A Dreamer Walking

Invisable Ink- Is Something There?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 26, 2011

“Why do people tell stories? The stories that tend to stick to our bones are those that teach us something. This, I believe, is the primary reason we tell stories–to teach.”

This is how Brian McDonald started the third chapter of his book Invisible Ink. I don’t think I can open up on this subject much better then the way he did… so I have chosen not to.

Why do we write stories? It seems one big “no no” is to create stories that have a message. I can not tell you how many commentaries and film documentaries I have watched or listened to in which the director and other filmmakers try desperately to avoid saying they are giving us a message through their movie. For some reason they feel if a film is admitted to having a “message” it begins to be more like an after school PBS TV special then an actual piece of entertainment. Why this concept has spread I do not know.

We must not be afraid of embracing the kind of storytelling that will impact our audience in more profound ways then making them say “ooh” and “aw” whenever they see a cool camera move or special effect. Storytelling that lasts is storytelling that impacts. You can not impact someone with your story if you do not have anything to really say. As McDonald says, you need to develop an armature. McDonald explains an armature like this, “For us story-crafters, the armature is the idea upon which we hang our story”.

What is the fundamental idea you are wanting to hit on with your story? What makes the story worth telling? Simply put, what is the storie’s heart? Usually you can explain the heart in a sentence or two. A good example would be Pixar’s The Incredibles. The armature for The Incredibles could easily be, “Family is more important then any possession or title“. At the beginning and through the middle of the film we see Mr. Incredible desperately trying to regain the affections and luxuries of being a Superhero. The heart of the story is about Mr. Incredible realizing his most valuable possession is his family. Everything done in the movie is in support of the overall message of family. We learn from Mr. Incredible’s experiences. Throughout the movie the story teaches us fundamental values in extremely entertaining ways. The values are the things that are going to last long after we leave the movie theater, not the sweet special effects and camera movements (and let me tell you The Incredibles had a lot).

In essence McDonald explains the armature as the theme of our story. One crucial detail to understand is a theme is not a word, it is a sentence. Our theme can not be something like “Anger”. Theme is not a subject like “Baseball” or “Hacking”. The theme is the moral or point of our story. It must be explained. An example would be, “Anger will lead to destruction” or, “Baseball is a game of discipline”.  Everything else in the story we are telling must be built to support our theme. If a character or a scenario is not contributing to our overall theme, there is no reason to have it be in the story.

A good way to study theme is to study Pixar and Disney animated films. Animation usually tries to simplify everything. In animation usually there is a clear antagonist and clear protagonist and the story has a clear and usually simple message. All the extra weight is cut off to create a simple 90 minute film that will entertain all age groups. In no way am I trying to demean the significance of family films. I find the simplest of messages are often the most profound. Finding Nemo, Up, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio, are some of the most influential movies I have ever watched. They are also movies that have a message the rest of the elements of the story are supporting to the highest extant possible. As I started to explain in my last post, the hard part of movie making is not making the story more sophisticated but rather making the movie have meaning that is supported by all the elements of cinema. This is what takes a overwhelming amount of effort, dedication, and time. But I guarantee you it is worth it!

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