A Tale of Two (or more) Stories
During Coffee-4-Crit, a story consultation service I’ve started while attending The Center for Cartoon Studies MFA program (UPDATE: I’m not currently taking any story consulting gigs. Thank you.), I’ve found that one of the most common problems (in both the writing of others and in my own) is when one story tells more than one story.
What do I mean by that? Each story is about one thing. There is one protagonist dealing with one problem, and while writing, we can lose focus from that one thing.
If this happens to you, don’t worry. It happens all the time. It’s really easy to do.
We may have too many awesome ideas, too many interesting characters or we get confused over what something truly means to us, whatever the reason, we get distracted from the point (to have our protagonist encounter a problem) and we start telling more than one story (two or more protagonists and/or two or more problems).
1) Imitate — Find good movies or books where protagonists deal with a problem similar to your story and imitate their plots – keyword being “imitate”, not “duplicate” (I do not advise ripping off other projects. Instead, use it as a learning tool).
I use the book Save the Cat for this approach (see my book review entry). The author, Blake Snyder, has done the legwork for you, categorizing movies based on problems the protagonist must face which he calls Storytypes. Love stories, monster stories, road trip/journey stories, etc. Each Storytype covers the same problem, but each does so in it’s own way. The examples are all movies, but the same patterns apply to comic stories as well.
& 2) Write a logline – one sentence describing the protagonist and the tangible problem that forces/inspires them to change (If the problem is intangible, you’re dealing with the theme, not the problem) – then, have an analytical person read the story and tell you what it’s about. If they don’t match, you’ve got a problem.
Typically, I can’t write a good logline until after my first draft. I have to muck everything up before I realize where it’s supposed to go.
I hope that helps.
If not, send me your script and we’ll talk in more detail…over coffee. (UPDATE: I’m not currently taking any story consulting gigs. Thank you.)
P.S. For an example of a professional story with this problem, see my next entry about Watchmen.