Intellect: The Brain of Your Story

As your emotion cubby was the heart of your story, your intellect cubby is the brain.

You need to incorporate into your story a theme that is intellectual in nature.

An interesting and thought-provoking idea. What kind of stuff?

Something related to science, philosophy, technology, math, pattern recognition, economics, social sciences – whatever.

The most effective intellect lines take the form of philosophical questions.

Big, unanswerable questions that really make an audience think.

The reason these work, is because there is no one right answer – it’s a question that’s meant to be mulled over long after the story is done. An idea that’s just as interesting to consider fully and deeply, as it would be to come to any specific conclusion.

Like questioning the nature of reality.
We see this in The Matrix, Inception, and Vanilla Sky.

But most of the intellect lines you see are a bit more straight forward. They are usually just interesting ideas that are intellectually stimulating.

Like examining the “american dream.”
We see this in The Great Gatsby and American Beauty.

Once you have an idea worth talking about…

Isolate the central overarching theme, then express it in different forms throughout the course of the story.

Sound familiar? The easiest way to do this, is to follow the four act structure.

Say your intellect line is: examining the limits of technology.

  • Act 1: you’re exploring the boundless potential of groundbreaking, new technologies.
  • Act 2: you focus on the benefits of such technology.
  • Act 3: you lean on the costs of such a gift.
  • Act 4: you focus on the moral ramifications of the use of this new tech.

Another way to look at it:

  • Potential.
  • Benefits.
  • Costs.
  • Ramifications.

Another way to look at it:

  • Establish.
  • Positive.
  • Negative.
  • Resolution.

Following the four acts gives you a good structure through which to explore the different sides and different expressions of the main intellectual theme.

Your intellect line is here to make sure you infuse your story with some brains. Really bake in some concerns of the human mind. But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to teach your audience something. Get them thinking, engaged, expanding their minds – so that they leave your story better off than when it started.

Emotion: The Heart of Your Story

A theme that takes care to create an emotional experience in your audience.

This is the responsibility of your emotion cubby.

You’ve got to make them feel. They’ve got to care, they’ve got to invest in your characters and the events of your story.

How do you do this?

First, you want to choose an overall emotional concept.

An emotional theme.

The most effective emotional themes are the primal ones.

We talked about primal desires a few cubbies back – let’s take a look at primal emotions.

These are the basic, most easily understood emotions we animals feel. We’re talkin’ the kind of emotional themes that grip deep inside us.

Primal Emotional Themes:

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Joy
  • Sorrow
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Lust
  • Etc…

Whichever you go with, you’ve got to keep in mind:

This theme is the main thing you want your audience to feel during your story.

It’s about emotion. What do you want them to feel?

A few details:

You want to make sure you don’t get too intellectual or philosophical with your emotional theme. This cubby is all about emotion. Feelings. If you get too heady with it, you’ll lose the heart.

Also, take care to make sure your emotion line has something to say.
Pick your central emotion, but then explore the positive and negative sides of that emotion. Really dig in and get interesting with it. Push the emotion in different directions with different expressions and perceptions. Re-define these emotions as much as you can.

So how do we do it?

Choose your primary emotion – then break things down into the four act structure.

Your primary emotional theme will be present throughout the entire story. But you also want to select related sub-emotions to explore during each specific act.

Say your main theme is: anger.

  • Act 1: resentment
  • Act 2: frustration
  • Act 3: rage
  • Act 4: catharsis

Notice anger, as a concept, is ever-present. But each act gets a specific expression of anger to explore.

In the end, you want to make sure you lean on your ultimate point about anger. What are you trying to say about anger? Whatever that might be, bring it to a head in act 4.

Depending on what you’re looking for, your emotion line can be very simple or complex. Whatever you go with, the emotion line is absolutely essential.

We can’t overstate its importance enough.

A story without an emotion line is a hollow shell.

Moral: The Meaning of Your Story

The moral of any story is the meaning.

