• Piyumi Kapugeekiyana

What makes a great story?

I've long loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As far as cinematography goes, it's plain beautiful. I'll never forget that phenomenal longboard scene with Ben Stiller (okay, his stunt double) zooming along Iceland's winding roads, with only mountains to frame the action.

For the uninitiated, Rotten Tomatoes describes it as "a classic story of a day-dreamer (Walter Mitty) who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined."

This lovely song from the movie soundtrack popped up on my YouTube recommendations today and as I contemplated Walter Mitty, it got me thinking about the five basic elements of a great story.

  1. A strong protagonist (a 'good guy'...preferably someone relatable)

  2. A compelling antagonist (a 'bad guy'...often one-dimensional and hateful but in the best of treatments, a complex character with a backstory to rival that of the good guy)

  3. An inciting event (something that sets the characters in motion)

  4. Conflict (a challenge to master, a quest to undertake)

  5. Resolution (the climax...where all things come to a head and we discover who prevails)

Perhaps you can see from the little blurb above, just how Walter Mitty incorporates all these elements. In fact, these elements undergird nearly all plotlines.

But this isn't just a post raving about a movie. It's a call to reflect. So often, we get hung up on the difficult people we encounter, the traumatic experiences that derail our paths, the twists and turns that we feel compelled to navigate—without pausing to consider if these elements are precisely what make for a compelling personal story. Would we be who we are, if not for these elements?

Sometimes, it's a fun thought exercise to look at your life as though unfolding on a movie screen. Consider the antagonists in your midst, trace the inciting events, observe the conflicts at play and see the resolution in your mind's eye.

Then, ask yourself: What should my protagonist do next?


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