The Story Plan (1)

What’s the story? That’s the first thing anyone asks a writer and it is, unquestionably, seen as the province that the screenwriter rules over in the film industry. Except the story you should be working on is perhaps not the obvious one.


by Lawrence Gray

Most big budget blockbusters are plagiarized from other big budget blockbusters. You can buy computer programmes that do the plagiarism for you, labeling each component with technical terminology to disguise the fact that the writer has analysed some hit movies and then given the components archetypical terms pulled out of such books as “The Hero’s Journey.”

 Most big budget blockbusters are plagiarized from other big budget blockbusters

BART Construction Schedule (July-August 1963)

I’m sure you have read the book by now: Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” filtered through “The Wizard of Oz” by Christopher Vogler. It is not a bad book and as a writer you should read all this stuff. You should know what a story consists of and what stories repeatedly grab our attention. This is your field of study.

But you could just as usefully sit with a DVD of Mission Impossible and jot down a description of what happens in each scene and then change all the names, change the locations, and think of some new piece of technology that seems suitably gee wiz for the Mission Impossible team to play with, then you have a treatment.  And better still, a treatment that you know bears a resemblance to a multi-million dollar franchise.

sit with a DVD of Mission Impossible and
jot down a description of what happens in each scene

With a bit of finessing, a little more brainstorming, you could make it just that little bit more different, and thus market it as an original piece. You could reposition it for Vin Diesel or, if you’re here in Hong Kong wonder if Jackie Chan would be a good alternative to Tom Cruise.

Shakespeare stole his stories, so why shouldn’t you? He talked about the artist holding up a mirror to their times, which is a neat summation of what we do, but one could also say that my having an iPhone is a sign of the times as well. Everything, in short, is a sign of the times.

And what you want to know is what story should you write? And as you can tell, the artist in me groans at the thought of churning out the formula, though the now ageing and much-unsung artist in me wishes he had been sensible enough to just rip off something and grab the money.

 Shakespeare stole his stories, so why shouldn’t you?

After all, Shakespeare wrote, among other things, a lot of patriotic plays whooping it up for English nationalism. Thus ensuring he was on the right side of the politics of the day, while keeping his Catholic sympathies and dubious associations subdued until a better moment when the old religion might return. In short: he wrote propaganda for the bunch of thugs then in power.

One can sense the deep sigh that lies behind the title, “As You Like It.” But at the same time, the great pleasure he took in purchasing back all the land his bankrupt father lost. And so England’s greatest artist was perhaps great because he managed to have it all ways and it was his career rather than individual pieces of writing that made him the consummate English playwright.
(to be continued) 


-By Lawrence Grey

In a prior life, before moving to Hong Kong in 1991, I helped found the London Screenwriters Workshop, and since coming to Hong Kong I founded the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle.
I was chairman of both august organisations and have only just stepped down from the Writers’ Circle, considering myself far too damaged to continue leading the charge for the great unknowns of Hong Kong literature. [more]


(Creative Commons License photo credit Construction Schedule: Eric Fischer)

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