Saturday, March 22, 2008

'The Wire' and storytelling

For those of you who missed the bagger, here are some things that translate to our own conflict/resolution storytelling:

Big open
What we can learn
A story with multiple storylines can benefit from an opening that focuses on action and propels the storylines forward and sets up the major conflicts that will keep readers going.
-Five coaches are chasing one prized basketball recruit
-Rescue crews arrive at the scene of a daunting task (a big fire, a guy impaled on a fence …)

What we can learn
When you have multiple storylines, vary the pace of action. Short scenes amid longer ones stand out and call attention to themselves, and also quicken the pace; longer scenes can be used to slow a reader down, make them pay attention to detail. Ending a scene with a tease (see below) helps push the reader through the storylines to find out what happened next.
Someone is rushed to the hospital, his life in danger (quick scenes, rapid pace). The surgeon delicately and methodically performs open heart surgery to save his life (longer scenes, more detail, aiming for total immersion on the part of your reader).

What we can learn
Know where each of your storylines is going, and break them down into parts that allow you to write scenes that move the piece forward, but don’t prematurely ‘end’ the storyline or give too much away.
Let’s say you’re following a high school team through a season. You have five main characters, each with her own conflict as the team tries to win a championship.
You will know through your reporting what each girl has at stake, what her successes and failures are during the year, and how her story ultimately turns out. So you can weave your five individual stories together, bringing them together at the end with whether the team wins.

What we can learn
This is where you deliver the info that may not be part of the true narrative, but is needed for someone to understand what’s happening. You can step away, briefly, from the true action of the story to catch people up on what they need to know and set them up for what is to come.
If you’re writing about an agoraphobic, you’ll need to deliver information about the illness. If you’re writing about two people trapped in a car in a flooded creek, you’ll have to say how they got there. If you're writing about the opening night of a new restaurant, you'll need to say how the proprieters got started.

Big close
What we can learn
You can rely on action to bring the story home. You’ve set the story in motion at the beginning, you’ve advanced each storyline to a critical point, and you’ve done all the re-setting you need to do. Now just show the reader what happens.
This is where the recruit calls four coaches to tell them no, and one to tell him yes.
It’s where the surgeon makes the critical cut to save the man on the operating room table.
It’s where the high school basketball team wins or loses.
It's where the new restaurant soars or flops on opening night.
It’s where the rescue crews get the guy off the fence, or lose the two people in the floodwater.