A Story is a Promise: Good Things to Know Before Writing a Novel, Screenplay or Play
By Bill Johnson

Step One. Complete this sentence: My story is about…

For Rocky, he starts with this: Rocky is a story about gaining self-respect.

That fits his definition of a basic human need because we all want to respect ourselves.

  • Step Two: Complete this sentence: The movement of my story toward the resolution of its promise can be described as…

Rocky is a story about someone discovering within himself the courage to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

  • Step Three: Complete this sentence: The fulfillment of my story is…

Example: The fulfillment of Rocky is that Rocky’s courage to overcome the odds proves he  is somebody to himself and to the world.
  • Step Four: Reduce the previous three sentences to one sentence beginning with: The premise of my story is…

Example: The courage to persevere in the face of overwhelming obstacles leads to self-respect.

Notice the verb: Leads. This verb implies motion. Notice, too, how specific this statement is. This is no “love conquers all” type of statement. You have a solid destination.


Don't you just hate to write loglines? Don't know what that is? That’s movie parlance for that one sentence that puts everything you slaved, sweated, and bled over with all its subtleties and reversals  into the proverbial nutshell, also known as a one-line pitch in novel parlance. If you’re like me and you'd rather write an entire novel while sitting in a cactus patch than wrestle with that one sentence, there is hope and STC! is there to show you how to put it together. The ingredients that apply to novels are:

STC! offers an example that I'm sure you'll recognize.
A cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her office is taken over by terrorists. Who doesn't recognize Die Hard in that description? (If you don't, you really need to watch a movie or two.)

Then comes a compelling mental picture
STC! uses Blind Date for this example:  She's the perfect woman--until she has a drink.

A Killer Title
Like Legally Blonde


One of the reasons is because, if you're anything like me, you sometimes confuse the elements. And it's easy to do. If you'd asked me before I read this what my heroine's goal was in the story I channeled, I'd have said, "to have a family of her own" but that's actually her motivation.
GMC provides a formula to encompass the three elements. That formula comes down to 3 words: want, because, but.

The little girl wants ice cream because all the other children at her birthday party are having ice cream but she's lactose intolerant.

And there you have it. Goal, motivation, and conflict. Interestingly enough, this formula comes in handy when you need to pitch your story.
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

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