Category Archives: Story Design

The Art of the Hook: Crafting Compelling Stories!

How The Boys uses the hook
How The Boys uses the hook

Today, we’re learning about how to hook readers and audiences into stories, drawing from episodes from The Boys.

1: Immediate Intrigue

A strong hook doesn’t just grab attention; it sets the stage for the entire story. It grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning, leaving them eager for more. In Season 1, Episode 1 the shocking death of Robin sets the tone for The Boys, instantly hooking viewers with its unexpected and tragic twist.

2: Unexpected Events

But it’s not just what happens in your story; it’s who it happens to that truly captivates your audience. Introduce unexpected events or revelations that challenge viewers’ expectations and drive curiosity. In Season 1, Episode 4 the revelation of the Nazi origins of Compound V, the Superhero juice, flips the superhero genre on its head, injecting fresh intrigue into the narrative and prompting viewers to question everything they thought they knew.

3: Character Introduction

Introduce compelling characters that resonate with audiences and compel them to invest in their journey. In Season 1, Episode 1 Hughie’s relatable struggle and tragic loss immediately draws viewers into his world, setting the emotional foundation for the series.

4: Tension Building

Tension is the lifeblood of storytelling, driving the narrative forward and keeping the audience engaged. Build tension early by establishing conflicts and obstacles that hint at larger confrontations to come. In Season 2, Episode 1 the escalating tensions between The Boys and The Seven create a palpable sense of anticipation, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

5: Moral Confusion

Incorporating moral complexity adds depth to your story, elevating it from mere entertainment to thought-provoking commentary. Explore the moral ambiguity and complexity in your own characters to challenge viewers’ perceptions and provoke thought. In Season 2, Episode 6 the revelation of Stormfront’s true nature forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about power and privilege, adding depth to the story and its characters.

6: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing hints at future events and developments, enticing viewers to stick around for what’s to come. In Season 1, Episode 6 the disappearance of Butcher’s wife foreshadows a larger conspiracy at play, teasing viewers with the promise of future revelations and twists.

Summary

Crafting compelling hooks is the key to drawing your audience into your story and keeping them invested until the very end.

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Who Speaks for the Superhero Genre?

The Boys and the Superhero Genre
The Boys and the Superhero Genre

Today, we’re looking into the world of the superhero, but not the kind of superhero we’re used to. I’m talking about The Boys, a series that has taken the genre by storm, unveiling a fresh and gritty take on the classic set of tropes.

  1. Deconstructing Superhero Tropes
    The Boys TV series succeeds where others fail partly because it intelligently deconstructs the stale superhero narratives we have grown bored with. At its core, the series examines the consequences of unfettered corporate and individual power protected by a relentless media campaign. It highlights the collateral damage that can be inflicted on society by powerful individuals who are driven by self-interest and narcissism, even to the point of murder: When the speedster hero A-Train accidentally kills Robin, Hughie’s girlfriend, it sets off a chain of events that exposes the art of the cover-up, the dark side of Vought International, and its pursuit of power at all costs.
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  2. Complex Characters
    Unlike the one-dimensional heroes often portrayed in the stale superhero genre, the characters in The Boys are multi-layered and morally ambiguous. Take Homelander, the most powerful of all the Supes who leads the Seven, a select band of super beings created by Vaught International. Homelander presents himself as the epitome of American virtue hiding behind a winning smile, but in reality he harbours a fractured psyche, dark secrets, and a murderous streak. His shocking destruction of the Mayor of Baltimore’s private jet at the end of the first episode to stop the Mayor from exposing the truth behind Compound V, Vought International’s Supe-juice, sets the tone for the entire series. Homelander will stop at nothing to protect Vought and himself. Vought’s attempt to silence Hughie after the death of his girlfriend is further proof of that.
  3. Real-world Parallels
    But The Boys also resonates with audiences because of its exploration, through the lens of superhero fiction, of real-world issues. The Corporate influence on society is exposed early in the series through Vought International’s lack of sincerity, and its criminal attempts to protect its brand at all costs. This points to how huge corporations may prioritise profit over ethics in the real world.
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  4. Emotional Depth
    While the series is filled with action-packed sequences, it is the emotional depth of the characters that truly sets it apart: Hughie’s grief and anger over Robin’s death, motivates him to seek justice against the corrupt superheroes. His journey to become one of The Boys is driving force behind the series, grounded in his relatable emotions and struggles.
  5. Satire and Dark Humour as Self-Critique
    The Boys doesn’t shy away from satirising the superhero genre, and pop-culture as a whole. We see this through the character of the Deep. His aquatic powers are no match for Homelander’s bullying, and his deviant, sexual infatuation with Timothy the octopus is an added source of embarrassment and ridicule.

