Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A most wonderfully simple guide to storytelling

A good chap by the name of Tommy Tomlinson has posted a great piece on the basic structure of story telling. Apologies in advance Tommy, I know it's a bit rich of me to post so much of your post here!


"... I’m gonna draw three objects.
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This is a sympathetic character. It’s probably someone you like, but at the very least it’s someone you’re emotionally invested in. You care what happens to this person.
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This is a hurdle. It’s an obstacle of some kind — could be a bad guy, could be a physical challenge, could be some sort of internal emotional demon.

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And this is the pot of gold — some kind of goal, some kind of reward, physical or emotional or whatever.

story is the journey of this character you care about, confronting and dealing with this obstacle, to reach this pot of gold.

In addition to these three pictures, you need to answer two questions:

1. What’s the story about?

2. What’s it REALLY about?

Here’s what I mean.  What the story’s about is literally what happens in the narrative — who this character is, what goal he or she is trying to reach, what obstacle is in the way. The unique set of facts.

What the story’s REALLY about is a way of saying, what’s the point? What’s the universal meaning that someone should draw from this story? What’s the lesson?

When you think about it that way, you’ll find that you end up with a second obstacle and a second goal.

Think about the first Rocky movie. What’s it about? It’s about a no-name boxer in Philly (sympathetic character) who gets a chance to fight the champ (obstacle) and goes the distance (pot of gold).
He doesn’t win the fight — they saved that for Rocky II. The goal isn’t always the ultimate prize. Sometimes the goal is completing the journey. Proving you can go the distance is a worthy goal in itself.

But what’s the movie REALLY about? In a larger sense, the obstacle is not Apollo Creed. The obstacle is Rocky’s own self-doubt. The goal is making something of himself, not just out of pride but so he can prove himself to Paulie and feel worthy of Adrian’s love.

Why is that second layer of meaning important? Because not everybody is a professional boxer. But all of us have doubted ourselves and had other people doubt us. All of us have had the universal feeling of knowing that going the distance is a victory in itself.

(hat-tip to Tim Harford for tweeting the link)

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