Pixar Storyboard Artist Emma Coats has 22 Rules of Storytelling (as told by David Price, via Joshua Cohen). Here is my spin on nine of those rules:
1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
16. Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
That is, we like stories where someone is thrown into a difficult situation. We don’t care much about what caused that situation. We care more about admiring the way they handle the situation than if their approach works.
3. You won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
That is, we care lots about how the way a story ends affirms our core beliefs on who should be admired for doing what in a crisis.
13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
That is, our stories need lots of believable detail, so our subconscious minds of viewers can more easily see the story events as evidence supporting those core beliefs about what to admire.
All of which supports the idea that one of the main functions of stories in our lives is to help us create and signal our moral beliefs about how people should act – especially in crisis. After all, we have far more moral beliefs about how people should act in a crisis than how they should act in ordinary times.