Story Jam is an innovative way to rapidly create extremely comprehensive story pitches that can be further developed into multiple forms of entertainment.
A Story Jam consists of two, sequential Jams: Message Jam and Pitch Jam.
It is based on the SEAM Story Design Framework, as outlined in our book, "Story Design: Storytelling Handbook for Writers and Dream Merchants".
An entire Story Jam can be accomplished in half a day, involving 2-3 writers.
A Story Message Jam consists of a Dramatic Question, Premise, and Message.
A unique feature of the Story Message is that it does not contain any narrative and, thus, can be used to tell many different stories.
By creating many, compelling and reusable Story Messages, we ensure that our stories have meaning and social impact. In addition, it reduces the time it takes us to craft new story Pitches.
A Pitch Jam tells a particular narrative, based on a Message Jam.
A Pitch consists of a Title, Genre, Dramatic Question, Premise, Tagline, Logline, Short Synopsis, and Principle Characters.
This example is based on our Pitch for a project entitled, "Endangered Species", which we published as a novel.
Step 1 - Discussion
Our discussion topic was environmental destruction. We discussed various ways in which mankind was responsible for the destruction of our planet. Familiar issues arose, such as: global warming, overpopulation, etc.
In particular, we found ourselves becoming more interested in over abundance and mass consumerism. This led to a discussion on the obesity epidemic and how we appear to be destroying ourselves through greed. This planted some seeds in our minds. Notably, that the planet is probably going to be just fine, whatever we do. The problem is that we appear to be killing ourselves because we lack inhibition.
Step 2 - Premise
We randomly chose a couple of premises. The first was, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." This seemed interesting, but less intriguing than the second one, "The meek shall inherit the earth". Not only did this sound more relevant, because of planetary destruction, but it opened up a whole discussion on what "meek" actually meant.
In the end, we decided upon the second premise, because we came to see "meek" as being those with tremendous integrity, humility, and compassion - something which appears to be understated nowadays. Paradoxically, "meek" has in some ways become associated with "weak", since we reward more aggressive, competitive, alpha behaviour in modern society. We found this fascinating and wanted to expand upon it.
Step 3 - Dramatic Question
After some discussion, the most compelling sentence we came up with was, "What if mankind is about to go extinct?"
Step 4 - Story Message
Our discussion led us to the conclusion that we are killing ourselves, because we have become too enamoured with Social Darwinism and the idea that only the strongest and most aggressive survive. In other words, we have created a toxic culture in which 'greed is good'. We celebrate celebrity, competition, and excess, instead of humility, empathy, and moderation - which has led to such negative consequences as mass obesity, financial meltdowns, and the rise of the One Percenters (and death of the middle class). It is our culture, then, that is endangering us - not our technology, or a disregard for the environment.
We summed up our Story Message in one, pithy sentence: "Survival of the Fittest will lead to the destruction of mankind".
Putting it all together...
Here then, is the result of our Message Jam:
Dramatic Question: "What if mankind is about to go extinct?"
Premise: "The meek shall inherit the earth."
Message: "Survival of the Fittest will lead to the destruction of mankind". Our survival is not a zero sum game.
Hopefully, you will see how this Story Message can lead to multiple narratives. One could easily imagine a thriller, or a documentary.
Ultimately, we chose to do an action-comedy that was highly satirical. Here's part of the final pitch:
Title: Endangered Species
Genre: Action-Adventure, Comedy/Satire
Dramatic Question: What if mankind was about to go extinct?
Premise: The meek shall inherit the earth.
Tagline: Survival is not a zero sum game.
A motley crew of environmentalists pursue a gang of mercenaries who are poaching the world's most endangered species for a nefarious plot to purge the planet of its greatest threat - "us".
Down-and-out journalist, Trevor, is in trouble. His life is falling apart and he can barely make ends meet. Fortune smiles on him, however, when he is commissioned by a beautiful television producer to ghost-write an autobiography of the intrepid, but unfortunate, animal tracker, Chuck Collins, as he goes in search of endangered species to save from oblivion.
Problem is, Collins is a disaster-magnet. Animals hate him. They can’t wait to tear him apart. Dogged by the epic failure of his safari amusement park, Collins badly needs to resurrect his career before self-loathing consumes him. Trevor colludes with the producer to get Collins on the trail of vicious animals in peril in the hope that something catastrophic will get caught on camera and boost his ratings.
Reality exceeds expectation, however, when the hapless crew are caught in a cross-fire on their first expedition in the heart of the Amazon. Heavily armed poachers appear to be culling the most dangerous of the endangered species from the latest WWF watch list for some sort of secret operation. Humiliated and unsuccessful, the relationship between the crew members deteriorates and Collins decides to give up on the whole expedition, when they are kidnapped by a lost tribe. Thanks to a hallucinogenic rite of passage, Collins has a vision in which Gaia tells him he's the Chosen One and must save the planet from destruction. He rallies the team to give it one more go.
Armed with renewed sense of purpose, Collins leads his crew on a race against time to save these deranged creatures. The expeditions become increasingly dangerous and lives are lost. It appears that there are several mercenary units all competing for the same prize - the most formidable team being led by the highly mysterious and exceedingly dangerous, Kuromizu.
......Short Synopsis Truncated for purposes of brevity in this post......
<same as above>
Collins, our protagonist, is a Bounder and Idealist, suffering from vanity, pride, and arrogance. He craves exploration and achievement, but is hopelessly unlucky and, consequently, prone to bouts of self-doubt. Charismatic, but highly unpredictable, he easily leads others into life-threatening situations without any concern for anyone else. He needs tolerance, companionship, and stability in his life, but his wants take him in the opposite direction.
Trevor is the Sidekick. He wants to feel as if he is loved (or, even, adored by someone, so he can dump them). He wants to belong to a group, but plays the lone wolf, against his true nature. He wants make him easy to manipulate, because he is motivated by selfishness and lust. He needs to learn to have a higher opinion of himself, before he can see the good in others.
Kuromizu is the antagonist and Master. Under his cool exterior is a highly capricious and manipulative personality, seething with a desire for revenge. He craves recognition for his brilliance and doesn't suffer fools in the slightest. He needs to find humility and to see the error of his ways.