The Universal Fairy Tale — A Guest Post* by Art Holcomb

Art Holcomb is a regular contributor to Storyfix.  He’s a professional screenwriter and storyteller, and teaches writing at the university level, among other dark and scary places. 

The nice thing about having a regular contributor like Art is that he can bring us cool stuff from elsewhere, meaning this is a guest post* within a guest post. 

I’ll let Art explain.  L.


There are few things in life that I see and must immediately possess.

 This was one of them.

 To provoke that kind of response in me, the item must be both immensely valuable and unique.  I came across this guest post in the Huntington Post on April 16th (excerpt reproduced below) that sent me immediately to the Amazon Book site. What I found there is so simple and perfect that it belongs in the library of every fiction writer. 

This booklet takes but minutes to read, but I guarantee that you’ll be returning to it again and again as you write.  Although written for screenwriters, it relates easily to all types of fiction and  ranks up there with Larry’s STORY ENGINEERING and other books as a must-have reference and guide.

I’ll be using it in my screenwriting and graphic novel writing class this fall at UC Riverside, and at less than half the price of a fast food lunch, it’s one of the great values for writers everywhere.

My only regret – that I didn’t write it myself.  Enjoy!

Art Holcomb


The Screenwriter’s Fairy Tale by Todd Glick 


When my first book Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs To Know hit Amazon’s Top 5 for Film and Television books in December of 2011, and then #1 on Kindle for Screenwriting, it blew my mind and humbled me. You see, originally the information in that book wasn’t meant for the world at all. It was my own secret passion project to sharpen my writing skills. When you see the book on the shelves now, it’s all clean and tidy, but in reality the research process accumulated messy reams of dog-eared and tea-stained legal pads, a scratched stopwatch, a casualty of spent pens, and piles of over 300 scuffed-up DVDs of classic films.

This new work you’re about to read went through a similar process.

Why did I research so many movies? I wanted to get to the bottom of how stories worked so I could tell better yarns. The process reminded me of my teenage years. I loved peeking underneath the hood of my beat-ta-crap Chevy to see how the heap was put together. I would disassemble the individual parts that smelled of oil and gas, and study how they fit to make the engine rumble.

I’m that same way today with stories.

When you immerse yourself that deeply into figuring things out, you can’t help but walk away with a few insights. When I emerged from those four bleary-eyed years of story engine analysis, the knowledge I gained helped propel my stories towards the top of major screenwriting competitions, attracted options and script sales, and launched my book into the bestseller list, which led to other writing deals. But the coolest thing I gained from this whole journey, by far, was the worldwide emails from screenwriters who loved the book and benefited from it. It was those positive messages that inspired me to share even more insights.

Thus this new fable.

I adore screenwriters — we noble story warriors who toil countless hours alone in our rooms and in coffeeshops because we love movies so damn much. We savor how the stories make us feel, and we want — so desperately — to make others feel that same way. What a beautiful, precious cause.

This fable is dedicated to you.

In just a bit, you’ll be reading the exact same four-act fairy tale I wrote for myself to help me assemble the bare bones of a story; it’s also the template I use to write all my treatments. It’s a distillation of what I’ve found to be common in all successful movies — an archetypal story pattern used since the ancient Greeks. To help you even further, I included a matching paragraph-by-paragraph example of the Academy Award-winning film, The King’s Speech.

If you find The Screenwriter’s Fairy Tale useful, I’d love to hear from you. I’m at Oh, and please tell others about it.

All the very best, Noble Warrior.


Once upon a time, in every great movie ever made, there was an incomplete Boy who lived his normal everyday life in his normal everyday world. This Boy, who was orphaned in some way, desperately wanted something and thought that if he got that particular something, it would fix his incompleteness. He didn’t realize, however, that he had a much deeper problem on his hands — he possessed a stubborn flaw, which he was blind to. In fact, this flaw prevented him from getting what he really needed in his life: true happiness or enlightenment.

