Saturday, February 24, 2024

Crafting Compelling Stories: A Hollywood Formula for Success

by Zena Dell Lowe @ZenaDellLowe

Unlocking the Secrets of a Blockbuster Story

As writers, the dream of Hollywood recognition often feels like an elusive fantasy, reserved for the lucky few. Still, most of us can’t help but to wonder about it, and we certainly understand why it should matter to novelists. 

Hollywood's love for adapting books into movies is the key. By turning a successful book into a film, they tap into a pre-existing audience, reducing the risk of failure. Your published book signals viability and an existing fan base, making it desirable for adaptation. Think J.K. Rowling, who not only made a fortune from her books but also laughed all the way to the bank with the movie adaptations.

Now, making money shouldn't be the sole motivation for writing, but dreaming big and testing your story against Hollywood's standards can undoubtedly elevate your craft. The question is, in a saturated market, how can novelists hope to get the attention from Hollywood that they seek?

The good news is, it might not be as difficult as you think. 

Today, I want to encourage you on your quest to make your story not just good, but Hollywood-worthy. We’ll dive into a formula—Heart, Smarts, and Sparkle—that helps Hollywood assess the potential of your story. By tapping into this formula, you give yourself a much greater chance to get noticed.

Heart, Smarts, and Sparkle – The New Lingo

In the old days of story evaluation, Aristotle identified three key ingredients that every great story must have. He called these Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. We’re just updating the terms to give them a Hollywoodized shine, but the basic ingredients remain the same. 

Heart: Forging an Unbreakable Connection

The heart of any story lies in the emotional connection it forges with the audience through the main character. Regardless of whether your character is likable, sympathetic, or intriguing, this emotional bond is non-negotiable. Unless your audience emotionally commits to your character's journey, there is no story. The key of any story is a compelling main character. You must create one that the audiences is willing to invest in, and that’s the heart connection you need to succeed.

Smarts: Unveiling Originality and Insight

Smarts, the second element of our formula, comes in two flavors: arena and insight. The smartness of your story lies in showcasing a world or perspective that's fresh and original. Avoid clich├ęs, offer new insights, take the audience to a world they’ve never seen before, and build themes that resonate. Whether it's through the setting, like the fish market down the street, or profound themes, smartness ensures your story stands out.

Sparkle: The Elusive Magic Touch

The third and arguably most critical component is Sparkle—the extra magic that bedazzles your story. While it might be the trickiest to control, your story must possess it. Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow was the sparkle in Pirates of the Caribbean. Otherwise, it would have been a conventional pirate movie. Unfortunately, the writer had no control over that, but M. Night Shyamalan had control over it when he wrote the twist ending of The Sixth Sense. J.K. Rowling's magical world in Harry Potter showcases not only how the extra magic can elevate a story, but also how it can be cultivated by the writer if they have the right story to tell. 

While you may not be able to entirely control it, cultivating great characters and originality increases the chances of discovering that indescribable sparkle. Sparkle often emerges unexpectedly, but by focusing on creating a great character and infusing originality, you set the stage for that enchanting quality.

Final Thoughts: Testing Your Story for Hollywood

The question is: Is your story good before Hollywood? This formula, Heart, Smarts, and Sparkle, provides a lens through which to assess your story's potential. Keep in mind that building a Hollywood-worthy story is a step-by-step process. This is just one layer of many for you to evaluate. If you can identify these three things in your current WIP, you may be well on your way to crafting a compelling narrative that Hollywood will enjoy. 

For more insights into the world of Hollywood, sign up for my new online course, Hollywood Story Structure Made Easy! Become an early adopter today and learn everything you need to know to write a best-selling novel. Go to to learn more.


Zena has worked professionally in the entertainment industry for over 20 years as a writer, producer, director, actress, and story consultant. Zena also teaches advanced classes on writing all over the country. As a writer, Zena has won numerous awards for her work. She also has several feature film projects in development through her independent production company, Mission Ranch Films. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Zena launched The Storyteller’s Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast designed to serve the whole artist, not just focus on craft. In 2021, Zena launched The Storyteller’s Mission Online Platform, where she offers advanced classes and other key services to writers. Zena loves story and loves to support storytellers. Her passion is to equip artists of all levels to achieve excellence at their craft, so that they will truly have everything they need to change the world for the better through story.

To find out more about Zena or her current courses and projects, check out her websites at WWW.MISSIONRANCHFILMS.COM and WWW.THESTORYTELLERSMISSION.COM


  1. Zena,

    Thank you for this eye-opening look at storytelling in Hollywood. There are wide open opportunities for the right pitch or story. Your intriguing formula and explanation helps open the possibilities.

    author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]