Friday, April 27, 2012

My Observations On Story Telling

I wrote this on a forum and thought I would throw it in here because I can. It's about story telling.

I don't have much writing experience but comics/graphic novels are something I want to do, and therefore I have made a number of observations about story telling. These are things I've learned both by listening to authors and analyzing stories.

First, and I believe most important, are characters. You can have a mediocre story, and if the characters are well developed and the dialogue is believable, you can at least hold your audience' attention. Perhaps even receive their praise!
I first observed this while watching "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (NOT SHYAMALAN'S.) Some might disagree, but I thought the story idea was mediocre and cliche. The use of the four elements, an Asian fantasy world, factions at war, kids saving the day, it's all been done a thousand times. What made the series #1 on my list was, the characters were solid. They started out well-developed, with individual personalities, but on top of that they all transformed as the seasons went on. Watching Aang become a savior, Socka awkwardly become a leader, Zuko become a humble good-guy, Aang and Katara fall in love--those things made me love them. They held me in that cliche world.
(Side note, the idea might have been cliche but the story telling and plot twists were excellent.)

SO! Characters. Huge. I began looking at my other favorite stories and seeing the same thing applied. If we love the characters, we will care what happens to them. If a red shirt dies in Star Trek, no one bats an eye. But when Jean Luc Picard was assimilated into a borg, it became one of the most remembered two episodes in the entire Star Trek franchise. People knew him. People cared.

The next point is about surprises. This is something I read from an author but I can't remember who. :(
He said, think of your favorite story and it will likely have an unexpected and satisfying twist. If not a twist then maybe some hints leading up to a climactic reveal. (The more the merrier, I say!) A character betrays someone, a hero steps in, a plan fails. Whatever the case, it needs to satisfy the audience. If something happens outside a character's nature, the readers might accept it but they might say, "No, it doesn't make sense!" So the surprise should have clues leading up, to suggest the twist or reveal is plausible. Not beyond the realm of possibility.

(spoilers ahead)

  • In the remake of the Italian Job, their heist failed, so they had to use their method at the beginning of the movie as a plan B.
  • In Psycho, the hotel guy was not only a killer but he also had a split personality.
  • In Jaws, they drop hints about the shark's size, until finally the guy, dumbfounded, comes out and says, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." (such an awesome moment.)
  • Same with Hitchcock's "Birds". He spends half the movie developing characters and dropping hints that something is wrong with the birds. Finally things spin out of control and the suspense is huge as the lady walks by the jungle gym full of them.
(end spoilers)

I like humor. Even my favorite depressing/serious stories have humor in them. I believe it's a necessity.

Competition and struggle are important. Characters do well with situations to challenge them and goals to work towards. It's a sure way to bring out their personality traits. Sure, if you're great at developing characters, you can have a story about people in a room talking and still captivate the audience. But struggle is generally the easiest way I think, to bring out personality. Challenging the characters' morality is good too. Morality is something the audience can identify with. Play with your character's emotions. Make them feel and the audience will feel with them.

An interesting story is less important than the list above, but obviously it's a good way to get readers to pick your book/movie off the shelf of 100 others. Nerds are suckers for Marvel Team-ups, giant monsters, bears vs. sharks, Hulk vs. Thing. Society follows trends, vampires, zombies, ninjas, pirates, etc. When people hear a plot summary they should want more.
Engaging opening scenes are also good. You want to hook readers from the start.

Consider using contrasts. Hero vs. villain, love mixed with loss, laughter paired with sorrow, opposite beliefs in contention with each other, etc.

I guess that's about all I've got for now. Those are things I try to consider when I write. Mostly it takes practice.