Everybody likes a good story.

Stories are the furnishings of life, without them our lives would be empty. We’re insatiable consumers of stories, be it invented dramas, documentary slices-of-life stories, novels, a chat on the Internet or a story told over dinner.

There is an appetite for stories, maybe because they are a source of inspiration and a means of bringing order into chaos and insight into life. The need for a story is not necessarily motivated by a need to escape from reality or be entertained. As Robert McKee, the American screenwriting “guru”, puts it, “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us in our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.” And as such, storytelling is serious business.

But what is a good story ? Obviously something worth telling that the world wants to hear (a rather subjective point of view, though). News journalism operates on the notion of “importance”. If this criterion were combined with creative quality and included in TV-programming policies, chances are we would get better TV and better stories.

A good story grabs my attention, it moves me, evokes emotion, broadens my horizons. But a good story is not enough. It needs to be told well. A well-told story has the right selection of material and blends all the elements into a harmonious whole. It’s a few moments that tell everything.

This is where the art of screenwriting comes in. A good script can make a good (or bad) film, but a bad script can’t make a good film. In other words, storytelling requires inventiveness and workmanship.

In fiction one works with imagination; everything is possible, anything can happen – you can actually play God (which is a thrilling feeling). In this respect fiction material is pliable, the writer is in full control of characters and events. Documentary material on the other hand is uncontrollable for obvious reasons. The characters exist; there’s a reality to deal with. You can’t plan reality, but you can treat and shape it creatively and structure your story.

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