Hi Film Folk!
Today we focus on story stakes!
One of the the recurring moans, heard from script readers and screenplay theorists alike, is lack of stakes in start-up screenwriter’s screenplays. The reasons are varied but often nice ‘creatives’ instinctively/subconsciously don’t like putting nice characters in danger or have them face up to stuff.
Got a screenplay that receives polite nods, blank faces or ‘mehs’? Maybe the lack of stakes is stopping it from sizzling.
Star Wars Story Points
Star Wars: A New Hope, other than the many other brilliant factors that make it such a classic, engages because of the sheer consequences the lead characters consistently face.
Here are the Star Wars story points:
- R2-D2 and C-3PO have to escape from a kidnapping while Leia is taken prisoner.
- Luke’s uncle and aunt are murdered by stormtroopers (the fight has been brought into Luke’s backyard, forcing him to join).
- Stormtroopers actively hunt for Luke and the droids and only Obi-Wan’s force ability prevents them from being taken.
- Luke et al leave the planet (of Tattooine) amidst heat from stormtroopers.
- Leia has her PLANET destroyed (and parents dead). This illustrates the power of the station to destroy entire habitats at the push of a button.
- Luke, Obi-Wan et al are captured by the Death Star. A series of close shaves (trash compactor, stormtroopers) occur on the Death Star. Their lives (and the safety of the Universe) are constantly at stake.
- The most experienced of them – Obi-Wan – dies.
- The Rebel base on Yavin 4 is targeted for destruction (which would end the good fight!)
Star Wars Story Stakes
As you can see, the stakes are high!
Despite their kind and earnest nature, our characters have family members murdered, are in life and death situations constantly and the fate of the Universe is at stake at all times.
Now, of course, all films are different. Not all fit into a straight genre, not all can, or should, involve story stakes as humongous as inter-galactic war. However, there must be significant drama involved to justify its existence on page or screen.
Films like Carol, Fish Tank, Back to the Future, Good Will Hunting, 12 Angry Men all involve challenges and unenjoyable consequences to the lead characters or the subject the lead characters focus on.
So get to reading back through your stories and see how much drama actually occurs. Lacking? Get your shovels out and start throwing dirt at your lead characters!
NB/ This article of course does not cover the visual branding, special effects, character investment/performance, warmth and adventure that also act as important ingredients for the success of Star Wars, but throwing a lot at your characters is certainly one of them!
‘Monday Prescription’ No.115 – Get your hands dirty and put your characters through some tough times!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released internationally on December 17th.
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