So I read a lot of projects-to-be. These are scripts, outlines, treatments, etc, etc, etc. These are sometimes based on pre-existing stories, sometimes not. Sometimes these are written by pros, sometimes not.
But if I had to say what the #1 failing of these documents is, over my career?
Meanness. Specifically, a lack of meanness. Many writers, especially when they’re planning out their story, are FAR too kind to their main characters.
You want a good story, you gotta get MEAN! Let’s face it. We live in a mean world. Bad things happen to good people on the daily. The powerful and corrupt are rewarded. The virtuous punished. There is a TON of beauty in this world, but there’s also heartbreaking inequity, unfairness, and punishing brutality.
Story is a cathartic expression of that brutality. And tension is the result of a character we engage with being treated brutally. Unfairly.
This is the tension of the story world. This is the conflict. This is the buy-in. We WANT to feel moral outrage, we want to feel the desire for revenge, or at the least, the desire for a change of state for our protagonist. And we want them to rise above the slings and arrows buffeting them, and for them to triumph.
The catharsis, the relief we can feel, that sensation that we’ve just gotten off a rollercoaster of emotion when we put down a great book…it nearly ALWAYS comes from a storyteller that knew how to be mean enough to their characters.
The pros know how to be mean. So get out there today, and turn the screws on the story you’re telling. Then sit back and watch your audience engage totally.