"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: The Hidden Story Formula

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Hidden Story Formula

Dear Fellow Writer,

When you believe nothing is impossible, you can make things happen.

When we're young, we are naive and unfettered by notions of things being too hard or impractical. Before we grow up, our world is simple, uncluttered by experience, and our imaginations can run free.

And we run bravely, blindly some might say, into the future, fiercely determined to succeed. And often times, against all the odds, we do succeed.

It is only life that makes us weary, bitter and discouraged.

Surely then, achieving our dreams is about constantly reorganizing our own world into a place where our dreams can become real. 

Because we are not victims of reality, we are makers of it.

Once you believe that - and act upon it - there is nothing you cannot achieve. 

You are not only as old as you feel - but as young as you think.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell


The Hidden Story Formula

Rob Parnell

It's been my experience that most of us rarely see the obvious.

Occam's Razor: When there is no need for further explanation, stop.

We tend to discount simplicity and think that the more complicated answer must have further merit. 

This philosophy appeals to our sense of order. Simplicity is shunned in favor of a more intellectual approach, one that requires a multitude of factors and a desire to piece together data like a jigsaw.

When reading crime thrillers for instance we love unraveling the clues and seeing connections because it would be dull to be presented with the obvious on page one: this killer did this murder.

So it is with all story telling.

There's no point in presenting the conclusion first. It would ruin the fun.

But that doesn't mean the author doesn't know the simple answer, right from the get go.

Agatha Christie once said it was her job to make the most obvious killer seem the least likely perpetrator - a principle still used over and again in thrillers and mysteries to this day.

Writers are always asking me about how complicated should they make their character development, their points of view, or their plots...

...and I always say, keep it simple. Let the story appear deep and multi-leveled in the reader's mind but in your own, do only what seems obvious to you. 

Because complexity, when it's manufactured, just comes across as contrived.

True complexity comes from your unique way of stating the obvious.

The best writers show only what is true - to them - no matter how bizarre or incredible it may seem to others. Consequently the more you elaborate on - and plunder - your own particular unique vision, the more original you will become.

All this is a preamble to how to write a story using a hidden formula that works every time - and don't be put off by its simplicity.

1. Your hero is incomplete at the start of the story.

2. He/she is like a magnet with a polarity that repels the very thing he/she needs.

3. Their polarity drives and leads them on a journey that puts them at odds with their own 'completeness'.

4. Conversely, their quest is geared towards becoming complete.

5. At the end of the story, their polarity is flipped by circumstance, desire or compromise - until they are forced to integrate into their own sense of 'completeness.'

There you have it.

Use this hidden formula on any story and you will write compelling fiction, whether that be a book or a film or any other kind of story.

Polarity acts as a metaphor for world view, character traits, agenda, goals, obstacles, etc, all the things writing instructors like to muddy the waters with.

Polarity is easy to understand. We see it in iron filings around a magnet. We can feel it when we hold two magnets close together - depending on which way up they are, they either attract on repel each other. We know instinctively it exists.

How does this principle work in practice?

Imagine a heroine who needs love to be complete. At the beginning of a story, she will reject the very person she needs because her polarity is misaligned with the man she needs to reverse it.

Imagine a hero who needs justice to be complete. He will shun the antagonist who will eventually give him the very qualities he requires to reverse his polarity and become satisfied with his life once more.

Imagine a hero who needs success to be complete. His polarity will put him at odds with the very things he needs to achieve external success until circumstance forces him to understand that he held the key to success all along, within.

I hope now you can begin to see that this 'hidden' formula is at work in all the fiction we see around us.

And before you complain that this formula doesn't work for real life, remember that fiction is not real life - it's fiction.

Fiction requires completeness - in the story, in your vision and in the writing.

That's the beauty of fiction. You're NOT creating real life.

Story is a protracted and painstaking re-creation of a believable new reality. It is not meant to reflect reality, but to serve as a better version of it that is often more credible than the real thing.

Real life is complicated.

Good fiction, no matter how hard it is to put together, should shine with an inherent simplicity - of vision and apparent execution.

Once a story is down, it should appear complete, its hero fulfilled and forever changed for the better, his/her polarity finally realigned.

Don't over-complicate your stories.

Stay focused on the obvious.

Story is about creating worlds that are better than real life.

Keep writing!

 rob at home
Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." Martin Luther King

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