Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Good News, Bad News...

Here's another post, in a similar vein to the last one. Another idea about how to structure a story to keep the audience involved.

I just finished watching the second season of "Entourage" on DVD. Since I don't have HBO now I have to wait for season three to come out on DVD. Bummer.

Anyway, as you watch the show you see a familiar pattern to the storytelling emerge. A simple trick that gives you a great way to structure any story and keeps the audience involved and guessing what will happen next.

Basically, you give your character a goal that they want very much. They struggle to get that goal and you get a lot of great storytelling and character out of how they go about trying to reach their goal.

Finally, they succeed and reach their goal. For a brief moment it seems like the answer to all their prayers. Everything is great!

Then a new wrinkle develops. Now the "best thing that could have happened" turns out to be a curse in disguise. The character wishes he had never gotten what he wanted in the first place. He tries to get out of it. More great storytelling and character oppourtunities as we watch him try to finagle his way out of what the thought he always wanted.

Then another new wrinkle develops. It turns out that there is another new dimension to this problem and that it will all turn out to be a good thing. Just when our hero was finally extricated from the situation, something else came into play and now his original goal is what he wants again. Now he has to get back into a situation that he was trying to get out of before!

The easiest way to explain it is to approach your story by asking: what's the best thing that could happen to my protagonist? How could that turn out to be the worst thing?

It helps create a story that has the feel of a roller coaster. And we like to see heroes pushed to the limits of happiness and despair, so this is a good way to find where those areas lie for your hero. Nobody wants to follow a story where the hero is moderately satisfied all the time. We want to see the extremes of their emotions - good and bad.

"Entourage" adds another great dimension to this technique. There are basically five main characters on the show. They all have different desires and goals. So when one of them gets what they wants, another one is usually losing what they wanted to get. It never happens that everybody is happy at once; when two people are happy then the other three are miserable. This makes for great drama. As one person comes to a decision or intiates an action you instantly know how all the others will react and you are further compelled into the drama as you wait to see how it will all unfold. A great thing to do when telling a story.

Sounds simple. Easy to say, hard to do, but it sure works!

5 comments:

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Now I know why I love "Closer" so much!

Steve said...

Lovin these last to posts Mark, I really enjoy when you talk about story... always helps me understand a little more...

Thanks for the posts =]

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoy it Steve!

Lee-Roy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Very cool design! Useful information. Go on! »