Going about his usual business, the Boy interacted with friends or a love interest and discussed that thing he desperately wanted. Some of his friends were nice and helpful, while others were mean. But just when the Boy was going to continue on repeating his same ol’ everyday habits, a predicament interrupted his life — a predicament that would eventually lead to the exposure of his flaw. The Boy found this predicament unsettling and feared it. In some cases, however, the predicament thrilled the Boy — he saw it as an opportunity. In this circumstance, his disquieted friends expressed fear for the Boy instead.

Soon after, the Boy met with a mentor. Sometimes the mentor was older and wiser and offered words of wisdom. Other times, the mentor appeared wise, but offered the wrong advice. Mulling over his chat with his mentor, the Boy realized that he still lacked something in his life. But the Boy didn’t understand why he lacked this something because his flaw still blinded him. In the midst of all these happenings, a bully made his presence known — a powerful adversary who would eventually find a way to exploit the Boy’s flaw in order to defeat him. As the Boy tried to maintain his bearings within his unraveling world, a startling life-changing event propelled him into uncharted territory.

End of excerpt.

Buy today for only $2.99 at


Do you see the four-part structure here?  (My screenwriter friends call it a three-part structure, but that’s more tradition than accurate).  Do you see the flow?  The set-up?  The First Plot Point?  The dramatic tension unfolding?

I think it’s brilliant, one of those truisms masked as cleverness wrapped in analogy packaged in metaphor and delivered as a frosted exercise in parallel interpretation.  Obvious, of course.


If you missed The Hunger Games deconstruction, click HERE for a menu of the posts in that series.

If you missed my June newsletter and would like to see what delicious writing mysteries I’ve shared with my secret cult of subscribers, click HERE.

Coming soon: The Amazing $100 Professional Story Coaching Adventure… get ready to save yourself a LOT of work.

QUICK NEWS FLASH: my book, Story Engineering, just won the General Non-Fiction category in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (sharing the top spot with another book, which isn’t about writing; scroll down to find the category, this is separate from the Grand Prize in that category… confusing, I agree).  Also, my book, Warm Hugs for Writers, was a finalist in the ebook category. 


Filed under Guest Bloggers

10 Responses to The Universal Fairy Tale — A Guest Post* by Art Holcomb

  1. Patrick Sullivan

    To Art: Out of curiosity did you read his other work on screenwriting? I read part of it and while interesting, for some reason it never clicked, which leaves me curious about a comparison between the two.

  2. Art Holcomb

    @Patrick: I did and found his book SOMETHING STARTLING HAPPENS a very usable reference as a source of film tropes and common story elements. I consider it useful when I’m stuck for a transition between scenes or when I want to see how other writers have handled tricky links. Give it a try again next time you find a weakness in your story – you may not end up using one of Todd’s examples but it may inspire you to find new ways out of tough situations.

    As for a comparison, each book is best used as a primer – something that gives you a new and fresh way to look at the fundamentals. I think they can go very well together.

    Good luck.

  3. kbrebes

    Got it; love it! Thanks. It helped me see the problem I have with my mc’s flaw.

  4. Looks very interesting. I’ve added it to my reading list.

    And congrats on your well-deserved NGIBA win, Larry.

  5. @Art. Thanks for the book suggestion.

    @Larry. Congratulations on your win

    @ Dear All.

    Warning to writers who back-up and leave the back-up on premises with the main computer.

    We had a break-in at our house. I had back ups two deep. Didn’t matter. Thief took it all. 98% of every thing I have written and every photograph since 2003 gone. All research. Every article. A Novel. Gone. Value to thief–0.

    When you back it up get one of the back-ups off premise. Thieves do break in and steal.

  6. Patrick Sullivan

    @Curtis – That isn’t even the only reason. Tornadoes, earthquakes, a fire, etc can wipe out everything in a physical location.

    ALWAYS do some form of offsite backup. Dropbox, mail CDs to a friend/family member in another state, whatever.

  7. mama

    I am absolutely floored. That excerpt is the beginning of my screenplay, without names or locations. …I think I’m going to go write some more now, I might just sell something…

  8. Thanks for that, just purchased. I know it will help to cement what I have only just begun learning!

  9. Pingback: A Small Step Forward « Ephemera Captured

  10. Paul Rose

    Just a nit-pick… His name is Todd Klick, not Glick.