Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Story is a Cypher

Give your audience all the secrets of your story, but give it to them in code. Then treat the remainder of your tale as that code's key. The earlier you give this information, the more concise you have to be, and the more central the symbols you use are.

LOST is coming to a close. Only one episode left before the series finale. The show has demonstrated this formula since the pilot episode, and we are only now beginning to understand the significance of symbols from Season 1. I will go more in depth in my weekly LOST post tomorrow.

This approach requires a firm understanding of the world in which your story is told. It doesn't have to have the same rules as the real world, but it has to have and follow its own rules. Moreover, the audience has to get the sense that what is happening (strange as it may be) is happening according to unknown rules. This is difficult to do without revealing secrets. The creator has to demonstrate the patterns of truth and the story's integrity to that truth by using symbols and "microcosms."

The audience is ready to suspend its disbelief when it agrees to partake of your story, but that suspension is limited to the introductory parts. After that, the audience's trust is won by keeping the promises made early on. It is better, I think, not to ask your audience to suspend its disbelief, but to give a story upon which to rest its belief.

The creators ultimately need to know where they stand on deep human issues (issues of nature and nurture, good and evil). Without this understanding, it is impossible to create integrity within the story. Without that integrity, it is impossible to create the stability necessary for a rabid ├╝berfanbase. So a fair foundation of humanity is essential to a megahit.

The symbols and microcosms must be anchored in philosophy, even if its not explicit. In fact, the philosophical discussion should wait until the resolution phase of your story. A tangible code—one which resonates with people—will compel the search for answers, developing loyalty. The answers must then be worthy, or the audience will feel betrayed.
FEATURED MEDIA: LOST - The groundbreaking epic about life and purpose, and more specifically, getting lost on the path.

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