Animation Scriptwriting
Stories - Part Three: Story Themes
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Story themes

There are very few story themes. Simple stories will have one or two basic themes, while complex stories will have several imposed on top of a main theme. All story themes are based upon a few basic needs. These can be summed up in babies' needs, which are basic to us all. A baby requires:

  • Food
  • Security
  • Warmth
  • Attention
  • Shelter
  • Stimulus
  • Comfort
  • Love

Our needs can be categorised as Material (survival at the existence level), Mental (stimulating so we are not bored or lonely), and Spiritual (having some sense of meaning about our existence).

Most of us take the material and mental levels of survival for granted. We expect to get our daily food, be housed, and looked after in times of need. We also have many things available to keep us occupied mentally in times of boredom. It is spiritual satisfaction that many people find difficult to obtain. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? etc. When there is no satisfying answer we might create our own purpose in life. Here are some examples:

Moby Dick
A whaling ship Master loses a leg in attempt to kill Moby Dick, the great white whale. His purpose in life is pursuing the whale to get revenge. His obsession dominates his life, and finally results in his own death. Revenge being the purpose of life is common to stories where someone has had their life destroyed by an event.

Noah's Ark
Noah is warned by God that a flood that will destroy the earth. He builds a large boat to save his family and a selection of animals. The theme is common to disaster stories. Typically in war or disaster stories a small group escape the situation, and live through to start life again. Saving the group or the world is another strong 'purpose'. Many adventure stories and Sci-fi stories are built around this theme.

A young deer grows up and learns the lessons of life in the common theme of growing up and learning from experience to cope with life. A theme that is often interweaved with other themes of love, success and failure, and all that goes with coming to terms with life. Bambi's purpose in life is to get experience so that he can become the leader of the herd.

The Good Samaritan
A passing stranger helps a person in need in spite of that person belonging to a group he would not normally associate with. Used in other ways with cowboys helping indians, criminals helping victims, war enemies helping each other. When humanitarian instincts come to the fore and life's purpose is found in humanitarian acts.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin. We assume that a 'good' purpose for living is for the benefit of all; on the other hand there are some, like dictators, criminals, and terrorists, who have a purpose for living that relies on the destruction of others.

In the Jekyll and Hyde story the personality of the character has a split purpose of good and bad. The good side wants to benefit society while the bad side is only interested in satisfying its own needs. This theme is common. We all hate someone who puts themselves before the group. It is the coward, the cheat, the impostor, the liar, the lazy person, and anyone who tries to benefit at the expense of the rest of us. We delight in seeing such people exposed and brought to justice.

The 'split personality' theme is common. Here are some examples:

  • Snow White's stepmother who is beautiful to the world, but actually an ugly witch.
  • Dracula, and vampires who are normal people during the day but their true selves at night.

Another variation is the wartime 'double agent' working for both sides, and the good friend who turns out to be treacherous.

Just as there are characters that present their good side to the world, and hide their bad side, there are also characters that present their normal side to the world while hiding their good side. Superman, Batman, and various superheroes are typical.


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