Humans logo

Fantastic Stories and Why We Need Them

by Alan Mehanna about a month ago in advice

The TEDx Talk that Started it All

Having an actor for a father and a novel lover for a mother, you could say that stories, in all their forms, were a big part of my everyday life and as a result I grew an overactive imagination. I would constantly build new and magical worlds, create likeable characters, give them problems and challenges, and I would join them on endless adventures. As I grew older and life started taking its toll, I slowly started to lose parts of that — only parts though because if we flashforward around three decades you’d find me talking to you about this very thing.

Eons ago, stories filled our lives.

We didn’t have the technology that we have today – our stories were our entertainment, and our imagination was the only technology we needed to bring those stories to life… we were limitless. We sat by the fire and told stories, the Greeks and the Roman expressed their myths on stage, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen spun out fables, that we’re still remaking to this day…and let’s not forget the tales we’ve heard from our parents who heard them from theirs.

But today, our planet has grown too noisy, and in Lebanon that is at times quite literal.

Between the struggles of life, the overcrowded world of content whether it be film or serialized, and the evergrowing toxicity of social media, our brains no longer have time to imagine, to understand, or to create… instead we spend our time building up walls, and defending.

It’s funny, in a world that’s so small and so connected, we’ve never felt more alone, and insignificant. But what is most heart-breaking is that our creativity, our imagination, and our personal stories seem constantly under attack.

It is because of that, that our stories, good stories, matter now more than ever.

Everyone has a story to tell…

…but according to author Robert McKee,

a good story is something worth telling that the world wants to hear.

Now, between watching movies, tv shows, and reading books, teaching screenwriting and talking about film and television on my podcast Script2Screen (no longer in production), I started to notice three elements that kept showing up like, repeated patterns, or motifs. The more I noticed them in the stories that touched and stayed with not just me, but others as well, the more I noticed their lack in the stories that didn’t.

I’ve recently dubbed them:

The 3 H’s

and here’s what they stand for.

HARDSHIP

Defined in the Merriam Webster’s dictionary this word means severe suffering. Now, I know what you’re thinking, why would hardship be something you should look for in a story, be it visual or literal? The answer is simple - hardship is universal, and that universality allows the characters to feel more human, and as a result allows us, the audience, to connect to them.

When Frodo first decides to travel across Middle Earth in order to destroy the One Ring, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, little does he know that what lies ahead will be the most difficult challenge he will face. He gets stabbed by a cave troll, loses his mentor, gets betrayed by a close friend, and then leaves all his fellowship — all except for Sam — to go towards Mordor, and all this happens in the first film alone.

In Star Wars, Luke must face off against many obstacles including learning that his father is the most hated villain in the galaxy, in order to reach his fullest potential.

It is because of these challenges, that we cheer those characters on and want them to succeed so that when they do, they offer us a positive emotional catharsis and when they don’t they offer us a much needed wake up call.

What is important is not whether the character wins or loses, but that the character tries and this would not happen, if Hardship did not exist. Hardship also allows the audience to care for the character’s well-being, it humbles us - regardless of our race, nationality, religion, or however you identify.

Just compare all the Lebanese films that have succeeded internationally to the ones that didn’t.

From the hardships that befell four diverse Lebanese women, to those between two Lebanese sects, to a young boy’s quest to acquire an identity…These films broke through the barrier via the hardships that their characters faced, because

struggle in all its forms does not play favorites,

and nothing, not even a “wasta” (an Arabic word defining the corrupt take on the who you know and how they can help you mechanism) can save you from it.

If you can please chuckle at that cheesy attempt at a funny moment it’ll help me transition perfectly to the next H…

HUMOR:

Walt Disney once said, “For every laugh, there should be a tear,” and the reverse is also applicable. What Humor does is offer the audience what writers call a taste of honey. Imagine you’re swimming underwater in a pool, and slowly you begin to realize that your body is tensing up, and you are in need of oxygen so you quickly swim to the surface and inhale a big chunk, before you dive back into the water. This is how writers use humor, but why is it important?

