This page is intended to help you check if you really do have a story, or whether you just think you do.

It’s quite common for people to be absolutely sure they have nailed their story, when in fact they have just nailed a few key ingredients. There’s a difference between having a set of carefully weighed-out ingredients, and having a perfect 3 course meal. The ingredients don’t make the meal; the important thing is how they combine when they are cooked.

Your editorial ingredients don’t make a story. The missing factor is how they are brought together.

It’s dangerous to think you have a story when you don’t. It can blind you to what is wrong with your film. So if you think any of these (or even all of them) mean you’ve nailed your story, please think again. Because you’re wrong.

  • Emotional flow / arcnot the same as Story (more on this in Mission)
  • Movement / journey (place to place, across time, personal adventure, etc) – not the same as Story (more on this in Mission)
  • Narrative voice not the same as Story (more on this in Style And Tone)
  • Conceptnot the same as Story (more on this in three places: Writing A Billing, What’s The Big Idea? and Theme – and on pretty much every other page)
  • Theme not the same as Story (more on this in Theme)
  • Structure not the same as Story (more on this in two places: Links and Sequences)

People have a tendency to think that if they have some or all of these components, then all that remains is to link them together – and voila! Sorry, but stories don’t work like that. (And, just as importantly, links don’t work like that either: more on that here).

Here’s the problem:

If you proceed on the assumption that any (or all) of those things mean you have a story, then you will find yourself in all sorts of problems – but only at a painfully late stage.

They’ll hit you so late that your room for manoeuvre will be minimal.

Edit over-runs are almost guaranteed. Your finished product will satisfy no one…

…and all because the tail wagged the dog! No one ever fully identified your film’s primary narrative. (That’s posh-speak for: You thought you had a story, but you didn’t.)

Let me put it another way. Story is bigger than… Well, think of a really big thing. Then make it bigger. Story is bigger even than that. A lot bigger.

Story is king.

Those items up above? They’re minions. Without the king, they have no idea what they are doing, what they should be doing, or why.

Don’t get me wrong. A good story should contain as many of those things as it can. A good kingdom needs lots of minions.

But your actual story? The telling of it, the beating out of a narrative structure…? That takes place at a different level entirely.

If you’re ready to move to that level, let’s take a look at what a story actually is.