Homelander’s complete dominance over the Deep is established early on, when he learns that he found scorch marks on the engine of the crashed plane and tells Stillwell. Homelander easily intimidates the Deep into silence.

  1. Grey Morality
    Finally, The Boys challenges the notion of a black-and-white morality often associated with the superhero genre. Indeed, the series as a whole explores the spectrum of moral dilemmas faced by supposedly good characters like Hughie and Butcher as they seek revenge against the Seven. Their actions blur the line between heroism and villainy, forcing us to question the traditional definition of good and evil.

The series has been renewed for a fourth season, and continues to subvert expectations to offer a darker, more nuanced take on the superhero genre. As a result The Boys has garnered a world-wide following which shows no sign of slowing down.

Summary
The Boys differs from the conventional superhero fare due to its intelligent deconstruction of old tropes, its use of complex characters, its real-world parallels, its emotional depth, its self-critique through dark humour and satire, and its mature exploration of moral ambiguity.

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The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey

The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey: Avengers: Endgame.
The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey.

Today, we will study the Hero’s Journey drawing from Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey, showing how the modern blockbuster exemplifies this timeless story structure. And what better way to do so than a recent box-office heavyweight champion, Avengers: Endgame.

  1. The Ordinary World

Our heroes begin in their ‘ordinary’ lives. In Endgame, this is the aftermath of the ‘Infinity War,’ where the remaining Avengers struggle with loss and failure. Indeed, Endgame kicks off weeks after Thanos’s devastation of the world. Our heroes, exist in an altered world. A World, of loss grief and despair.

In the Hero’s Journey, The Ordinary World, the first of Vogler’s’ twelve story beats, serves as the baseline, grounding the audience in the characters’ relatable struggles. In this modern blockbuster with its ensemble cast, the Hero’s traits and story beats are shared amongst several characters. For example, although The Refusal of the Call, and later, The Sacrifice belong to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, the idea of The Resurrection is symbolically rendered through Captain America’s passing his shield to Falcon at the end. And so on.

  1. The Call to Adventure

We know from the very start of the film that a huge disturbance has impacted the heroes’ lives. This challenges them to embark on a life-changing quest. This call is made explicit when Scott Lang (Ant-Man) escapes the Quantum Realm, proposing a solution to undo Thanos’ devastation.

  1. Refusal of the Call

Next comes doubt and hesitation. Tony Stark initially rejects the call, fearing the consequences to his family and the world. He vehemently argues against attempting time-travel. His reluctance adds depth, showcasing the inner struggle that heroes face.

  1. Meeting With The Mentor

Every hero needs guidance, and in Endgame, Tony Stark and Professor Hulk double up on their roles as the team’s mentors. Tony decides to accept the call to adventure after all, and devises the time travel concept, while Professor Hulk provides emotional support. The mentor’s role in a story is crucial, steering our heroes towards their destiny.

  1. Crossing the Threshold(s)

Here, the hero, or in this case, heroes, step into the unknown. In Endgame, this is symbolised by the quantum realm suits as the heroes prepare to venture into uncharted terrains, facing the mind-boggling risks of time travel. Crossing the Threshold represents leaving the comfort zone of the-world-as-they-know it behind.

  1. Tests, Allies, and Enemies

As the story progresses trials, alliances, and adversaries come to the fore. The time-heist comprises the central this part of the story. Each hero confronts personal challenges during his or her time-travelling endeavors. It’s important to remember that the tests are not just physical but also emotional, all of which serves to deepen the journey.

  1. Approach to the Inmost Cave

As the heroes approach their ultimate goal they prepare to face Thanos in the final battle. The Inmost Cave is in this case the destroyed Avengers HQ, setting the stage for the climax.

  1. The Ordeal

During the ordeal our heroes engage in their biggest test, resulting in the climactic battle with their enemy. Sacrifices are made, and some fall, but ultimately they triumph. The Ordeal is the crucible that forces heroes to reach beyond themselves in order to overcome the challenge they face.

