Stories about Stories

Joseph Campbell and the well-known psychologist Carl Jung, both posited that stories were a way for human beings to ascribe meaning to the infinite chaos of creation around them. These stories provide a framework for the experience of being alive, and establish patterns that make processing an incredible amount of information easier, by giving the illusion of cause and effect. Films are a particularly effective method for creating a reality because that’s exactly what the crew of a film does on some level. When an audience sees rundown buildings overgrown with vines besieged by zombies, what they are actually seeing is the painstaking work of teams of artists who transform locations into the fantastic sets used in movies. Some films take this alternate reality even further and incorporate the idea of story telling into their own narrative. These meta stories are some of the most interesting and powerful stories, because they point out the assumptions an audience carries with them from other viewing experiences and uses them not only to comment on and interpret the human experience, but also to comment on stories themselves.

Big Fish written by John August and directed by Tim Burton, is a fantastic example of a script that discusses the power of stories, in this case, the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is a meta narrative that Joseph Campbell believed to be the backbone of nearly every story ever written. To illustrate the prominence of this structure, consider the similarities between the characters of Luke Skywalker, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Hercules, and Iron Man. All of these characters are told they have the capacity for greatness, are forced to act on that possibility, and subsequently rise to the challenge, becoming heroes and experiencing some sort of catharsis. Big Fish not only features an on-the-nose hero’s journey, it features a character actually commenting on the tropes and the reason for them as he recounts the story. Not all stories about stories are as somber as Big Fish though. 

Joss Whedon is an incredibly prolific writer, and a devout fan of story craft in general. The Avengers features multiple mini hero’s journeys throughout. There are however, other meta narratives besides hero’s journey. The Cabin in the Woods is a fan boy’s salute to the horror genre, but the horror genre is really a medieval story form repackaged and twisted slightly. In Shakespeare’s England the most common form of entertainment was a fantastically depressing genre called the morality play. These morality plays were basically stories like the boy who cried wolf, or the frog and the scorpion. The basic idea is that the sins and faults of a character early on in the narrative will be responsible for their undoing later on. The Cabin in the Woods gleefully embraces, not only its monster movie heritage, but rather brilliantly, its morality play ancestors, and  features a wonderful Richard Jenkins character explaining the significance of each story beat as it happens. 

There are dozens of examples of this kind of thing. Before Cabin in the Woods there was  Scream. The Princess Bride comments on two kinds of stories: romance and fantasy and again features a narrator within the story. Tropic Thunder is a send-up of Hollywood in general, but especially Vietnam era war movies, and the list goes on and on all they way to The Producers. These stories serve as mile markers for genre, and for the film medium, but they also function as challenges to filmmakers to transcend traditional story structure and tropes and try to make something new. Any filmmaker or writer who seeks to educate themselves about the finer points of movie making would do well to add these to his or her collection.

(2003) Big Fish

(1987) The Princess Bride

(2012) The Cabin in the Woods

(1996) Scream

(2008) Tropic Thunder

(2008) Be Kind Rewind

(2002) Adaptation

William Goldman Scripts

William Goldman is not just a screenwriter, despite the fact that he has had enormous success in the field. Goldman is a writer of all sorts- novels, non-fiction biographies and even how-to books that have sold in record numbers. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his astoundingly touching screenplays and for the ideas that he created that changed cinema.

As a novelist, Goldman was responsible for writing at least two of the most widely respected and loved stories of the American people. One is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) which inspired the love that America still has with Westerns. The other was The Princess Bride (1987), a complete 180 for Goldman to do. From the desert landscape of the Western film, he jumped to the classical enchanted surroundings of a fairy tale.

As far as screenplays go, Goldman has shown his flexibility in adapting to different genres with ease. For the horror movie fans, he was responsible for the Stephen King adaptation of the novel Misery (1990) which is still emulated and joked about to this day. He diversified into the romance district when he wrote such films as Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
and Year of the Comet (1992).

Without a doubt, Goldman is a prime example of a writer who did not put himself in a box. Unlike other writers who generally stick to one genre or another, Goldman gave himself the freedom to experience worlds from all different

Screenwriters should take note of Goldman’s actions and realize that screenwriting is an art of experience. The human life is full of ups and downs, and this effects what the screenwriter thinks like and writes about. This is not something to be ashamed of, but is an opportunity to grow in different directions as a human being and as a writer.


  1. (2003) Dreamcatcher Script [For Purchase]
  2. (2001) Hearts in Atlantis [Transcript]
  3. (1999) The General’s Daughter [Transcript]
  4. (1997) Absolute Power Script [PDF]
  5. (1996) The Ghost and the Darkness Script
  6. (1996) The Chamber
  7. (1992) Chaplin
  8. (1992) Year of the Comet
  9. (1992) Memoirs of an Invisible Man [Transcript]
  10. (1990) Misery Script
  11. (1987) The Princess Bride Script
  12. (1986) Heat Script
  13. (1978) Magic
  14. (1977) A Bridge Too Far
  15. (1976) Marathon Man [Transcript]
  16. (1976) All the President’s Men Script
  17. (1975) The Great Waldo Pepper Script [For Purchase]
  18. (1975) The Stepford Wives
  19. (1972) The Hot Rock
  20. (1969) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Script [For Purchase]
  21. (1966) Harper
  22. (1965) Masquerade

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride poster thumbnail
Director:Rob Reiner
Written by:William Goldman (Screenplay), William Goldman (Novel)

Script Synopsis:In this enchantingly cracked fairy tale, the beautiful Princess Buttercup and the dashing Westley must overcome staggering odds to find happiness amid six-fingered swordsmen, murderous princes, Sicilians and rodents of unusual size. But even death can't stop these true lovebirds from triumphing.

Classic Novel Adaptation Scripts

It should come to no surprise that many of the greatest films of our day have been inspired, or directly taken, from the pages of novels. Writers such as Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien have been able to reach new audiences through the help of creative film makers and script writers.

The fact is that many people do not have the time to read. A good novel can often run from 300 to 1000 pages (depending on the author), and can take some time in order to finish. Even for the most avid reader, there is never enough time to read all the books in the world and that is where film makers come in.

One of the biggest problems related to transforming a book into a movie is the issue of accurately following the storyline while maintaining the same emotions that a person gets when reading the book. This is a difficult task and requires a person of great emotional intelligence and technical skill in order to complete.

Below is a list of some of the best (and worst) adaptations of novels. Whether they are good or bad depends on the viewer. However, there are some elements that make them generally enjoyable and worthy of being a major motion picture. What are those elements, you ask? Well, I will leave you to find that out as you compare some of these screenplays to the classic novels that inspired them.

Once you find out the answers, you will be on your way to being able to accurately adapt a novel that you cherish. And who knows? One day your screenplay might be the one chosen for a major motion picture adaptation. Good luck!

  1. The Godfather Script
  2. The Shawshank Redemption Script
  3. Schindler’s List Script
  4. The Hunt for Red October [Transcript]
  5. The Princess Bride [Transcript]
  6. Wuthering Heights [Transcript]
  7. Scarface Script
  8. GoodFellas [Transcript]
  9. No Country For Old Men Script
  10. Girl, Interrupted [Transcript]