Here’s a question that all screenwriting classes online should be able to answer:  How has the story of Jack and the Beanstalk remained a classic throughout the centuries?

Yes, it’s a fairytale and you’re interested in learning contemporary screenwriting, but what makes a story compelling is the same whether it’s a screenplay, novel, short story, comedy or drama. Let’s take a step back for a moment. Most screenwriting classes online teach the importance of making your lead character rootable. That’s because if the audience doesn’t care about him or her, they’ll never make it to the end of the screenplay.

So why do people root for Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk when, on the surface, he’s not a very likable character? In fact, he’s a complete screw up. His mother told him to sell the cow at the market, and instead he traded it for magic beans. The job wasn’t that hard!  And then, he breaks into the giant’s castle and steals his goose. The giant wasn’t bothering anyone. He was minding his own business. So what does Jack do? He murders the giant!  Now Jack is a screw up, a thief, and a murderer. Truly, he’s an awful person. So why do we care what happens to him?

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Well, I described the plot of this story, but there’s an element to this story that I intentionally left out and it’s probably the same element that you’re leaving out of your stories. It’s the emotional story. I know this because when I’m staffing for a television show, I rarely see it in the writing samples that get sent to me.  It’s this one lacking element that’s the key to writing a compelling story.

The mistake that many online screenwriting classes make is that they don’t explain this well enough. Both plot and emotional story are absolutely essential to crafting a great screenplay, yet the latter is almost always overlooked.

The plot is what the story is about. Jack traded the cow for magic beans, his mom threw them out of the window, he climbed the beanstalk, etc.  The emotional story is what it’s really about. It’s the story that runs on a deeper level, and it’s what your audience truly relates to.

Jack and the Beanstalk, at its core, is a story about a child trying to win back the approval of his mother. His mother trusted him with a simple task — to sell the cow at the market. Because Jack foolishly traded it for magic beans, he failed his mother and sent them both into financial ruin. When Jack breaks into the giant’s castle, he doesn’t really want the goose that lays the golden eggs. He wants something much more important: redemption. He wants to win back his mom’s approval. And if stealing and murdering is what it takes to get that, then so be it.

Hopefully none of us are thieves and murderers, yet we can all relate to disappointing our parents. It’s embedded in our DNA to want the approval of the people who brought us into this world.

The emotional story, ultimately, is why we root for Jack. Click here to learn more about script writing online. In that article, I go into further detail about writing for television.

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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