‘Tis the season to be analogous, it seems. At least here on Storyfix.
Two days ago I offered up a way to think about your story that may help bring it to a more fulfilled life – try thinking about it as a person, a human being, with all the complexities and contradictions and inherent imperfections that the real world imposes on those of us who claim to be part of that species.
Ba da bing, instant character depth and ambient narrative richness.
Here’s another one. Call it a metaphor if you prefer, doesn’t matter. This baby cuts even deeper, and more directly, into the effectiveness of your story. Because it measures the most critical and core things that make it work.
This time, think of your story as a balance sheet.
A balance sheet is a financial snapshot that quantifies an entity’s assets and liabilities. Stories have assets and liabilities, too – nobody said this was an exact science, so by definition liabilities become part of the process – which is why this metaphor can be directly applied to see where your story stands.
The key word there is snapshot. As in, a frozen moment in time.
You may justify a momentary lapse in the pace and richness of your story as necessary to setting something up. But that can be your fatal flaw, because like driving a bus on a crowded freeway – yet another analogy that applies, because you can’t totally control what the reader is thinking – momentary lapses can kill you.
In business, those moments are usually the end of a quarter or fiscal year. In your story, those moments can and should be… anywhere.
The Constant Need for Forward Movement
You could make a case for doing this balance sheet analysis at the major story milestones, which would indeed be brilliantly productive, so have at it. But with storytelling, every moment in the reading experience counts, which is why you should expand this approach to each page of your manuscript.
There are specific criteria – think of them as values, as variables, as heat or energy – that define the reading experience. If they are lacking, weak or unclear, the read suffers. If they are on fire, the reader is hooked.
At any given moment in your story – any being the key word now – what is the reader…
… thinking or feeling?
… rooting for?
… experiencing in terms of dramatic tension?
… empathizing with?
Go to any moment in your story and make an honest assessment of where these factors stand.
A lapse in any one, and especially in two or more at once, could result in the reader losing interest, perhaps putting the book or screenplay down altogether. And you may be shocked with how often it happens in your story.
If it does in the first 20 pages – much trickier territory in which to make these work – the agent or editor or producer will simply put the manuscript down. As in, plop it on the return to sender pile.
Lapses Are Never By Design. Neither are Heart Attacks.
It’s easy to get side-tracked when spinning our stories. There is backstory to craft, story points to set up, settings to describe, thematic wonders to ponder. All put dramatic tension and pace at risk, each and every time you go there.
So put your accountant glasses on and take another gander at your story, viewing and analyzing each moment as you would a balance sheet.
Do your assets outweigh your liabilities? And even if they do, is there a way to mitigate those liabilities without rewriting your business plan?
Sometimes awareness is all it takes. And you are rarely fully aware as you write, because you are so immersed in the moment at hand.
You might just find that while you assumed the story as a whole was working just fine, there is a liability laying in wait, ready to bring the whole thing to its knees.
An infusion of artful capital will fix everything when you do.