Animation Scriptwriting
Stories - Part Three: Story Themes
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Luck, chance and skill

The control we have over life is dependent upon luck, chance, and skill. In any given circumstance these will determine the outcome of the event, and they are the elements that give stories credibility when used well. We know that however well we make a plan, there is always something we overlook, or didn't anticipate happening. In many cases the events are unpredictable.

The simplest way to define these elements is by example. Supposing you had a dartboard and a barrel of darts with half the darts being sharp and half blunt. Now you put your hand in the barrel and choose a dart without looking, then there is an equal chance of it being sharp or blunt. If the dart is sharp then you have been in luck. If you then throw the dart at the board, the score you get will be the effect of your skill.

So, chance is a purely mathematical description. Luck is the extent that chance favours you or not (good or bad luck), and skill is the control you have.

In every story these three elements play a part; and how relevant they are depends upon the nature of the story. Taking well known characters, we can see what part luck, chance, and skill plays in the stories:

Sherlock Holmes
His approach is to eliminate chance and luck, and depend entirely on skill to solve the crimes he works on.

James Bond
Though he has enough skills to get him out of problems, chance and luck come into it as well. The baddies he meets are always worse shots than he is, and ladies who start out being against him will end up being with him.

She was lucky in having a Fairy godmother. It was not chance, or skill on her part. It is not clear from the story whether Cinderella was aware that she actually had a Fairy godmother until she arrived.

Robinson Crusoe
He was lucky to be alive when he was washed up on the desert island, as all his shipmates had perished. It might also have been due to luck and skill in being able to get off the ship in time.

As it was his wicked Uncle who knew about the magic lamp, then chance played a big part. Aladdin was also lucky in being able to get control of the lamp in spite of his Uncle's attempt to retrieve it.

Moby Dick
Captain Ahab was skilled in being able to track down Moby Dick after several years. He was also lucky because the whale might have died or been killed in the mean time. But then Captain Ahab was unlucky in getting killed himself when chasing after Moby Dick.

Red Riding Hood
It may have been chance that she met the wolf in the woods, though he might have been spying on her and planned the meeting beforehand. She was lucky that he didn't eat her immediately. She was also lucky that there was a passing woodsman when the wolf did try to eat her. She had no skills at all that would have helped her.

Jack and the Beanstalk
He went to market to sell a cow, but exchanged the cow for some beans. We don't know why he did this, but it must have been a chance meeting, and he was lucky in getting some beans that were magical, as he appears to be not too bright otherwise.

The Princess has been confined to a room to turn straw into gold. It is chance and luck that she hears of Rumplestiltskin who can do this and help her. Rumplestiltskin is unlucky in that the Princess discovers his name, and so he loses his claim on her child.


List the luck, chance, and skill elements in the following stories:

Oliver Twist - Sleeping Beauty - Beauty and the Beast
Snow White - Dumbo - Bambi


Here are three brief story outlines that depend on the factors of luck, chance, and skill:


Girl singer is very attractive and successful. She is in a car crash and is scarred and unable to perform due to this, but still able to sing. She becomes a recluse. One day she saves a blind man from getting knocked over. She discovers he is a successful musician. They fall in love. He is unaware of her scars and appreciates her musical talents. She has been lucky. Happy ending. In this case the aspect of luck is the story.


Girl singer is talented but not getting the breaks. She continually applies for jobs but nothing much comes up. When in a show the lead singer is suddenly taken ill. She is given the chance to perform. She does, and is a success. Her chance has paid off. In this case we know that by putting herself continually in the situation where she is available she has increased her chances. This is typically how most people in the theatre get work.


Girl singer is reasonably talented but not great. She realises her limitations and instead of relying on singing alone decides to learn dancing, acting, and theatre skills so that singing becomes part of her repertoire instead of the only talent. She becomes successful because of her versatility. Her skill has paid off. Getting on by increasing one's skills is the normal way of improving one's life.

Luck plays an important part in life. If you go in for a lottery there is no skill involved at all. Your chance of winning is mathematically fixed to the number of tickets sold. If you win then you are lucky. Now supposing you win the big prize, the story is then how it changes your life. There are of course born winners and born losers. Mickey Mouse is a born winner while Donald Duck is a born loser. A born winner will accidentally crash his car into a bank robbers getaway car, and be both a hero and get a reward. A born loser will accidentally crash his car into the police car chasing the robbers, and be jailed for bad driving.


List three born winners and three born losers in well-known stories.



Luck - Chance - Skill

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