Great Stories Use This Key Component Early And Often by Peter Russell at Story Expo

Great Stories Use This Key Component Early And Often by Peter Russell_filmcourage_story_expoFilm Courage:  Flawed character versus a train wreck or is that what we want to see?

Peter Russell:  Yeah, we want to see everybody train wreck.  You want to see everybody in a room grappling with their flaws.  I mean in a story like Madmen everybody had a deep core wound.   Peggy’s core wound is that she’s a woman in a man’s world but she thinks like a man. She was damaged deeply.

Joan has deep core wound I’m only a sex object, right? And by the way, these didn’t heal right? At the end of the show Joan is still dealing with the fact that she essentially whored herself out with this car executive and is not taken seriously by men, yes? They never heal but it is the core wounds that when they bump up against each other in the story that makes you wanna watch them and audiences never need to know this.  But if you ask yourself why a character is interesting you’re looking at it’s almost always because of that.  How are they bleeding, right? The other thing done did because he was unlovable was he made up an entire story about who he was he took someone else’s identity, yeah?  He took the identity of a guy who was killed in Korea.  Again I’m not lovable. I couldn’t be loved for me.  I gotta be somebody else. So it’s always there in a great story.  There’s never a story that it’s not.



Another spin that wasn’t true twenty years ago but we become a more sophisticated audience in the United States.  We really do want depth of character that we didn’t need
twenty years ago and that’s only going to continue.  A story like Louie, which is a television series with this great comic, it’s nothing but him bleeding every week in surprising ways.  Confessing things that sort of make our teeth be set on edge but it’s compelling to watch someone confess.  Confession is riveting.  Whenever I confess a personal wound of mine in the classroom, everyone is talking and I’ve been talking a long time, everyone just stops.  There is total silence in the room.  They’re looking at me, they want to know.  And this is why you can’t lie about your core wound because that’s what people want to know…”Oh…jeez…I can’t say the truth…so..I’m going to making something up….uh? My mom molested me when I was four…?” You can’t make it up. Why because we have infinitely good bullshit detectors as audiences.  We will know I can always tell in a the story when someone’s telling me something that isn’t true or isn’t their experience.  We know immediately.  You’ve got to tell the truth or audiences will be bored.   So whatever your pain is you can’t lie.  It’s the truth that makes people want to watch you.



Film Courage:  Why do we love confessions?

Peter:  Well….let me ask you.. what’s your deepest most personal, embarrassing secret?

Film Courage: I’ll tell you when the cameras are off.  There is more than one.

Peter:  Exactly….exactly but if you were to tell me now I would love hearing it, why?

Film Courage:  My only sense would be because then you could measure your own (secrets/wounds) against what I’m telling you and then go “I guess I’m not that bad after all.”

Peter:  Or,  “I’m not alone. You’re in pain. So am I.  Now I understand you.  Now I empathize with you.  Now you’re like me.  Now it’s a story about me.  It’s not some wonderful person who’s leading a perfect life that I might fantasize about  and enjoy as a reality show, or a Kardashian show,  but it’s the deeper part of our lives which is “I’m in pain. I don’t have everything Iwant.  Are you like me? Oh my God, you are now.  Thank you.  Now I will follow you. Because if you can get better I can get better.  Empathizing with the character is all about confession.  If you’ll notice in a straight story, confession of your core wound or showing the core wound is something that happens almost immediately in great stories.  You want to show the character’s wound and his compensation often in the first 10 minutes of the show and in a movie that’s certainly true.   The quicker you show it, the better the empathy will be for the audience. Don’t hide it.  And every scene is about it.  Every scene is about the core wound and about how you’re either curing it or making it worse.  And every character in a movie is only ripping at the wound or healing it.  That’s all it is.   Movies are just….think of a movie story as a boxing ring and the hero jumps into the ring but he’s bleeding.  He starts out bleeding. And the whole movie is people jumping in with bandages to help him heal or people jumping in with knives to rip it wider open.   In a television story that just continues for season after season.
But it’s the same thing.


QUESTION:  What character, movie or TV show does this conversation bring to mind?




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STORY EXPO is the world’s biggest convention of writers from all mediums, screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, filmmakers, gamers, journalists, graphic novelists, actors, business people, comic book writers and more. Featuring over 110 world-renowned speakers, 100+ classes and 30+ exhibitors, Story Expo covers all aspects of story and writing from craft to business to pitching to career.

Learn how and where your story is best told to achieve its greatest success both financially and creatively. Take control of your stories by learning the craft, learning which medium your stories are best told, understanding the business of storytelling, identifying and using the tools and resources available to you, understanding how to package and pitch your ideas and scripts, and using social media and other techniques to start and maintain a successful writing career. Also be able to pitch your scripts and stories to top production companies, agents and managers in our Story Expo Pitching Room. This year’s Pitching Room has extraordinary companies and agencies like ICM, APA, 3 Arts and more! Plus network with your peers from around the world during a fun, over-the-top weekend. Story Expo is like Comic-Conbut for writers.






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