A Story Should Be Told in One Sentence
I ask strangers for money.
I have a variety of responsibilities within my role as Sales and Marketing Executive for Tinderflint but this sentence describes most of them. And I actually know most of the people I ask for money. My job is to drive new business to Tinderflint, get our name out there, fly the flag, walk the boards and, my new personal favourite; grip some hands. In doing this I have to tell our company’s story. People buy people and like being told stories. We’re in the story-telling business and, like most elements of a story, it helps if we’re able to distil them into simple ideas.
I also work as a script reader and script editor for production companies, sales agents and writers and you're always told if you can’t tell a story in a sentence, something’s wrong with the story, or you're trying to tell too many stories at once.
In a story, more often than not, a protagonist might be fighting for their lives but have some relationship issues going on as well. In a TV drama, one force of antagonism is usually the strongest as it defines the genre. Is this a dramatic thriller, or a thrilling drama? I recently read the pilot to The Handmaids Tale and suspect that although Elisabeth Moss’ character June is living in a dystopian hell, her biggest driving force is to help her daughter. I’m 99% sure this is a thrilling drama. But I haven’t watched the end yet. No spoilers please!
Imagine trying to fit all of these plot lines into a 30 second TV commercial, or even a three minute hero film. One of your protagonist’s priorities will have to be sacrificed. Or you can try and fit everything in and look back wondering why it doesn’t quite work.
One of my favourite adverts this year was Virgin Media’s Fibre advert by BBH, the one in the tunnel. In case you’ve forgotten:
Forget the cast of amazing characters involved. What impressed me most was that someone in the creative team probably had a Virgin router sent to them and when they looked down the cable, they asked themselves something like ”what’s coming down the cable?” Alright, I’m not a copywriter, it was probably something jazzier than that but it would have been equally if not more simple. After they had that initial idea down, then they let their imagination run wild, never losing sight of the core principle; What’s Coming?
So my advice for content makers is, keep your story simple. Love overcomes hate. Or something like that.
Now you can set it in space. With sharks. And lasers.