Next Best Analogy – Put Your Banker Hat On

‘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?

… anticipating?

… 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.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Next Best Analogy – Put Your Banker Hat On

  1. Dale

    An unexpectedly apt analogy which ties in very well with focusing on the reader’s experience. Thanks!

  2. “what is the reader…
    … thinking or feeling?
    … anticipating?
    … rooting for?
    … experiencing in terms of dramatic tension?
    … empathizing with?”

    I hate to say, but to a certain extent, this is out of our control. I’ve been in enough lit. classes and book discussions to know that people react very differently to any given scene. They don’t all catch the same details, they don’t all respond the same way to the same stimuli; what one finds thrilling or moving the next can find draggy or dull. Some people want non-stop action – a break-neck pace – while others love to have some restful moments in which to catch their breath. Some people love descriptive passages and others skip them altogether. There is only so much we can do to plan for all of these when we write.

    I have found that often the scene I love the most in a book or movie is the scene my friend hated the most and vice versa. In comments people have written about my fanfiction stories, readers often see something in the story that I never saw – and I wrote the story. They will compliment me on my insight or knack of working something in and I didn’t even know it was there. They bring their own baggage, their own point of view, to their reading of my tale and take things in a way I never envision.

    I don’t see how we can anticipate all of this for “the reader”. I think we have too look at it for how our story affects us and the one or two people we have who beta read our stories and that’s about as far as we can take it. I I read my story aloud and find sections that feel off, I need to fix it. If my beta readers report back that a chapter or scene feels off, I need to fix it. But if I’m worrying about “every reader” I’ll tie myself in so many knots I won’t write a thing. There is no way to account for everyone’s tastes, there is no way to please everyone, so there is no way to please every agent or publisher.

    Sandra

  3. @Sandra — you’re right, we can’t please everyone, and we can’t control what our readers think.

    At least completely. And that’s the point here. These “check in” criteria can be applied to your story at any given point to assess if it’s working as well as it should. And as you say, your own feelings at that moment DO count.

    In cynical way, one could make an analogy between your feedback here and our health: even though we try, we’re never completely immune to disease, and we can’t always control the factors that influence our health… but gee, should be thus stop trying? Live for ourselves, just to please our own tastes, even when it risks the bigger picture.

    Didn’t think so. We always need to TRY to optimize… with our health, and with our stories. These criteria are powerful tools to assess and improve on that front. Thanks for commenting, hope this helps. L

  4. After reading the post, what came to mind for me was a health analogy, Larry. I’m glad you added it to the great dialogue between you and Sandra. We can live on crap and fizzy drinks, but our bodies would rather we took in calories that were nutrient rich. Sometimes we need rest, sometimes cardiovascular activity; sometimes zinc, sometimes iron. It makes sense to do check ups.

    This post underlined the importance of always knowing why we do what we do, what the ‘budget’ and ‘income’ are, what the ideal calorie/protein/carb intake is for our purpose or who the target audience is.

    Publishers are individuals with their own taste, but they also have their eye on what will have mass appeal. Mass appeal is what makes best sellers and blockbusters, and many of those either hit the target bullseye or have such a richness of levels and layers that everyone will find something to resonate with. Pixar manages it with movies. That’s why I feel structure is so important, like the skeleton that carries around the nervous system, the muscles and tendons, the vital organs, and somewhere intangible, the spirit.