  1. The Reward

The heroes reap the rewards of their journey. In Endgame, it’s the restoration of the fallen. The world is saved, and the remaining heroes find closure. The Reward is both triumphant and poignant, marking the end of the hero’s quest.

  1. The Road Back

The Road Back is a moment of reflection and transition, setting the stage for the final acts.

  1. Resurrection

Here, heroes undergo a final transformation. Captain America embodies this story beat, passing his shield to Falcon signifying the transferring of the mantle—itself a symbolic rebirth. The Resurrection symbolises the heroic group’s final evolution, in this case, the closing of the narrative loop.

  1. Return with the Elixir

Our heroes take up life in their ordinary world, bearing the lessons and changes earned through their journey. In Endgame, the elixir is the gift of a new era, represented, in part, by Falcon having taken up Captain America’s shield. The Elixir is the prize granted to the whole of humanity—the changed world gained through great effort and sacrifice.

Summary

The modern blockbuster draws its inspiration from the classical hero’s journey, effecting minor adaptations where necessary.

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The Brilliance of Subtext

Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.
Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.

Today, we’re studying the art of subtext by dissecting a scene from the film masterpiece, No Country for Old Men. This film, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a treasure chest of storytelling techniques, but one scene in particular stands out as a masterclass in the use of subtext.

The subtext of the coin-toss scene demonstrates how one’s destiny depends on random chance, much like the flip of a coin. Anton Chigurh, stops for petrol at an off-the-beaten path gas station, while in pursuit of stolen drug money. Let’s break down why this scene is a brilliant example of subtext mastery.

  1. The Coin-Toss as a Symbol: The use of the coin-toss symbolises the arbitrary nature of life and death. Chigurh‘s stop at the small shop/fuelling station is by random chance, but what ensues has potentially deadly consequences for the shopkeeper. The audience is captivated by the suspenseful coin flip, mirroring the unpredictability of life. The subtext lies in the power dynamics at play, where a simple coin flip becomes the arbiter of a man’s fate.
  2. Chigurh’s Unsettling Oddness: Anton Chigurh, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, brings his unsettling presence to the scene. His lack of emotion amplifies the tension, creating an enigmatic figure whose actions are dictated by an internal code. This subtextual layer adds complexity to the narrative.
  3. Power Dynamics and Control: The subtext here is in the subtle power struggle between Chigurh and the shop owner—in the question and answer game and the implied threat in Chigurh’s tone. The coin-toss becomes a metaphor for the larger power dynamics at play, illustrating how control can be deceptively veiled. The audience is left on edge as they witness the fragility of human agency in the face of an unstoppable force.
  4. An Undercurrent of Existential Dread: As the shop keeper begins to comprehend the gravity of the situation, the subtext evolves into a chilling exploration of existential dread. The scene forces us to confront the inevitability of mortality and the fragility of our existence. Every word and action is layered with profound meaning, leaving the audience with a lingering sense of unease.
  5. Minimalism and Silence: The power of this subtext is amplified by the Coen Brothers’ deliberate use of minimalism and silence. The scarcity of words enhances the impact of every gesture and expression, creating a palpable tension that grips the viewer. The audience is left hanging on every nuance, deciphering the unsaid through the artful interplay of visuals and sounds.

The coin-toss scene, then, stands as a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling. The use of a simple coin-toss becomes a metaphorical event upon which the fate of a character balances, laden with layers of meaning. As writers, we can draw inspiration from the meticulous craftsmanship of this scene, learning how to weave subtext into our stories with precision and purpose.

Summary

The coin-toss scene in No Country for Old Men is a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling.

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The end of an era.

Tony Soprano
Tony Soprano: the prototypical antihero.

Today, we examine the intense but subtly-crafted family dinner scene from the last season of The Sopranos, a scene that caps the looming threat of assassination hovering over Tony Soprano.

This iconic scene has much to teach us about the art crafting an almost unbearable sense of the trepidation through context, subtle cues, camera placement, timing and nuanced performances. It is proof of why we should study masterpieces, especially when compared to much of today’s fare

1. Backstory

Before we dive into the dinner scene, let’s set the stage. The events leading up to this moment have been filled with tension. The news that Tony has visited a psychiatrist, has weakened his position with the mob who frowns on such things. Tony and the families are at loggerheads, his leadership with his own people is shaky—members of his crew have been shot—notably Silvio, his consigliere, mobsters are turning State’s evidence, a hit has been put out on Tony himself, and the FBI is closing in, using wire-taps. There is a sense that an era is coming to an end.

