What kind of cows does a cow need to have,” the answer to which is usually something along those lines:
There’s a difference between a joke and a real-life story.
When people find out that I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they usually say I’ve told a bunch of them about it. “Oh, you’ve told too many,” they say. “You’ll tell too many. You’re just crazy. But that’s not a real story. That’s just a joke.” Well, yes. That is my real story. It’s what I tell. But when people make assumptions about it, they should probably go back to the drawing board.
Last week, I was talking about the difference between a joke and a story. A joke’s always true. A story depends on a couple of things in particular — the punch line, which is true, and the circumstances of the situation where the punch line occurs. You know that if you see a picture depicting the destruction of the old town in Jurassic Park, and it says, “The dinosaurs all got out,” you know it’s a joke — because that’s what he’s trying to get across.
But a story requires you to take the reader or viewer outside of her head. In the film “Dumbo,” the main character comes back into the theater after losing his way. He’s just lost his way, and he’s lost it big time. The people who surround him don’t know what to do with him. He’s lost his way, but he’s never lost his way before. And while he’s in the theater, the people around him know exactly what he’s lost — he can’t see them because he can’t see them — and they’re all just confused.
This is a story. It’s an emotional story, not just an action story. Most action movies don’t have this kind of thing. If people know what’s happening, the action story usually runs out of steam.
But a drama has to be, to a degree, serious. The action and the drama come first and foremost. Action films will never really get to that kind of depth, like an operatic play. They’ll run out of steam long before people know what’s going on.
I was talking at the University of Virginia last week about how difficult it was to write a screenplay. Most screenwriters get so caught up in the idea, they don’t see the irony of writing the drama. But this is a
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