out a story and over the next few weeks, polish it.
Choose a moment from your life that made you laugh or had some meaning to it. Set it up so the audience knows where you are coming from. If you are the main character in this story let the audience inside your head.
To get you started, answer these questions to yourself:
What set this story in motion?
What do you want the audience to feel? What is the conflict? Whose point of view is it? Is there a lesson to be learned?
If I were to ask these questions about the Dumbo scene I'd answer like this:
What set this story in motion?
Mothering instincts got misinterpreted as violence.
What do you want the audience to feel?
Feel the love between mother and child.
What is the conflict?
Mother and child want to be together but cannot.
Whose point of view is it?
Is there a lesson to be learned?
Love will find a way.
Show the relationship between the main characters in the scene or their state of mind.
The 'moments' described above come from character. Each character is going to act or react to a situation in a different way. That is the source of emotion in your stories.
How does Charlie Brown dance vs how Snoopy dances?
What would the grim reaper do if he saw his human girlfriend was cheating on him?
To answer this you'd have to know his character and or their relationship:
Is he a jealous boyfriend?
Is he tired of the relationship?
What does he get from her?
Does he love her?
The grim reaper breaking up is the plot, the moments you build by answering these questions is the story.
Let's give it a try:
Board out some moments in the scenario above.
By playing around with a few moments you can discover your character.
Ideas - he's jealous - maybe the boyfriend or girlfriend dies
He confronts her/him then makes threats
It's a fling, reaper corners boyfriend and threatens him with his life if he doesn't take girl off his hands.
He thinks he needs to be more like the cheater, he goes to the gym, works out, writes a love poem but its all about death she either loves or hates it. He tries to be romantic to win her back.
Set ups are easy, good endings are hard.
Now that you have a few moments drawn up start thinking about which direction you'd like to go. What will be the final outcome of this story? Start taking it in that direction.
The character in your story should have a goal, something they want. That goal is what drives then to act. They may achieve their goal but find it wasn't what they really wanted. Or may not achieve the goal, instead find something better. or just learned something along the way.
Here's a few ideas on not getting lost.
What type of story are you telling?
Expanded joke - this kind of story is a joke drawn out.
Always reaching, never attaining - Scrat or Wile E Coyote are good examples of this.
Beginning Middle End - this type of story is a condensed version of a longer format.
For next week, board out a story based on a moment from your life or come up with a fictional story you'd like to tell. Funny stuff gets more attention but if you are more into drama that's fine too.
Two friends are rock climbing. One has to go to the bathroom really bad and is trying to be discrete about slipping away to do the deed. The other thinks the first is up to something suspicious. How will this end?
Don't get too caught up in camera angle and cool shots yet. We'll get to that in the coming lessons. Focus on telling an entertaining story.