I’m probably stating the obvious, but rarely do we buy a book or watch a film, or spend all weekend binge-watching our favourite television drama, in order to experience a slice of ‘real life’. Of course the incidents and relationships are based on things that we humans can understand and relate to, but the experience we are signing up for is a heightened version of reality, not reality itself. Even a classic film such as My Dinner with Andre is heightened as two old friends sit at a restaurant and enter into a feature-length philosophical discussion about life.
We, as an audience, want to be taken on an emotional journey. We want to laugh our heads off at a good comedy or feel our breath shorten with the tension of an exciting thriller. We have bought a front-row seat on the roller-coaster ride, and a successful writer knows that their task is to deliver this experience to the audience. In order to achieve this, it’s important to learn to craft your story in a heightened and dramatic way. Every element, from the story itself to the characters you choose – and even what your characters say – is a heightened version of reality, and once you begin to understand and apply this practice, your stories will instantly become stronger.
In my experience, one of the major reasons why a script or story doesn’t work is because the writer has tried to create a carbon copy of real life. So my advice to you is to push yourself. It may feel strange at first, but once a script is in its final form, what felt like an uncomfortable and heightened exaggeration, suddenly feels normal.
So here’s an exercise that I’m hoping will prove helpful. Print out a script or story that you’ve written and invite a trusted friend over to read it through (out loud) with you. Try to be honest and open as you come to each new plot point, each new part of the story and even each new line of dialogue. Stop when you discover a moment that feels boring, and discuss possible ways to heighten or exaggerate these moments.
And stay tuned for next week’s Story Tip Friday which is all about the important skill a writer needs to master of walking the tightrope between heightened reality and believability.
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