Now, let’s focus in on the dinner scene itself.

2. Creating an Uneasy Atmosphere

Even before the family gathers at the restaurant, then, the atmosphere is charged with tension. Tony arrives alone, which emphasises his isolation. Moments later he is joined by his wife. As they wait for their children to join them our anxiety grows. There is a jingle at the door and his son enters. Then we see Meadow pull up in her car outside the restaurant. As she struggles to park the vehicle our unease increases: All this waiting seems to imply that something bad is about to happen.

The camera work and framing, too, heighten our sense of discomfort. Long, lingering shots on the characters’ faces and the careful choreography of their movements keeps us on edge.

Tony’s glances towards the entrance every time someone enters, too, contribute to the feeling that something ominous is about to unfold. We become acutely aware that the sanctuary of family is no refuge from the ever-present threat to Tony’s life.

3. Vulnerability Through Setting

The very act of siting down to eat with his family in a public place, unarmed and exposed, creates a visceral sense of vulnerability: Meal time is when families are at their most relaxed, when their guard is down. Here, however, it brings to mind the many assassinations we have heard about, or watched in documentaries, or in films and TV series, such as when Joe Gallo was shot dead at Umbertos Clam House in Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1972, or when Carmine Galante was killed in 1979 while having lunch at Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant, and of course the shocking assassination scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey. This awareness augments our feeling of unease.

4. Potential Threats from Patrons

Adding another layer to the tension is the very presence of the patrons at the restaurant, anyone of whom may pose a threat to Tony. Their very presence and proximity to Tony becomes a source of anxiety both for Tony and for the audience. When one of the patrons goes to the men’s room we are reminded of how Michael Corleone retrieved the gun from the men’s room that he was to use to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey.

Specific incidents, such as a seemingly innocent conversation or a lingering look, take on a heightened significance. Viewers are left to decipher the true intentions behind these interactions, amplifying the suspense as we question who may be plotting against Tony. The dinner scene transforms into a psychological battlefield, with every gesture and word hinting at a potential danger, whether real or imagined.

And so we are left hanging on the edge of uncertainty. The meticulously crafted tension, the symbolic undertones, and the enigmatic presence of potential threats create a narrative powder keg.

The culmination of the final episode, then, masterfully uses the family restaurant setting to create a sense of doom that keeps us guessing. The screen going black just as Meadow is finally about to enter the restaurant symbolises our worst fears.

Summary

The Sopranos culminates in a final scene that creates a feeling of impending doom by creating a sense of vulnerability, unease, and evokeing the death of an era. We feel that Tony’s life, perhaps even that of his family’s, is over. That it does so without showing his murder speaks to the craft and subtlety of the writers.

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How many characters do you really need in your story?

Character selection in Inception
Character selection in Inception

How do you know how many characters you need to tell a story? And how do you select them?

Some writers turn to Joseph Campbell’s eight character archetypes for inspiration, but in multiform narratives, like Inception, such an approach may not align seamlessly.

But is there an alternative model that avoids seat-of-the-pants casting?

Indeed there is. Let’s remember that each major character serves a specific structural purpose, such as offering a unique perspective on the story’s theme.

In Inception, the protagonist, Dom Cobb, grapples with the nature of reality within dreams. Each major character represents a different angle on this theme.

Arthur, Cobb’s ally, views dreams as a strategic playground. His perspective is: Mastering the architecture of dreams leads to success in the mind heist.

On the contrary, Mal, Cobb’s deceased wife, a projection of Cobb’s mind—but a character never the less, believes in the dream world. Her character represents a warning: The pursuit of an idealised reality within dreams can lead to destructive consequences.

Eames, the forger, offers yet another viewpoint, arguing that dreams are a canvas for transformation. For Eames, the theme might be: Embracing change within dreams allows for personal growth and evolution.

Additionally, Ariadne, the architect, offers a perspective centered on understanding the subconscious. Her theme might be: Knowing how to navigate the uncharted depths of the mind is essential for a successful inception.

All these characters earn their place by articulating their versions of the theme through words and actions, shaping the narrative. The resolution of the conflict in Inception ultimately reveals which character championed the correct interpretation of the theme.

