Research 5 – boil down the story

Research 5 – boil the story down

A basic story                      a beginning /a middle /an end

A beginning                        The characters are introduced, the environment they’re in is established

A middle                             They’re presented with a challenge / they have to rise to that challenge

An end                                 The challenge is met and resolved and they return to their world happy or changed in some way.

Most stories at their very basic core, contain a beginning, a middle and an end.  The type of story can then catapult it into more layers of what occurs.  Joseph Campbell expresses it as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and underneath most good movies, the rules he outlines for it have been applied.

  • The Lord of the Rings is about good versus evil.  The Shire and its inhabitants are unlikely heroes, but their environment is challenged by evil and so the good hobbits must embark on a journey.
  • That journey is met with overwhelming challenges, all of which are met but not without stress, questions and the very core of their characters tested. 
  • The end is that good triumphs over evil, eventually, and that the hero’s rose above what they thought was possible of them and became someone new.  They were changed as a result of their journey.

Figure 1 – The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell

Star Wars is often used as the best example of it as Steven Spielberg talked about it extensively.   We have the call to adventure, Luke leaves the comfort of his life to explore becoming a jedi.  He moves from the Known into the Unknown.  His mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi assists with him becoming aware of his powers.  His challenge is not to become like his father.  He has to go through a dark night of the soul and face his past in order to transform and atone for his fathers’ sins.  When he faces his past, directly, learns the horrible truth of where he came from, he returns changed but eventually makes peace with that and honours his true nature as a Jedi.

This rinse and repeat application of story telling in Star Wars has been successful and enables you to develop empathy with the character.  A key component in connecting with the story.  It was less successful in the Star Wars Prequels as the characters were badly expressed and the story neglected in favour of CGI, but the journey stages was reinstated with more success in the more recent instalments of Star Wars involving new characters.

Without this challenge, regardless of the genre, the story can be dull and flat and lifeless.  There is a Magic Circle that creates believability, and we trust the story when it enters into the domain of relatability.  This doesn’t mean it has to be anchored in reality, it just means that you can empathise with the feelings the character is expressing and are engaged with their story.  When the circle is broken in some way, the characters are not believable or the environment is ridiculous or the story is too much, the magic is broken and the circle you were suspended in is dissolved.  Good game design ensures that the story behind any game is as engaging with the player as possible so that this Magic Circle is created.  All good games encompass The Hero’s Journey formula.

Movie – Passengers

Can you boil the story down to its most basic elements?

It’s sold as a love story.  A man wakes up in deep space unexpectedly from a malfunction with his sleep pod.  He wakes up another person (female) so that he isn’t alone on the spaceship.  They end up falling in love and she saves the ship and everyone on it.

At the base of it there is a drive for a love story – man meets woman (or wakes her up) and between the various situations that they share and are forced to experience aboard a ship that is about to crash, they end up falling for each other.

What’s driving this narrative and how is it resolved at the end?

The need to be loved is driving the narrative as the main character that wakes after the malfunction with his sleep pod, faces the dilemma of spending time in space alone or forcing another to wake up.  At it’s core it states that humans need love and we’re better together.

What genre is it or is it an amalgam of more than one?

It’s romance and sci-fi in one.  It may dip into a creepy horror for some as the film has been linked with normalising stalking.  The main character, Jim, basically swims through the female character’s information on the database to see if he’d like to wake her up and his decision to pick her was based on her looks.  So, a creepy love story is perhaps a better expression of it.

Would it have translated as well if the main character had been a woman, and she woke up the hottest man?  Possibly not.  No doubt she would have probably enjoyed having the ship to herself and made sure to not wake another up for fear of being mansplained everything.  However, if a Chris Hemsworth type had been in the pod, she may have simply caved in.  It’s hard to say.


Wikipedia (2021) The Magic Circle (virtual worlds)

[Accessed 28th May 2021]

Wikipedia (2021) Joseph Campbell – The Hero’s Journey

[Accessed 28th May 2021]

The Guardian (2016)  Creepy love stories

[Accessed 28th May 2021]

Wikipedia (2021) The seven basic plots

[Accessed 28th May 2021]