I've discovered a dangerous new drug. It's called Authonomy (www.authonomy.com). It's for books, not screenplays, but I uploaded part of my historical book about 'King' Arthur onto the site last week and since then I've been hooked.
If you want to read a helluva lot of free fiction, go there. It's also a great learning experience.
One thread on the forum touched on the issue of how many stories there are in the world. A contributor announced that there were seven (perhaps he'd read Christopher Booker's 'The Seven Basic Plots').
At different times, I've been told that there are eight stories. Or ten.
But, actually, I think there's just one.
That's right: one story, told over and over again, all over the world.
Basically, it's about a character who undergoes a challenge.
The character wants something. Something stands in the way. There's a struggle. The main character has to develop in order to overcome the obstacles. That's the story.
A more elaborate version of this was published many years ago by Joseph Campbell. His 'Hero With a Thousand Faces' boiled down hundreds of world myths to find the essential core, the regular pattern.
If Campbell's book seems a bit high-flown and esoteric, Christopher Vogler created a more user-friendly version of the theory, especially for the screen industry: it's 'The Writer's Journey'.
The thing about this story is that it's universal. It's the same pattern, in essence, as the journey undertaken by the initiate or the neurotic. In order to grow, to become more solid in ourselves, or to pass from one phase in life to the next, we have to undertake a journey - literal or otherwise.
We have to suffer, one way or another. It might be as a candidate for Special Forces, it might be as teenager on the brink of adulthood, it might be love's pangs and heartache.
We have to go down into the depths. We have to confront our demons. We have to keep going.
Dr Carl Jung once said of one of his patients: 'Thank God he made up his mind to become neurotic!'
In screenwriting terms, that can be read as: 'Thank God he made up his mind to accept the Call and embark on the adventure!'
All the other stories that writers and commentators try to make you believe in, in reality, merely variations on a theme.
That theme being, character wants/needs something (although they may not, at the beginning, know that they want this) and has to suffer in order to achieve or acquire it.
That's the story. There is only one.
Everything else is how you tell it.