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Telling Compelling Stories 3: Providing Purpose

What makes a film a masterpiece? What makes it resonate with the audience? Most importantly, what makes it tell a story? 

We’re exploring a few simple story-telling elements over three blog posts. The best stories have a simple structure, relatable characters, an engaging purpose. Get started with our first two instalments Starting with Structure and Creating Character. This week, we’re going to look at the purpose of your story.

A Universal Story

We’ve all watched movies or read stories that make us stop and think about who we are, or what love is, or how we got here. Those stories touch us, because they give us a chance to reflect on both the world around us and ourselves.  Whether the purpose is to entertain, inspire, humble, or educate, a great story takes some sort of human experience and explains it from a unique perspective or in a new way. You might have a classic coming of age story, mixed in with themes of coping with grief, sibling rivalry, or a good old end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. 

This is not an excuse to go crazy on side plots and subthemes, but a reminder that every part of your story should help your character toward the finish line. If you’ve written a whole chunk of story that doesn’t directly end up helping drive the plot forward, set that part aside for a sequel and carry on getting to the point!

A Lesson Learned

Speaking of getting to the point, it’s important that every story has one. A take-away message or lesson so that the audience feels like they’ve gained something. 

"The purpose of the story is what you want your audience to learn from it. What your audience takes away from the story depends on the choices your character makes and what the character learns over the course of the story."

When you’re writing your own story, you might have a clear message in mind: “team work makes the dream work”, or “save the planet”. However, you might also find the purpose isn’t clear from the outset. You might be writing a story about making a new friend, and once you’ve written your story you realise that your story’s purpose is to show that new friends who are different to you can bring you lots of exciting new experiences. In fact, the purpose of your story is something to add once you’ve got the structure and outline of the story down. The purpose of the story is what you want your audience to learn from it. What your audience takes away from the story depends on the choices your character makes and what the character learns over the course of the story. 

An Emotional Journey

Once you have a structure laid out, you’ll know what your character will face, and you should know how your character deals with that situation. What’s important now is to make the audience feel something. 

The best stories engage all six of our basic emotions: fear, sadness, disgust, anger, joy, and surprise. 

Make sure your story has points in which most—and ideally all—of these emotions are felt by the audience. Even if your character doesn’t feel anger after an insult, you might be able to inspire your audience to feel anger on their behalf. Don’t underestimate the power of fear either—suspenseful moments that keep us on the edge of our seats are what we live for! 

Ultimately, a great story is simple and it makes us feel something. With the tools of structure, character and purpose, you’ll be off to a great start, whether you’re writing a movie, a short story, or a novel. 

For more information about our Storytelling and Movie-making classes and our downloadable movie-making worksheets, check out the ‘Learn at Home’ section of our website here.