I was at work sitting in a film strategy meeting. We were going over the key marketing points – the most important things the studio wants audiences to know – for one of our upcoming movies. We talked about how, yes, the film is “epic” in scale with large set pieces and stunning visual effects, but we really wanted to convey that even though it has the spectacle, it is a surprisingly emotional film. We wanted audiences to know that the story has heart.
When I work with the 5th graders in the Young Storytellers script-to-stage program, I ask them on week one, “What makes a good story?” The kids are intuitive. They know it’s not the mere presence of wizards or mermaids (common characters that appear in the stories 5th graders write) that make a good story. Eventually, one of the students will say “action.” We unpack what action means and end up with another word: struggle. It’s the struggle that makes a good story.
Heart and struggle. They are at the core of every good story because heart and struggle are at the core every human relationship. And every good story is about a relationship.
Our relationship with ourselves
Our relationship with one another
Our relationship with our community
Our relationship with the natural world
Our relationship with God
Our relationship with technology
To be human is to be in relationship.
We don’t watch the Olympics to see an athlete win a medal. We watch the Olympics to see if that athlete - the one who is grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming a health problem, rising from a difficult environment, putting her faith on the line, or representing our country, our people - is going to win the medal.
The difference between a bad story and a good story is that a bad story sets out to entertain. A good story sets out to reveal something truthful about our relationships, and in doing so, we are entertained.
Sometimes these stories make us laugh. Sometimes they make us cry. They can have happy endings or doleful endings.
What I think we mean when we say we like a good story is that we like a story that helps us make peace.
We struggle to make peace with ourselves, peace with our neighbor, peace with our community, peace with God, peace with the natural environment, peace with the change that comes with the passage of time.
A good story lights the way to peace. Regardless of whether we find peace or not, it tells us we are not alone in the struggle.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES