Show cover of Story Nerd

Story Nerd

The Story Nerd Podcast demystifies story theory so writers spend less time studying and more time writing. Literary editors and writers, Valerie Francis and Melanie Hill, analyze a film a week as an example of a storytelling principle. The show focuses on concepts common to all stories across film, television, novels and screenplays.


Toy Story: soooooo good, but why?
There are a handful of stories that theorists use as great examples of the craft, and Toy Story is one of them. (Chinatown is another, but sheesh, enough already!) Yes, the animation was groundbreaking for its day but that's not what makes this film special. All the fancy tech in the world (or even the best actors in the world) can't save a film from a script that doesn't work. If you're writing a buddy story, a story with two protagonists, or want to better understand character development, this movie—and this episode!—is for you.
38:14 11/23/2022
The Water Horse: keep subplots at bay
It's not uncommon for a subplot, or secondary character, to take over a story - especially when a writer is still learning the ropes. So, how do you keep a subplot in check and what do you do if it starts taking over? In this week's episode, Valerie and Melanie discuss just that.
43:33 11/16/2022
Guardians of the Galaxy: great script or great music?
When fans talk about this movie, they usually mention the music. But an amazing soundtrack can't save a story that doesn't work. More importantly, for our purposes, music is outside the purview of the writer. So the question remains. Is the writing of this film solid, or does it rely on hits from yesteryear to gloss over its weaknesses? Tune in to find out.
47:40 11/09/2022
Good Will Hunting: miniplots and subplots
This week, Melanie and Valerie fell into a discussion about whether Good Will Hunting is a miniplot story, or an archplot story with a couple of subplots. What's the difference? Why does it matter? And how can not knowing put your work-in-progress at risk? Tune in to find out.
32:48 11/02/2022
The Blair Witch Project: power of the imagination
Filmmakers have special effects, costuming, casting and music to help them tell their stories. As novelists, we've got 26 characters, a handful of punctuation, and our readers' imaginations. That's it. So how can we put our readers' imaginations to work for us? Tune in to this week's episode to find out. Happy Hallowe'en!
49:37 10/26/2022
Sliding Doors: innovation or gimmick?
If you're writing a story with multiple protagonists, or multiple storylines, this episode is for you. This is a tricky kind of story structure to pull off, and there are a few different ways it can work, but does Sliding Doors pull it off? Is this an innovative way to approach story, or is it just a gimmick. Tune in to find out! Oh, and yes, there are cell phones in this movie - Gerry has one. When you listen to the episode you'll know why that's important.
45:46 10/19/2022
Sense and Sensibility: ship your work
Well, this was an interesting experience. Mercury was retrograde and it led to all kinds of technical issues and re-recording. In the end, to improve the audio, Melanie had a towel over her head. It's natural to want our work to be perfect before we send it out into the world, but sometimes we've got to just go with it. So, if you're hesitating to submit your work, take a listen to this week's episode, and then, ship your work. We did.
26:43 10/12/2022
The Bourne Identity: build tension, raise stakes
Whatever kind of story you're writing, if you want a reader to stick with you all the way to the end, you've got to build tension! Believe it or not, The Bourne Identity is a terrific example to study - even for a love story or coming of age story.
34:28 10/05/2022
Tootsie: finally, sequences!
Valerie and Melanie are kicking off a brand new season of the Story Nerd podcast with a high level look at both sequences, and the beginnings and endings of stories. If you want to learn how the first act of a story telegraphs the last, or how to break your manuscript down into easily-manageable sequences, be sure to tune in.
32:53 09/28/2022
Our Best Advice: hero's gift + antagonism
To wind up the season, Valerie and Melanie summarize what they've learned about the hero's gift expressed and forces of antagonism, and they offer their best advice about how you can get these storytelling principles working in your own novel. This is an episode you'll want to bookmark!
32:10 09/21/2022
Wild: stories need conflict
It's hard to know quite where this film went off the rails, but certainly, one of the main problems is that there isn't any real conflict or tension. Just as tension begins to form, it fizzles, and so too does the viewer's interest. Why did this happen and how can you avoid it in your story?
34:12 09/14/2022
A Few Good Men: this is how you handle exposition
If you've ever been told to "show, don't tell" then you'll want to listen to this episode because the truth is that exposition (i.e., "tell") is an effective storytelling tool. This film is a brilliant example of forces of antagonism, the hero's gift expressed, and just about every other storytelling principle you can think of — including exposition.
52:52 09/07/2022
Booksmart: an unfortunate train wreck
Well, the good news is that as writers we often learn more from the stories that don't work, than from the stories that do work. Booksmart is a great example of what not to do. Are you making any of the same mistakes as these screenwriters?
45:02 08/31/2022
Death on the Nile: the moustache mystery
This might be one of Agatha Christie's best known mysteries, but does it work for a modern audience? This week, Valerie and Melanie analyze Sir Kenneth Branagh's version of Christie's classic tale, and discuss just how far into a story the inciting incident can be. And don't miss Melanie's super sleuth skills in action as she uncovers a major plot hole that has to do with Poirot's famous moustache.
46:38 08/24/2022
Promising Young Woman: when society is the villain
The writing in this film is nothing short of masterful. Among the many reasons to study it is the way it develops Society as a force of antagonism. The heroine isn't just battling men, she's up against women, societal attitudes, and institutions too.
50:54 08/17/2022
The Matrix: give your story away
In the first 10 pages of your story, you need to give the ending away. Sounds crazy, right? But, it's true. Why on earth would we do that? It would ruin the story, wouldn't it? Nope. When done right, it makes the story better. How would we do it? Listen to this episode to find out.
50:44 08/10/2022
Captain Marvel: the alter ego is key
Did you know that if the alter ego doesn't have a gift to express, the superhero doesn't have a superpower? In this episode Valerie and Melanie discuss the importance of Carol Danvers's gift, and how expressing it ultimately enables her to both outsmart and overpower the forces of antagonism.
42:33 08/03/2022
The Invisible Man: thriller or horror?
This week's episode is a bit of a throwback to season one, as Valerie and Melanie debate the genre and whether the antagonist is a monster, or a man who is monstrous. (In the world of storytelling, there's a big difference!) What do you think, is The Invisible Man a horror or a thriller?
49:21 07/27/2022
Bend It Like Beckham
You can't go wrong with a performance story; it's a crowd-pleaser every time. With this genre, the opponent is usually the sole antagonist. But this film has a whole host of antagonists working together to complicate the plot and make life for the heroine very, very difficult. How did the writers weave together multiple forces of antagonism so seamlessly? Tune in to find out.
39:13 07/20/2022
Legally Blonde
We're kicking off a new season with a focus on two new storytelling principles! In Season 2, Valerie is studying The Hero's Gift Expressed and Melanie is studying Forces of Antagonism. Legally Blonde is a beautiful example of both!
39:57 07/13/2022
Genres: best advice for authors
In this episode, Valerie and Melanie review their key takeaways from the ten films they studied this season. Tune in to learn their best advice for authors, ah-ha moments and resource recommendations.
34:06 07/06/2022
Dune: spectacle v. story
Dune is a true feast for the eyes, and it's got the Oscars to prove it. However, none of the awards (or nominations) were for the writing and there's an obvious reason for that. Join Valerie and Melanie as they do a deep dive into the storytelling aspect of this popular film.
43:30 06/29/2022
The Power of the Dog: the epitome of a blended genre story
If you plan to blend genres in your novel, then do yourself a favour and tune in to this week's episode of Story Nerd. Maybe it's a western and maybe it isn't. Maybe it's something entirely new. Jane Campion and the entire team of professionals brought their A-Game to this one!
47:02 06/22/2022
Rogue One: worldbuilding 101
Oh dear. The scales have fallen from Melanie's eyes this week as she analyzed one of her favourite films. The "spectacle" of film sure does make the movie-going experience a whole lot of fun, but when we strip away the soundtrack, the CGI, the costumes and the actors we admire, we're left with the story. Sometimes that makes us love our favourite stories even more, and sometimes it doesn't.
47:59 06/15/2022
Knives Out: mastering the whodunnit
Puzzled about what it takes to write a great mystery? Then grab your notebook because this episode is chock-full of tips. No red herrings in this show, we promise!
48:09 06/08/2022
Being the Ricardos: masterful writing, but does it work?
There's no question that Aaron Sorkin is a master storyteller, and the craft on display here is next level stuff. But, it doesn't necessarily mean the story works. In this episode, Melanie attempts to untangle the genre while Valerie discusses the hazards of prioritizing elevated writing technique over fundamental storytelling basics.
51:46 06/01/2022
Turning Red: home run, or swing and miss?
While this film may not be listed among Pixar's Top 10, there's still plenty to love about Turning Red and we need more stories that explore these themes. From a craft perspective, Melanie sees it as a good example of how the beginning of a story sets up the end, and Valerie considers whether the red panda is a metaphor that works.
45:31 05/25/2022
The Courier: when is a spy story not a spy story?
In this episode, Melanie takes us on a deep dive of spy stories, their conventions and subgenres. It turns out that what we usually think of as spy stories might not be spy stories at all! Meanwhile, Valerie examines the testing plot and offers advice about how to write historical fiction that works.
57:18 05/18/2022
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: what the heck is the genre?
If you're interested in character development, this award-winning film is one you want to study. However, if you're interested in studying examples of crime stories (which is how this movie has been marketed), maybe give it a pass. Tune in to find out why!
53:18 05/11/2022
West Side Story: innovative or cliché?
West Side Story (2021) has been lauded for its depiction of race and racial tension, but how has it handled the love story? In his retelling of this age-old story, did Spielberg innovate the genre or did he perpetuate stereotypes?
43:33 05/04/2022