Story Is Story No Matter the Size


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As Seen On

The principles of telling an effective story apply to narratives of all shapes and sizes – even bite-sized stories like the one in the totally absurd (and hilarious) SNL sketch, “Potato Chip,” written by Will Forte and John Solomon.

One of the reasons I wanted to share this sketch as an example is because it’s such a lovely microcosm of all of the story principles we talk about here. Even though the content is so ridiculous you might almost think it’s breaking all the “rules”, it actually uses the same story essentials you’d find in any longer-form story and has strong structure, too.

The essential building blocks of any story

Every story is essentially, “Someone wants something badly and goes after it despite strong opposition.” When you break it down, that gives us the essential building blocks of the story:

  • Someone (a character)
  • Wants something (a goal)
  • Badly (stakes/meaning/motivation)
  • Goes after it (takes action)
  • Strong opposition (an antagonist or source of conflict)

You’ll find these essential elements in everything from feature-length stories, to individual storylines in a single episode of TV, to short comedic sketches.

The “Potato Chip” sketch

If you haven’t already seen it, let me introduce you to “Potato Chip.” It’s one of the weirdest SNL sketches I’ve seen, and I love it. I think it’s best if you watch it with fresh eyes so I won’t summarize it here. But if you watch it and then want more background, here’s a sort of oral history of the sketch.

And the sketch itself:

Setting up the essentials

In this sketch, we have two main characters with opposing goals, Eamon (Jason Sudeikis) and Greenblatt (Will Forte).

What do we know about each of these characters?

Eamon: The scene’s protagonist, he is a southern gentleman for whom it is very important to fulfill his dream of becoming a NASA astronaut. His in-scene goal is to get away with eating one of Greenblatt’s potato chips.

Greenblatt: The scene’s antagonist, he is in a position of some authority at NASA, and has some responsibility for vetting new astronauts. He is very hungry, has a bowl of potato chips, and wants them all for himself.

All of this setup occurs within the first 90 seconds or so of the sketch, and it provides the context we need to understand the story:

“Someone wants something badly and goes after it despite strong opposition.”

  • Someone (Eamon)
  • Wants something (to get away with eating a potato chip)
  • Badly (if he fails, his dream of becoming an astronaut will be in jeopardy)
  • Goes after it (eats the chip, vehemently denies it, and then tries to make it right)
  • Strong opposition (Greenblatt, owner of potato chips, who holds Eamon’s space-fate in his hands)

In a feature-length script, we’d establish all of the context for the main conflict in Act 1. That way we’d have the information we need in order to understand what’s happening and what it all means in the “goes after it” part of the story, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The importance of investing us in character

If the story is a rollercoaster, the protagonist character is sort of like the car we’re strapped into for the duration of the ride.

That’s why one of the first and most effective things you can do in your story is to orient us to the main character. Basically, get us in the car by mentally and emotionally “strapping” us to the protagonist.

Because we don’t care about events, we care about people.

Or, maybe more accurately, we only care about events when we care about the people they’re happening to.

So if you want us to care about what’s happening in the story, then we first need to start caring about the character the events will happen to.

In a sketch-length story there’s less investment necessary because you only need to hold our attention span for a few minutes. (You’re taking us on a shorter ride.)

In a feature-length story, we generally need to become more aligned with and invested in the protagonist (although it varies for each story) if we’re going to ride along for a story of that duration.

Still, “Potato Chip” lets us know how important Eamon’s stakes are to him (even if they do it in a comedic way), which is one way to get us to start caring about a character.

Escalating the conflict

So once the conflict is established, we get into the “meat” of the story sandwich. And that is the protagonist’s pursuit of the goal and escalation of the conflict. This is the “goes after it” part of the story.

The beats that play out in this section of the sketch are:

  • Eamon eats Greenblatt’s chip and covers his tracks
  • Greenblatt returns and notices the loss, Eamon feigns innocence
  • Greenblatt confirms the loss with Janelda as Eamon looks on
  • Greenblatt accuses Eamon of thievery, Eamon denies any wrongdoing
  • Greenblatt tries to eject Eamon from his office, Eamon refuses to leave
  • Greenblatt “blacklists” Eamon and lists all of the things he’ll miss out on (re-stating the stakes)
  • Eamon continues to claim innocence as Greenblatt and Janelda call out his lying
  • Eamon asks them to stop taunting him
  • Greenblatt demands a confession
  • Eamon denies guilt
  • Greenblatt makes a second demand for confession, invoking Eamon’s shame (which is magnified by the fact that Eamon is a Southern Gentleman and beholden to a certain standard of behavior)
  • Eamon finally breaks and admits he took the chip.

In a feature-length screenplay, this section would make up Act 2. The protagonist pursues his goal consistently and urgently, as the antagonist pursues his goal with as much fervor. Conflict intensifies and stakes are raised along the way.

By the end of this section of the story, Eamon has reached a low point. It appears he’s failed to achieve his goal and his stakes are in jeopardy. And not only that, he’s also reached an emotional low point as he questions, what have I become??

But the story’s not over…

The resolution

The resolution part of this story happens in the final two minutes of the sketch. You see it begin when Eamon asks, “How can I make this right?” This marks the start of his final push to resolve the main conflict.

Even though his thievery and lying have been exposed, if he can make things right he might still have a chance of success, e.g. “getting away with” having eaten Greenblatt’s potato chip (his story goal). Eamon’s dream of becoming an astronaut (the stakes) still hangs in the balance.

“Making things right” is a new strategy to achieve the story goal, a common hallmark of the beginning of Act 3 in feature-length screenplays.

But ultimately, the new strategy still results in being turned away. Eamon “loses” the scene, and — at least for now — loses his chance to become a NASA astronaut.


On this Friday of the 34th week of the year, I hope “Potato Chip” sends you into your weekend with a smile.

But even if it’s not your brand of humor, there are still plenty of insights that can be applied to stories of all sizes. The essential story elements show up in effective stories across the spectrum, from feature-length stories down to individual scenes.

And — if nothing else — hopefully you can see in this example that relying on the essentials doesn’t mean your story will be formulaic or cliche. The essentials are the building blocks of an effective story, and create a showcase for your unique voice.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.