Week 1 - Storytelling
January 6 - Introduction
January 7 - Why we like stories
January 8 - Why we tell stories
January 9 - Your perspective
January 10 - Worlds/Characters
Week 2 - Characters
January 13 - Warming up
January 14 - Internal/external
January 15 - Needs/Wants
January 16 - Obstacles
January 17 - Arc
January 18 - Stakes
January 20 - Structure
January 21 - Story spine
January 22 - Activity
January 23 - Theme
🔒 Week 4
🔒 Week 5
🔒 Week 6
🔒 Week 7
🔒 Week 8
🔒 Week 9
🔒 Week 10
🔒 Week 11
🔒 Week 12
Hour 428-452 | Theme
During the process of creating a story we also try to step back and think about what connects all the individual events in the story. To do this we often ask ourselves (as storytellers) the following simple question.
What are you trying to say in your story?
When we ask this question we're getting at something we call the theme. The theme is connected to the moral which is the lesson that the main character learns at the end of a story. For example, the moral of Cars might be there's more to life than winning.
For thousands of years, people have been weaving morals into stories. Notice the story spine exercise also ended with a step "and the moral of the story is." That can help you make sure that all your story beats work together to get across this larger point.
When the audience leaves your movie and a month later they're saying to their friend "oh I love this movie. It was about..." What do you want them to say?
So for a movie like The Incredibles you could say "oh it's a movie about a bunch of superheroes fighting crime."
But when you're talking about theme you're asking about the deeper thing it's about. "Oh it's a movie about a guy who's lost his sense of identity and he finds it again in reconnecting with his family." His identity as part of a family, as part of that super team. It's basically why you're telling me this in a nutshell.
I worked on a great film in 1999 called Iron Giant (just kidding, I wish I had) and the theme of that movie was you are who you choose to be.
Like in Toy Story 3, learning to love, one of the themes was learning to love is learning to let go.
I find if I experience a film that doesn't have a core idea or a theme it becomes very unmemorable and later when I'm trying to think about the film and wonder what it was about...I can't remember because there was no unifying theme.
The theme is basically the reason that the character lets go of their wants for what they need. Always start a story knowing the goal of your protagonist and the goal is what they want. So character is going after what they want. But often they realize that what they want is not actually what they needed and what they needed is much more important.
Finding out what they need, that usually is the theme of the movie. Once you know what your theme is, what you're trying to say, you can then create a series of dramatic events, dramatic tests for your protagonist for the realization that they need to change and they need to be influenced by the theme of the story.
It's important to know the theme or the moral of the story before you start. Sometimes, however, you discover the moral of the story while you're working on it and it's actually different than what you had expected. So when I think about "Inside Out" that started with this clear question. What happens if you lose your joy? And then for a few years, like two and a half years, the focus in the middle of the story was losing your joy and joy and fear going on a journey into Riley's mind. Then there was an epiphany which is what joy has to learn that there's a role for sadness in Riley's life too and has to let sadness in.
So it became a big theme about learning to embrace sadness. I don't think you'd ever wanna limit yourself by the things you thought on day one. You wanna allow it to grow and become deeper and richer and more thought out and more evolved as you spend the time developing it. One thing is for sure. You don't have to start with a theme. But by the end of the storytelling process you should be able to communicate it clearly. And whatever the theme is, it's usually connected with the needs of your main character. What they need to do, know, or learn in order to succeed in life.
In this next exercise you'll have a chance to identify the theme or moral in your three favorite stories as well as consider what you wanna say in your story.
You can submit your ideas in the Comments section below, or write them down in your story journal.
Here's a list of definitions.