Developing Story Ideas : The Power and Purpose of Storytelling book cover
3rd Edition

Developing Story Ideas
The Power and Purpose of Storytelling

ISBN 9781138956230
Published July 21, 2016 by Routledge
230 Pages

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USD $42.95

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Book Description

The vast majority of screenplay and writing books that focus on story development have little to say about the initial concept that inspired the piece. Developing Story Ideas: The Power and Purpose of Storytelling, Third Edition provides writers with ideational tools and resources to generate a wide variety of stories in a broad range of forms. Celebrated filmmaker and author Michael Rabiger demonstrates how to observe situations and themes in the writer’s own life experience, and use these as the basis for original storytelling. 

This new edition has been updated with chapters on adaptation, improvisation, and cast collaboration’s roles in story construction, as well as a companion website featuring further projects, class assignments, instructor resources, and more.


  • Gain the practical tools and resources  you need to spark your creativity and generate a wide variety of stories in a broad range of forms, including screenplays, documentaries, novels, short stories, and plays
  • Through hands-on, step-by-step exercises and group and individual assignments, learn to use situations and themes from your own life experience, dreams, myth, and the news as the basis for character-driven storytelling; harness methods of screenplay format, dialogue, plot structure, and character development that will allow your stories to reach their fullest potential

Table of Contents

Part I


Chapter 1: This Book, Its Goals, and Getting Started

You and Your Resources

Why We Work in Outline Form

Ideation and Originality

Identifying with the Main Character

Jump-Starting the Imagination

The Assignments

Concerning the Writing Samples

Having Fun

This Book’s Layout and Goals

Getting Started

The game called CLOSAT

Chapter 2: You and the Creative Process

The Journey of the Self

Wanting to Tell Stories

Self-Exposure and Giving Support

What is Therapy and What Is Art?

What Stories Mean

Theme and Variation

Just Do It

Outline and Expansion


Part II



Chapter 3: Artistic Identity


Assignment 3-1: Survey of Yourself and Your Authorial Goals

Assignment 3-2: Presenting Yourself and Your Storytelling Goals

Assignment 3-3 Listening and Reacting

Going Farther

Chapter 4: Introductions and Playing "CLOSAT"


Maintaining Focus


If You are Working Alone

Assignment 4-1: Five-Minute Self-Introduction.

Assignment 4-2: Play the CLOSAT game.

Assignment 4-3: Develop your Own Pitching Guidelines.

General discussion

Chapter 5: Autobiography and Influences

Assignment 5-1: Autobiographical Survey

Assignment 5-2: Presenting your influences.

Chapter 6: Observing from Life

Assignment 6-1: CLOSAT preparatory work and the writer’s journal

Assignment 6-2: CLOSAT with 2 characters, 1 location and 1 Object

Assignment 6-3: CLOSAT with 3 Characters, 2 objects, an act and a theme

Going Farther

Assignment 6-4: CLOSAT Variations for a Group/Class

The Power of Imagery.

Going Farther


Part III


Chapter 7: Developing Your Characters and the Dramatist’s Toolkit

Checklist for Developing Your Characters

The Tools of the Dramatist

Tools #1–4, Four Hats

Tool #5, the Questionnaire

Tool #6, the Diving Mask

Tool #7, the Key (the Dramatic Premise)

Tool #8, the Pressure Meter (Detects and Measures Conflict)

Tool #9, the Stopwatch (Represents Time Progressing)

Tool #10, the Cake Slice (Separates Drama into its Components)

Tool #11, the Set of Boxes (Representing the Three-Act Structure.)

Tool #12, the Telescope (Finding Point of View)

Chapter 8: Analyzing a Scene

Using tool #5, the Questionnaire

Using tool #6, the Diving Mask.

Using tool #7, the Key (finding a dramatic premise)

Using tool #8, the Pressure Meter (Detects and Measures Conflict)

Using tool #9, the Stopwatch (Represents Time Progressing)

An Analogy for Drama

Using tool # 10, the Cake-Slice (Separating Drama into its Components)

Assignment 8-1: Character and Destiny

Assignment 8-2: Volition and Point of View

Assignment 8-3: Acting on volition.

Assignment 8-4: Scene Divisions for "The Fisherman’s Wife."

The Fisherman’s Wife

Chapter 9: Assessing a Complete Work

Using tool #11, the Set of Boxes

The Three-Act Structure.

Character Driven versus Plot Driven Drama

Using tool #8, the Pressure Meter Again (Sources of Pressure, Identifying Genre)

Drawing a Dramatic Arc for a Whole Work

Drama and Point of View

Assignment 9-1: Dividing "Little Red Riding Hood" into Scenes and Acts.

Assignment 9-2 Character Types and Story Meanings.

Going Farther

Chapter 10: Testing a Story Idea and Deciding Point of View

Exploring a Story’s Effectiveness

Story Effectiveness Questionnaire

Exploring a Story’s Meaning and Purpose

Story Editing Tools in Summary

Assignment 10-1: Impressions and Feedback.

Assignment 10-2: Critical Communication.


Part IV:


Chapter 11: A Tale from Childhood

On Discussion

Assignment 11-1: An Event from Childhood

Assignment 11-1: An Event from Childhood

Assignment 11-3 Developing a childhood film or photo scene.

