When I’ve got a workshop coming up, I like to post a tip or two about it – it’s a bonus for those who can’t make it, and an appetiser for those who can. Tomorrow night I’ve got an evening on True Stories, so I’ve been thinking about Truth.

True stories can be a massive elephant trap. I know, I’ve fallen in more than once. Like pebbles straight out of the sea, they seem so gleaming and fresh and full of potential – until a few weeks or months of writing dulls the sheen. And then you realise the first tip: Being true is never enough.

A true story still needs to have a strong spine to it. It’s all too easy to be seduced by all those exciting incidents into thinking there’s actually a movie or TV drama there, when all there is turns out to be a series of dramatic scenes with no link.

So, tip number two is:

Find the through line

The through line is anything that hangs the whole project together from beginning to end. That may well be a strong action line, or goal, though true stories tend to be less easily organised than that.

So you may have to find a strong theme to link  it all together. Such a theme might be the Goodfellas line “I always wanted to be a gangster.” In this very episodic story, that sentence, spoken right at the start, underlies everything that happens, although there is no single action line as you’d find it in a more conventional film.

There are other possible through lines. You could centre the whole story on a relationship line, or a character line, on a time (September 11, say), even on a location (Lawrence of Arabia) or prop (such as Enigma).

Until you’ve found that single unifying link, your True Story will be nothing more than a series of nice scenes in search of a script.

If you’re interested in coming to the True Story & Biopic workshop in London – there are just two places left for tomorrow night (6pm November 30 2010)  at £45 each (including three  free scripts to keep)  – click here to find out more.