Why Story Structure Matters (and What Happens If It’s Not There) by Michael Hauge
Film Courage: The primary goal of every story is to…
Michael Hauge: Illicit emotion.
Film Courage: Illicit emotion. Okay. And if it’s too stale. Let’s say the writer thinks there’s emotion and it’s going somewhere, but the reader is not getting the emotion that the reader intends, where is the breakdown there?
“But it’s your job to illicit emotion. The emotion has to come naturally from the reader and audience because of what you’ve done. They have to be participating in the story you have created. That is why for example empathy is so important for the hero (for you to create for your hero) because a story is a participatory experience for the audience or the reader. We become that character. We want to experience that emotion as they do. We don’t go to the movies because it’s interesting to watch people do things.”
Michael Hauge: The breakdown is definitely with the writer. It’s not an audience’s or a reader’s job to feel something, something that you have to illicit. So it means you haven’t created sufficient conflict in your story to illicit emotion or you haven’t created a premise (a concept of a story) you haven’t structured in such a way that the concept makes any sense or can be emotionally involving because you’ve given the reader nothing to route for or you haven’t created empathy with the hero or whatever it might be. But it’s your job to illicit emotion. The emotion has to come naturally from the reader and audience because of what you’ve done. They have to be participating in the story you have created. That is why for example empathy is so important for the hero (for you to create for your hero) because a story is a participatory experience for the audience or the reader. We become that character. We want to experience that emotion as they do. We don’t go to the movies because it’s interesting to watch people do things. It’s emotional for us to get to do them. We become Jason Bourne. We become Rose as she falls in love Jack and is on the TITANIC. We become the woman, the astronaut whose out in space in GRAVITY. We are part of it. We are participating in the action, in the events of that story. But we have no basis, no way to get into the story if we don’t on a subconscious level become the hero of that story. And that’s what the empathy and the identification you create at the beginning is going to do. So if you’ve created a story with an empathetic hero, so we participate, giving them a clear goal, and created enough logical believable obstacles to overcome, then the emotion will grow organically out of your audience because they’re in it and you’ve created conflict, the conflict that will do that.
Film Courage: What about the writer that just puts incident after incident of conflict, but then the story just falls flat? What’s it missing?
Michael Hauge: Well it could be missing any number of things. But as I said earlier, all roads lead to the outer motivation. And so if all you’re doing is stringing together obstacles to overcome…and there is a very similar mistake and that is people who think comedy is one funny thing after another happening. That’s not what a story is. A story is the sequence of events experienced by a hero who is pursuing a very specific goal. So if you’re just throwing out one obstacle after another but we don’t care about the hero or it’s not clear why the hero is doing this or what they’re trying to achieve or if the obstacles are illogical or if the pace of the story lags or if everything is at a very high level of emotion and you are not creating sort of peaks and valleys to the emotional level so you have big moments and quiet moments connect and moments of separation and so on. There are those things you’ve got to do in addition to throwing a bunch of car chases and fight scenes up on the screen which many people have tried and those movies don’t succeed. If it’s just car chases and fight scenes, it’s just a series of videos really. But it’s not a story or a movie that people are going to be involved in.
Film Courage: So there has to be a resting point. You said peaks and valleys. So at some point it has to kind of drop?
Michael Hauge: Well it has to alternate. It’s not a resting point as if you stay there forever. But you don’t…it’s like in a comedy…you don’t want joke, joke, joke. There’s got to be a serious moment or two. And look at any great comedy, look at even any decent comedy. There is going to be something very funny, but then there is going to be something touching or sad or romantic or there is going to be a deeper connection between the characters or there is going to be something more exciting or there is going to be something softer. You want to vary the peaks and valleys, the emotional level and pitch of the story as we go steadily toward the finish line that the hero is trying to reach. So the obstacles need to get bigger. They need to come closer together as it moves forward so the pace will accelerate but if there is only obstacles, one right after the other with no chance for us to catch our breath, no chance to anticipate what might be coming, no chance to explain what is going on and no chance to get closer or deeper to the characters, it’s going to be a very, very shallow story with very limited emotional involvement or appeal.
Question for the Viewers: Have you ever walked out of a movie theater or asked for a refund?
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