In John’s bestselling book Into the Woods, based on his experiences from a long and distinguished career in TV drama, he identifies the underlying shape common to all successful narratives and recommends that writers ask themselves ten questions to test the success of their story.
In the video below from a live training workshop, John applies his ten questions to two popular films: Aliens (1986) and Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) – though it can just as easily be applied to factual content, video games, and business communications.
Whose story is this?
- Aliens – Ripley’s
- Inside Out – Joy’s
What do they need? (Flaw)
- Aliens – Failure as a mother
- Inside Out – To understand life can’t be constantly happy
What is the inciting incident?
- Aliens – The news that colonists are being killed, and the opportunity of revenge
- Inside Out – Being cast out of HQ with Sadness
What does the protagonist want?
- Aliens – To kill the Aliens (to atone for dead daughter)
- Inside Out – To get back to HQ
What obstacles are in the way?
- Aliens – Aliens, the military, the company, her own inner fears
- Inside Out – She doesn’t know the way, or understand she needs to listen to Sadness too
What’s at stake?
- Aliens – Her life and civilisation
- Inside Out – Her existence – Riley’s happiness
Why should we care?
- Aliens – She’s selfless (and loves her cat)
- Inside Out – She’s funny and smart – has the best interests of Riley at heart
What do they learn?
- Aliens – The strength and resilience within – she can be a good mother
- Inside Out – To embrace Sadness and accept life is infinitely better if you do
How and why do they learn this?
- Aliens – She rescues Newt from the jaws of the Alien
- Inside Out – Can’t bridge the chasm without the help of Sadness
How does the story end?
- Aliens – She destroys the Aliens
- Inside Out – Home, with Sadness at the controls