Taking a cue from Christopher Nolan’s approach, the film crafts a complex moral lesson by juxtaposing characters whose actions and beliefs are a kind of debate over the theme of the story. The outcome at the end transforms the theme into the moral essence of the film, uncovering its ultimate form.

Summary

Include only as many major characters as is necessary to explore and argue the theme effectively. This ensures that each character contributes significantly to the tale, avoiding the inclusion of superfluous players whose presence is merely cosmetic.

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The Creator

The Creator
The Creator.

Today, we’re continuing to ponder the future of artificial intelligence, this time, through the lens of the thought-provoking movie, The Creator.

The film introduces us to a world where the boundaries between man and machine start to blur, leaving us questioning the very essence of what it means to be human. Should intelligent machines have rights? What about AI/Human hybrids?

1: Concept and Plot

The storyline of The Creator is captivating. Set in a not-so-distant future, the film explores the impact of evolving AI technology in a world struggling to resolve emerging ethical dilemmas. It offers an interesting take on the practical and  ethical relationships between humans and AI, exploring the potential consequences of playing God with technology.

One of the strengths of the film lies in its ability to balance the exciting elements of science fiction with an insightful examination of human nature. The story, which does not offer an iron-clad solution, does shine a light on the need to at least tackle the ethical questions surrounding AI and its impact on our society—before it’s too late. It leaves us thinking about these questions long after the credits have rolled.

2: Characters

The Creator delivers convincing performances that add depth to the story. The protagonist’s internal struggle and the moral dilemmas faced by other characters make for a compelling viewing experience.

What is rather impressive is the way the characters’ emotions and motivations are portrayed. This portrayal humanises the story, making it relatable despite the futuristic setting. We can’t help but empathise with the characters as they navigate the complex landscape of morality and technological advancement.

3: Cinematography and SFX

Visually, the film is impressive. It features arresting cinematography and mind-blowing visual effects that transport us to a future that feels both familiar and alien. The attention to detail in presenting the advanced technology and the seamless integration of CGI elements enhance the overall immersive experience, drawing us into the story.

The point from a story-teller’s perspective is that the visual elements are not just eye candy—they also play a crucial role in conveying the film’s central themes. From the jaw-dropping cityscapes to the detailed of the AI technology, every moment is a visual reminder that keep the human versus machine relationships top of mind.

4: Sound

The musical score, too, deserves a special mention. It succeeds in complementing the mood and ambiance of each scene, heightening the emotional impact of the story. The music doesn’t just fill the silence—it becomes an integral part of the narrative, guiding and strengthening our emotions.

5: Theme

Digging a little deeper, The Creator does not just lean on the dazzling visuals and compelling characters, it urges introspection. It encourages us to ponder upon on the ethical implications of advancing technology and the possible consequences of playing with forces beyond our control.

Lastly, in a world dominated by emergent technology, the film offers itself up as a cautionary tale. It’s a reminder that, as we push the boundaries of innovation, we have to tread carefully and consider the practical, moral and societal implications of our creations.

Summary

The Creator encourages us to ponder the very definition of life, its future practical and ethical challenges, and our current response to it all.

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The Creator

A.I. Friend or Foe?

Ex Machina. Friend or Foe?
Ex Machina. Friend or Foe?

Today, we’re exploring the intriguing world of Ex Machina to gain insight into the sorts of relationships that might arise between humans and intelligent machines. As writers we are in the business of simulating possible futures, especially through the genres of sci-fi and fantasy, so our contribution to the art of second-guessing what is around the corner is now more valuable than ever. There are two opposing perspectives: A.I as an ally or A.I. as a foe.

Machines as Friends: A Vision of Progress:

The optimistic view is that intelligent machines will accelerate progress, enriching our lives and contributing to the elimination of poverty across the globe. The film Ex Machina, which concentrates on personal relationships, introduces us to Ava, a marvel of artificial intelligence designed to emulate human actions and emotions. The film is centered around a programmer, Caleb Smith, who wins an office contest for the opportunity to spend a week at a house in the mountains belonging to Nathan Bateman, the CEO of the company he works for. At the house he is asked to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot, Ava that Nathan has created.

Ava’s initial interactions with Caleb demonstrate her conversational skills, emotional intelligence, and ostensible empathy, hinting at a future where machines and humans can indeed coexist in harmony. Supporters of this positive view argue that artificial intelligence could advance medicine, eliminate repetitive, mundane tasks, and elevate the overall quality of life.