Well, it’s all about balance.

Humor, in this case, doesn’t just mean comedy, it simply means an uptick within the story, a positive beat. For every laugh a tear - if we do this we add value to each emotion, because you’ll never know the relevance of a positive moment until you’re in a negative moment.

This is why stories sometimes have characters that are categorized as the “comic relief.”

Tyrion Lannister, a favorite among the Game of Thrones fanbase, has seen his father brush him off, his sister wish him dead, the love of his betrayed him, and yet somehow he continues to joke, to drink, and to know things...

Humor, is the reason we stick around, it’s what hooks us.

In La La Land’s final moments the two main characters get a flash of “what if things were different,” and we the audience get to live that positive outcome with them, only to be reminded that the reality is not that at all - balance.

We’ll do one more example before moving on.

Let’s take a look at AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, a film that arguably decimated all of our positivity with a snap… Phew, glad that all 100% of you are still in the room.

This film is mostly Hardships as the Avengers must face their most difficult and apocalyptic challenge yet, Thanos the master of the Infinity Gauntlet, yet even though the film is dark, Humor and light still manage to appear within the narrative.

Peter Parker and Tony Stark both offer some of the funniest banter and let’s not forget the moment when Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy.

For every laugh, there should be a tear this is Humor - and if you allow me to quote the Headmaster of Hogwarts, it’s also a reminder that happiness can be found in the darkest of times if only we remember to turn on the light.

The final H, and what I feel is the most important H, is

HEART,

for what is life, and what are stories without the pulsing heart. Heart relates to the unyielding spirit of the characters within a story, their drive and willingness to never give up.

Let’s start with a Lebanese film for this H.

Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum, regardless of your opinion of the film itself, is a film that exemplifies Heart.

Zain, Capernaums’ protagonist, faces the ultimate hardship including dealing with his negligent parents, losing his sister, begging on the streets of Beirut, being jailed, and yet he carried on and believed that he would one day find a life better than the one he currently has.

In Cinema Paradiso, Toto fights his regrets, his memories and his failures all of which are defeated by a reminder that failures can at times be blessings in disguise… It is the film’s heart, its honesty, its childlike spirit of love, dreams, and life that makes you fall in love with it and watch it multiple times.

Steven Speilberg’s E.T. is the epitome of Heart. Elliot faced many challenges as he fought to defend and save a strange alien, a creature that most feared and found incomprehensible - he had to believe not only in himself but in the impossible.

Heart is why we hold on.

It’s why stay when all seems lost, even though we had the chance to turn back and escape the challenges that still lied ahead.

Heart is a character’s inner drive, and unbreakable spirit that hangs on to the Humor, despite the Hardship in an effort to do the impossible, and fight for a better tomorrow…

It’s a film’s ability to take you away from your troubles, force your adultself to take a back seat and allow your inner child to go fly a kite and let it soar high above New York City, across the lands of Middle Earth, past the second star to the right, and to a galaxy far, far away.

For you see, when you use the three H’s, you ultimately get a secret H, and that H… it stands for

HOPE.

Hope that the sun will come out tomorrow; hope that love will survive; that evil will not reign victorious; and that there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

Story isn't an escape from reality, but a ship that takes us on a search to better understand our reality; it’s our best effort to make sense out of the chaos of existence.

With the utter darkness that seems to be covering Lebanon and our world, we have never needed good stories as much as we do today.

Because you see…

By telling these fantastic stories

...that’s how we’ll win.

To watch the TEDxTalk … Click Here.

advice

Alan Mehanna

  • A screenwriter with a dream to publish fantasy novels.
  • A spiritual guide & tarot reader.
  • An award winning short filmmaker
  • A TEDx Speaker

Receive stories by Alan Mehanna in your feed
Alan Mehanna
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links