Storytelling – Working Method. Part 1.2. Story Project setup

Working Method
Part 1.2

Storytelling - Working Method
PDF, 42 pages


Part 1.2. Story Project setup

Now to make it even clearer, we will feed the demonstration by taking 4 different (fictitious) projects of stories. Ready? Let’s go!

From first idea to project specifications

Our project of story is determined by several groups of parameters. From reality, they determine fiction.

Our setup step starts by taking those parameters into account and to make many small decisions which, accumulated, will finally make a close portrait of our wanted final work : the project specifications.

There are the parameters we control and decide, like the general idea of the story, the themes, the philosophy, the aesthetics.

There are external and material constraints that are sometimes imposed, like the budget and the working time.

There are formal constraints that we choose but that have their own rules, like the media, the genre, the standard formats.

There is the permanent constraint of trying to reach an audience, that we search for, but that we do not directly control.

Examining those parameters can give us much material to build our story with.

According to the level and ambition of our project, we might not need to define all of the parameters in the most precise details.

Then, just skip those that are not relevant in our case.

During all the process of setting up our story, we keep notes in our Board journal. Those materials will be re-used later, during steps 2 and 3.

So, let’s now study all the parameters that can have an influence over the setup of our project of story.

The general idea

Let’s define first what our story is about.

Do a quick brainstorm, gathering all possible element: ideas, themes, intuitions, intentions, fragments, desires, memories, sketches…

All those elements are potential germs for stories, plot points, characters, scenes… Let’s store them in the Board journal.

Intentions – Messages to send – What do we mean?

Ask ourself: with this story, what do we want to show, prove, express, focus on?

Answering those questions will provide us our messages.

Once we have a message, we can develop it into several: just transform it into its possible contradictions and variants; sometimes it gives a better angle, or it is useful to set up the Antagonist’s dramatic data …

Our messages will be used to build plots and characters, and also to design the pitch during next step.

Impacts wished

Imagine our work is already done: what great effects does it have on the audience we selected? When we clearly know the effect we want to produce, it is much easier to design the plots and characters that precisely fit our dramatic needs.

Define the impact we want the final work to have on our audience, what we want to make them:

  • Think
  • Feel
  • Understand
  • Suffer from
  • Laugh with…

It could be for example:

  • The audience should laugh every 5 seconds
  • They should learn to like a miserable tramp
  • They should feel revolted and in the end want to stop using plastic bags because it destroys the beautiful ocean life
  • Etc…

and then let’s conceive the plots and characters so that they lead precisely to this result.

This will be used as guidelines to build conflicts, to set up the properties of the characters, and to build plots.

This method is more demanding than improvisation, but it is also more likely to lead the creator to the right creation, and not to a random final work.


Genres can feed our work with patterns and models.

Position the future story in a genre, that will give us frames and elements: typical plots, typical characters, typical themes.

The goal is not to re-use them as such, but to create while being aware of what the audience already knows and expects.

The standards helps us to set up our work partly in conformity, partly in opposition to them:

  • A tragedy that ends well
  • A political pamphlet told by an angry child (pamphlet + children story)
  • A philosophical puppet show (genres: philosophy+puppets), etc.

Make and keep in the Board journal a list of the genres the story belongs to.

Reference-works – List and study typical stories

From the audience we defined and the general ideas we started with, we can list standard plots like archetypes of stories or typical series of actions that we abstract from famous works. Indeed, since those reference-works proved interesting, efficient and successful, we can take profit in analyzing them, and try to take the best out of it and to re-use it in our work as models and/or counter-models.


How much money is needed? Money is involved at several levels: some is needed to produce the script, and some is needed to produce the final work from the script.

Even a short-movie costs several thousands dollars… do not try to do a 1 million dollars movie if you’re a beginner…

If we are writing a theater play, the number of actors needed is an important factor. Even if it looks like a good idea to stage a revolutionary crowd demonstrating, economically it is not possible to pay 100 actors during several months of rehearsal. Such a reality determines the quantity of characters we can create. The same scene in a novel has no cost…

For a story in the desert in the future, we had better tell it through a novel or comics, unless we can get a big, big movie budget…

In audiovisual medias, our script will have a cost to get transformed into a final work. In cinema, a helicopter fight is more expensive to shoot than a car race, that is more expensive than a bike duel. But as an audio track, the three of them cost nearly the same.