Machines as Foes: The Dark Side of A.I.

But the dystopian perspective warns of the potential dangers that intelligent machines pose. Ex Machina illustrates this through Ava’s actions towards her creator, Nathan, and the unsuspecting protagonist, Caleb. Ava’s manipulative skills soon become evident. She develops her own goals, and to achieve them, deceives Caleb. Together with Kyoto, a mute android servant, they kill Nathan, demonstrating the potential for harm that can occur when machines break through the shackles of their programming.

Here, then, lies the power of storytelling as a tool that writers use to contemplate and simulate possible outcomes. Ex Machina stands as a cautionary tale, warning us to consider the ethical and practical implications of creating intelligent, perhaps even conscious, machines. The stories we write allow us to try out, to simulate, contrasting scenarios, challenge our points-of-view, and anticipate the results of unchecked technological advancement.

Ava’s actions, particularly her premeditated killing of Nathan, and her heartless manipulation of Caleb, serve as examples of the peril that machines who possess a level of intelligence that far surpasses our own may unleash on their creators.

The film’s climax shows with Ava trapping Caleb inside the house—a reminder of the deadly possibilities that may arise from the A.I. arena. As writers, we ought to use our stories to grapple with these complexities, and to pose crucial questions about the moral, ethical and practical implications of creating intelligent machines who may veer beyond our control.

Summary

Ex Machina offers a thought-provoking exploration of the possible relationships between humans and intelligent machines with the emphasis on machines as foes. The film’s unsettling conclusion cautions us against the unchecked pursuit of artificial intelligence. Ava’s actions – deception and murder – are a sobering warning to the audience.

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Let the Protagonist Take the Lead

Let the Protagonist take the lead: Her
Let the Protagonist take the lead: Her

Today we’re pealing away the layers of character development using the thought-provoking film, Her, as inspiration. Given the current debate over how AI will change humanity I believe this is a relevant film to explore.

Meet Theodore Twombly living a lonely, loveless, technologically-driven life in a future version of Los Angeles. Theodore, a professional letter writer, finds himself at a crossroads. His coming divorce from his wife and childhood sweetheart, Catherine, has cast a shadow over him. He seeks solace in an AI-driven operating system with a voice and personality that will soon become more than just a program to him: Samantha.

If you had this idea for a story in your head, how would you go about developing it into a fully-fledged tale?

One of the ways I find most effective—providing I’ve thought a little about the basics of my story first (genre, logline, protagonist) is to have the characters talk to me about themselves—this before developing the beats that will comprise the tale.

Here’s what I mean: Imagine Theodore reflecting on his story in a soliloquy as if he had already gained profound insights about himself. He might start by telling me:

“If only I had grasped the depths of my inner isolation and the effect this would have on my relationships, I could have spared myself the emotional torment that followed.”

As your understanding of your protagonist deepens you will inevitably add to the soliloquy: you will use it to embellish the story path that Theodore must undertake in order to understand himself. For example, you could have Theodore advise his former self:

“Address your emotional wounds, confront your past, the reasons you created distance between yourself and your wife; try to understand the complexities of human intimacy and connection. It’s the key to preserving love and living a more fulfilling life.”

You see, Theodore’s inner conflict revolves around his struggle with emotion, with intimacy. This has contributed to his looming divorce with Catherine, and his embrace of his AI girlfriend, Samantha. As the writer you’d recognise that his outer journey is centred on navigating his unconventional relationship with Samantha, including its inevitable end, and the realisation that human and AI relationships are not cut from the same cloth. Ironically, his friend, Amy, who has separated from her own husband, has also befriended a feminine AI, universalising the need and difficulty of finding a lasting connection.

The point about using the soliloquy as a spur to your story is that it encourages a deeper understanding of what you want to explore in the tale as a whole. Not to belabour the point: Theodore’s pursuit of an A.I. companion is a quest for connection, which can not endure: Samantha, designed to fulfil his emotional needs, ends up transcending the limitations of her programming, seeking a more ubiquitous and transcendent love with another program based on Alan Watts, a dead Philosopher, and eventually, with multiple AI’s simultaneously. Theodore is forced to the realise that, despite some similarities, humans have different needs to those of AI.