The reason the story is being told.

The point.

But what does that mean practically?

A “moral” is a value judgment being made about an aspect of human behavior.

An opinion, that takes a look at some human action/state/behavior and decides if it’s positive or negative.

Ex: “Killing is evil.”

That’s a very simplistic one, but you get the point. It’s a definitive value judgment being made about human behavior.

Usually the true moral of a story won’t be completely revealed until the end. It’s in the final resolution of your tale that the final moral judgement is communicated.

But how do we do this?

How do we bake a moral into our story?
Just have somebody say “killing’s bad” in the final scene while a beloved character dies?


First you need to craft a “moral statement.” A full moral statement is a judgement, with a justification.

Ex: “Killing is evil because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.”

We’re making a judgement: killing is evil.
But we’re also giving a specific reason that this is so: because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.

Now that we have this full moral statement, we’ve got to find a way to weave it into the fabric of our story. How do we do that?

We look at the core idea behind that moral statement (the issue of killing), and come up with different ways to argue the various sides of the issue. At the end of the story, we’ll land on the side our full moral statement references.

By the end, our story will have “argued” the various sides of the issue to such a satisfactory degree, that the full moral statement, and its judgement, won’t feel like a subjective opinion anymore. It’ll feel more like an objective fact.

So how do we do this “arguing” through the structure of the story?

There are three different methods:

  • Pro/Con
  • Inverse
  • Four Point Alternation


It’s what is sounds like.

You have a moral statement, and you explore the positive side and negative side.

Ultimately falling on one side of the argument, by the end of your story.

What’s that look like?

  • You give some attention to the idea that killing is evil.
  • You give some attention to the idea that killing is good.

You explore both the “pro” and “con” of your moral statement idea.

By the end, you completely communicate your moral statement by falling on the side of the argument that you originally intended and designed. In this case, you fall on the side of killing being evil.

And you demonstrate this fact in the end, with the “because” – it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.


You pit one idea against its inverse – the opposite, contradictory expression of the idea.

What’s our first idea?
It’s about killing. Specifically that killing is evil.

What’s the inverse?
It’s not that killing is good.
That’s pro/con type thinking.

Okay, so what’s the real inverse?
It’s that keeping people alive is evil.


  • You give some attention to the idea that killing people is evil.
  • You give some attention to the idea that keeping people alive is evil.

Then you end your story on the moral statement you crafted before you began:
Killing is evil – because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.

Four Point Alternation

This is the most complex form of moral argument.

You have one idea, and you put it in direct conflict with another, separate, idea.

Let’s say “killing is the source of all sorrow” vs. “selfishness is the source of all sorrow.” Two different ideas. Notice that in this argument, the source of sorrow can’t really be both. It’s got to be one or the other.

Okay, well now we have two points of argument. But it’s called “four” point alternation. Where are the other two points?

Well, we take these two ideas, and we apply either the pro/con method, or the inverse method, to both of them.

For our example here, let’s use the inverse:

  • Killing is the source of all sorrow.

and (its inverse):

  • Keeping people alive is the source of all sorrow.


  • Selfishness is the source of all sorrow.

and (its inverse):

  • Altruism is the source of all sorrow.

We now have four points to argue. That’s a packed moral argument!

As you go through your story, you weave these ideas into your plot, your characters, and your scenes. Each movement forward is making one of these four arguments.

By the end of your story, you land on one statement as the ultimate truth.

To sum up!

Four Point Alternation:

The most complex form of moral argument. Very effective when you have two different ideas in direct conflict with one another. You get to explore each idea, and each idea’s positive and negative sides.

The Inverse Method:

Better when you want to focus on just one central concept, and explore it in full.


Best when you want a more simplistic examination of just one idea. And suss out whether it’s good or bad.

Go with whichever method feels best for your story.

But you’ve got to have one of ’em. Otherwise, no matter how good your story is, it’ll ultimately be without meaning.