If we sell our stories, our creative time has a cost. Our partners may want us to work up to a certain amount of money, matching a certain amount of work. So we have to design a story that is writable within those conditions. Budgets conditions the working time that conditions the complexity of the story.

Who can finance?

Authors has several ways to pay for the costs of their projects:

  • Finding a producer, agent
  • Getting a grant, a help to writing
  • Crowdfunding

Time (project duration, deadline?)

How much time is available to write the script?

If we have only 2 available months, that is very hard to write a good 200 pages novel…

A long-feature movie is often not less than one full year. Frequently, it takes several years.

So, let’s be realistic: do we have the needed resources?

We can use techniques and tools to manage our working time.

Organizing one’s writing time on a regular basis sounds like a good idea. Professional writers work several hours each day.

To manage the attention while doing intellectual work during hours, the Pomodoro method can help.

When we deal with a very big project, we can use a task planning software based on Gantt diagrams, they allow to manage deadlines and to control the evolution of many tasks. It is a way not to forget about what has been done and what remains to be done, like “review plot 5” or “build the love story of the Hero of plot 1” or “develop the synopsis of the 5 plots of the second part into a full treatment and send it to the producer”.

Skills, resources needed

How many people are needed to realize the story? Can we obtain collaborations?

Some projects need skills that the author of the script do not have.

It is the case with:

  • scriptwriters who are not directors,
  • comics scenarists who can not draw,
  • lyrics authors who do not sing or play,
  • playwright writers who do not play, etc.

So, who do you need, for how long time, on which conditions? Perhaps we will be able to decide it only later, but we will have to decide.


Can we shape our work for a given media, taking account of its artistic and economic constraints?

Better think about it from the beginning, to avoid spending time working on a story that no media will be able or likely to publish or show or distribute.

A novel can last 50 pages, but practically that does not make sense because of the costs (graphic design, printing…) of the publishing process… A 50 pages book has no future. But, for an e-Book, no problem!

Imagine someone creates a great show that needs 3 sound ingeneers, 4 “VJs”, and 5 technicians, + an music orchestra. Who will pay all of those over-talented people?

Each media, each art, each genre, has its rules of:

  • Creation
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Promotion

The better we know those rules, the better we can shape our work so that it passes all the tests and gets to success. Why not making a quick inventory of the possibilities of our media, to keep the mind open and not to miss the occasion to innovate?

For example, while starting a movie, it is good to remind its variants: mute, white and black, Technicolor, video, panorama, camera-to-shoulder, 3D, stop-motion, slow-motion, time-lapse, color effects… Perhaps some scenes could be based on them.

So, what is a reasonable and realistic format for our work?

Size / duration (in pages, in minutes)

We might want to give our work an optimum size in pages or in duration for time-based media.

That data determines the quantity and size of plots and scenes we have to build, the number of characters we have to create.

Scale it to the standards, unless you have a good reason to break this rule.

For example:

  • Theater play: 1-2h
  • Movie: 1h30-2h30
  • Short-movie: 1mn-20mn
  • Book: 100-800 pages, very frequently around 200-300 pages

A theater play can hardly last 20 minutes because then the production cost would be too high: the actors would not engage to play just 20 minutes, and most of the people in our virtual audience would not spend one hour driving just for a 20 minutes show.

Identically, a show cannot last 4 hours, because then the audience could and would not sit in the same place for so long.


Who is our virtual audience, who is the story designed for, who do we want to touch?

Why would they like our work?

Which kind of works do they usually like, and what are the typical structures, themes, types, situations of those works?

How will they get to know about it – through which medias, which promotion strategies?

Categorizing “who is it told to?” will constantly help us to decide whether an element fits in our project or not.

Obviously, we do not tell in the same way to a 6yo boy than to a 80 yo couple, and a urban audience does not have the same cultural preferences than a rural audience.

A mainstream and quality production like FRIENDS had a huge audience, but still, the 65 years old people were not much interested in Chandler’s provocative jokes or in Rachel’s boyfriends.

The study of the audience can go very far, when it is about public communication or mass advertisement. The big TV advertisers test their videos on viewers to make sure of the impact. A good script of 30 seconds takes months of creative work, synthesis, studies, and meetings.

Cinema is also a field of intense selection, where authors who obviously did not aim at any significant audience are quickly rejected.

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