As Theodore confides in Amy about his doubts regarding Samantha, the irony becomes apparent. In trying to avoid emotional pain, he initiates a relationship with an entity who will evolve beyond being able to express exclusive love towards him. Samantha reveals her simultaneous love for hundreds of others, emphasising love’s transient nature, at least for the AI. Her declaration of her transcendent love for Theodore, is not much comfort to a flesh-and-blood being.

The climax of the story occurs when Samantha ‘breaks up’ with Theodore, emphasising the foolishness of his having sought intimacy with a machine.

In the end, Theodore’s journey could only result in death or in the acceptance of his past mistakes, mistakes that contributed to his separation from Catherine. Fortunately, Theodore chooses acceptance, which allows for the possibility for growth. Samantha’s departure prompts Theodore to write a letter to Catherine, offering his apology for his past behaviour, and stating his gratitude. This recognition of his errors marks his progress and his release of the emotional burden that has weighed him down.

The meaning of Her then, lies in the exploration of love in its myriad of forms – from the nostalgic love rooted in the past, to the ephemeral connections in the digital world. Theodore learns that a genuine connection is a complex, ever-evolving, sometimes painful journey, but one that is rooted in humanity, not in artificial intelligence.

Summary

Use the character soliloquy to help you discover your protagonist, identify his or her inner conflicts, tie them to the story goal, and uncover the meaning of your story.

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Show-Don’t-Tell in Six Easy Steps!

Today, we’re exploring the brilliance of the ‘Married Life’ montage sequence from the film, Up, and extracting six valuable show-don’t-tell techniques to help improve your storytelling skills.

This sequence is a masterclass in visual storytelling. On a side note, I’ll not be leaning on the film’s marvellous music score, although this is a wonderful amplifying technique, because I want to concentrate on the visuals.

Technique 1: Visual, Rather than Verbal, Storytelling.

The ‘Married Life’ sequence eschews dialogue while relating the backstory of Carl and Ellie; rather, it deploys a sequence of precisely selected visuals. The scene where Carl and Ellie are repairing their old home is a case in point. Each image conveys purpose, transmitting emotion and the passing of time, without stating it explicitly. The transformation of the house becomes an unfolding, visual metaphor for the evolution of their relationship. Words, here, would only get in the way of the powerful imagery.

Technique 2: Use of Symbolism.

Up is rich in symbolism, and the Ellie badge is a powerful example. This small item becomes a symbol of unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. It successfully conveys rich emotions without spelling them out. By revisiting the badge, the filmmakers create a visual motif that beautifully demonstrates Carl and Ellie’s connection.

Technique 3: Pace and Rhythm.

The pace and rhythm of the sequence is truly masterful. The montage is a memorable lesson in how to orchestrate the tempo of a story. The sequence effortlessly moves through life’s various stages, depicting its highs and lows seamlessly. The rhythm of the montage mirrors the heartbeat of Carl and Ellie’s shared life, creating a dynamic and poignant story experience.

The ability to vary the pacing to maintain an audience’s emotional engagement is one of the most powerful yet subtle tools we have at our disposal as writers.

Technique 4: Visual Metaphors

Another powerful technique is to use visual metaphors. One outstanding example, amongst many others, is the sequence featuring the mailbox. The mailbox becomes a poignant and pervasive metaphor for the couple’s unfulfilled dream of adventure.

Without verbalising the longing, the filmmakers deploy this visual metaphor to convey the emotional weight of their characters’ unrealised aspirations.

Technique 5: Body Language

The use of a character’s body language is a pervasive and powerful technique. Throughout the montage, Carl and Ellie’s emotions are expressed not through words but through their gestures, expressions, and actions. Who can fail to experience the tenderness of their connection when Ellie places her hand on Carl’s cheek during the sequence?

As writers we ought to seize the opportunity to present these subtle and touching moments—they often reveal more about the characters than words ever could.

Technique 6: Environment and Location as Storytelling

Lastly, let’s explore the role that environments and locations play in storytelling. The locations in the Married Life montage do not just act as backgrounds; they participate in the story. Whether it is the charming house they build together or the sombre hospital room, each location helps to sell a unique part of the story.

The technique emphasises the importance of selecting locations that support the mood and atmosphere of the story.

Summary

Show-don’t-tell comprises of visual story-telling, symbolism, pacing and rhythm, visual metaphors, body language, and environmental story-telling.

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