Example 1 (Vilka Tzouras)

Example 2 (Alex Meillier)

Example 3 (Chris Darner)

Example 4 (Amanda McCormick)


On memory

Going Farther

Chapter 12: Family Story

Assignment 12-1: A Story Told in Your Family

Assignment 12-2 Family Story as Comic Strip

Assignment 12-3 The Untold Story


Example 1 (Margaret Harris)

Example 2 (Amanda McCormick)

Example 3 (Peter Riley)

Going Farther

Chapter 13: A Myth, Legend, or Folktale Retold

Interpreting Oral Tales

Adaptation Problems

Assignment 13-1 Free Choice of Tale.

Assignment 13-2 Myth

Assignment 13-3 Legend

Assignment 13-4 Folktale


Example #1: The Legend of Pretty Boy Floyd Retold (Michael Hanttula)

Example #2 (Tatsuya Guillermo Ohno)

Example #3: Sisyphus Cries Dixie: A Modern Story (Michelle Arnove)


Going Farther

Chapter 14: Dream Story

Assignment 14-1: Writing up a Dream

Assignment 14-2: Surreal Narrative

Assignment 14-3: Linking Dreams into One Narrative

Assignment 14-4 Dream and Myth


Dream Sequence #1 (Chris Darner)

Dream Sequence #2 (Michael Hanttula)

Dream Sequence #3 (Cynthia Merwarth)

Going Farther

Chapter 15: Adapting a Short Story 

Evaluating a Story for Adaptation to the Screen

Assignment 15-1: Short Story Analysis

Assignment 15-2: Adaptation Issues

Assignment 15-3: Dramatic Breakdown


Example 1: "An Encounter," from Dubliners, by James Joyce (Peter Riley)

Example 2, "Le Diner de Cons," by Francis Veber (Louis Leterrier)


Going Farther

Chapter 16: Ten-Minute, News Inspired Story

Making a Working Hypothesis

Assignment 16-1: A picture and its consequences.

Assignment 16-2: Reality TV show.

Assignment 16-3: Docudrama.

Assignment 16-4: Based on a Real Story...

Assignment 16-5: Behind the Façade

Assignment 16-6: This Far, and No Farther

Assignment 16-7: Analyze Four News Items.

Assignment 16-8: Develop Interpersonal Difference


Going Farther

Chapter 17: A Documentary Subject

Assignment 17-1: A Documentary Subject

Assignment 17-2: Simple Voice-Over Personal Film

Assignment 17-3: Simple Voice-Over Historical Film

Documentary Subject (Angela Galyean)

Going Farther

Chapter 18: Thirty-Minute Original Fiction

Assignment 18-1: Treatment for an Original Thirty-Minute Fiction Piece.

Assignment 18-2: An Original 30-minute Fiction Piece Inspired by an Image.

Assignment 18-3: An Original 30-minute Fiction Piece Inspired by CLOSAT Cards.

Assignment 18-3: An Original 30-minute Fiction Piece Inspired by CLOSAT Cards.

Example #1: Thirty-Minute Original Fiction Idea (Michael Hanttula)

Example #2: "Eggs Benedict" (Michelle Arnove)

On Comedy

Going Farther

Chapter 19: Feature Film

Assignment 19-1: Idea for a Feature Film (Featuring Two Points of View)

Example: Feature Film Idea (Paul Flanagan)

On The Writing Process and Receiving Criticism

Going Farther

Part V


Chapter 20: Wholly Improvised (Scenes and story construction in the vein of Cassavetes, Fassbinder, Linklater)

Chapter 21: Screenplay generated from Improvisation (Screenplay generated from a core of ideas, cast collaboration and improvisations, then best material transcribed and shaped into a screenplay, in the vein of Bergman, Leigh)

Part V


Chapter 22: Revisiting Your Artistic Identity

Your Creative Direction

Assignment 20-1: Revisiting your Artistic Identity.

Assignment 20-2: Say Where You’d Like to Go.

Assignment 20-3: Ideas and Ambitions.

Assignment 20-4 Setting a Personal Agenda.

Discussion and Retrospective

Part VI:


Chapter 23: Story-Editing Your Outline

Structural Options


Stream of Consciousness


Yielding to the Dramatic Conventions

Chapter 24: Expanding Your Outline

Writing for the Screen

Standard Screenplay Format

Camera and Editing Directions

Sound and Music Directions

Documentary Film Proposal


Standard Playwriting Format

Novel or Short Story Format

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Michael Rabiger began in the cutting rooms of England’s Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, became an editor and BBC director of documentaries, and then specialized for many years in the US as a production and aesthetics educator. At Columbia College Chicago he was co-founder, then chair of the Film/Video Department, and established the Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary. He has directed or edited more than 35 films, given workshops in many countries, and led a multinational European workshop for CILECT. Additionally, he won the International Documentary Association's Scholarship and Preservation Award, served as a Fulbright Specialist in South Africa, and is an honorary professor at the University of Buenos Aires. He is the author of Directing the Documentary, and the co-author of Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, both published by Focal Press and available in multiple languages.


"Whenever a book’s lifespan makes it through several editions, you know that it must be doing something right...Now in it’s third edition, Michael Rabiger’s Developing Story Ideas serves an area of creative development which is normally not addressed in most storytelling/screenwriting manuals; how to come up with an idea for a story in the first place."

--Jonny Elwyn, freelance film editor and creator of