When stories stray from the protagonist and the events of her journey to serve up “interesting” secondary characters’ lives and/or large, intangible world events, the result is often a fuzzy narrative that doesn’t captivate its audience.
The elemental principle here: Focus on the Protagonist.
Holding focus on a single person throughout a narrative satisfies our unconscious, innate need to relate to a single life outside of our own as a means to finding deeper truths within ourselves. Stories mirror us. It’s one of the reasons we’ve gathered around campfires for millennia and it’s why our most resonant stories follow a single hero as they struggle to break through their obstacles.
A hyperactive and high-fashion American transplant living in London and working for Vogue magazine does her best to enhance the lives of those around her while remaining blissfully unaware of the man who longs to profess his true love to her.
So that puts our focus on the girl as protagonist. The film, however, plays out around her roommate’s search for true love as embodied in a chance encounter with one man. And truly, his storyline was the most compelling. Why? For one, he was the one with the problem and with something to lose. He was the one for whom some life-changing external event forced change in his life. He was the one around whom friends rallied support and, lastly, he was the one who learned a life lesson (before she) in the end. Sounds like the making of a hero, no?
Most troubles in an ailing story can be traced back to a little something called the throughline*. Throughline is the motor in your story’s boat. It’s the single, pervasive concept that not only guides every event and action but also the one thing to which everything must directly relate.
A tall order? You betcha.
So what is it? Throughline is the answer to the question, “What does my protagonist want?” or if the hero is not conscious of their desires, “What does my protagonist need?” The answer may not be apparent on a first pass if you’re the writer (nor is it expected to be) but, at some point, writers and their story consultants need to hunker down and tease it out. Read on …
The “Logic Nazi” strikes! Craig Mazin over at The Artful Writer posts about the workings of the little left brain freak within us all who is preoccupied with fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together when watching films (and reading stories, of course).
You know that curmudgeon. Endlessly picking up clues and slotting them into some ancient, predetermined framework. A few pieces are allowed to poke out here and there but let one raise its ugly head too far and look out! Your whole waking dream is shattered. And bitterly so.
…you can only suffer so many shots below the waterline before the ship starts to sink. If the audience’s illusion of intention is repeatedly or grossly challenged by logic problems, they will revolt.