The Story Solution by Eric Edson (book review).

May 1, 2014 | By | Reply More

The contention of author Eric Edson from the start is that the difference between success and failure in films is in adhering to certain similarities between plot details. Throughout this book, ‘The Story Solution’, he compares examples of some films showing these various points. You don’t have to have seen them all because he gives a brief synopsis for each but he does present some insight as to why he thinks they work.

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From the start he points out that 95% of all new scriptwriters’ scripts don’t work and often fall apart from not plotting enough and not enough work on the middle of the story. I suspect the same would also apply to us prose writers. If you’re writing a complicated plot, you need a road map to keep you on track. Treating this book as a checklist of things to cover can also apply to looking for your own strengths and weaknesses when plotting. Like a lot of the Michael Wiese books, there are tests to apply at the end of each chapter to see how much you’ve learnt.

Understanding the theme of the story isn’t quite the same as the plot of the story. It invariably looks at the life-turning moment of the significant characters and what they must overcome in themselves to succeed. I would tend to put this under character development myself. With film, this has to be put over in a couple of hours. For a novel, you have a lot more pages to develop towards such things but it’s something useful to keep in mind if you’re struggling to make any character work. I can also see how establishing the traits of the characters from the start makes it easier for the viewer/reader to get into their personalities faster as well so you’re literally hitting the platform running. This is one area prose has to differ. The reader normally assumes the personality of the lead character to be similar to their own until shown otherwise.

I liked one technique he used in plotting in laying out the plot in a series of cards but instead of following it, used as a template of things to avoid so as to ensure the viewer is surprised by what is going on. In prose, that would be seen as dumping a first draft but in reality, its recognising the easy a to z clichés and try to find something that would match better to reality. If you do what your audience or readers expect you to do, then you’ll be predictable. If there’s no other lesson I learnt from this book then this one clearly stands out. Thinking about this further, if you’re someone like me who can be unpredictable, I wonder how much further I could go by ignoring my first ideas.

Where this book comes into its own is with the discussion on dialogue and oddly, less is more. If in prose, you’re prone to reeling out pages of dialogue, Edson makes a good point to pare it down to only what is needed to propel the story forward. I’m a little concerned when this is applied to film scripts, especially as its deemed a minute a page which means you’re essentially having to spell out action and, as we should all know, this can compress into less screen time. Then considering the shortness of scenes these days, compacting information and plot propulsion means you should be able to get a lot more in. His thoughts on removing ‘small talk’ is a sensible approach. It isn’t as though people do this in real life so it isn’t copied.

Edson makes a lot of sense in saying that you can’t create a plot without characters and vice versa. If anything, it’s more puzzling why some writers think they can’t do this beyond the idea stage. After all, it’s the characters that shape the decisions in the plot. When Edson looks at the plot, something we prose writers don’t really consider, probably because of the length of the story, is the inciting moment for change in the characters. Then again, citing normality before it happens depends a lot on how long you spend before that moment. When there is a short period in prose before the big change, you have to infer to the reader that the lead character isn’t too far removed from the norm they recognise. If the character deviates more or, as with Science Fiction, you have to set up the reality norms for the reader, this can vary greatly. From my own writing, I can broadstroke the reality and give detail later if it’s needed prior to the smoking gun. Edson gives a lot more emphasis on the middle of the story and the elements needed for it which should serve all writers and the need to show the hero has to find the solution because there is no other choice.

I suspect a lot of you will wonder about the organic feel of story and character development when it’s brought down into a number of steps but if you treat it as checklist to look over if you’re stumbling when developing them, then it can be asset. It might also point out things you haven’t considered before. If nothing else it will ensure you keep your characters on the right path. Indeed, it is the middle sector where the realisation for change and beginning to do something about it must take place.

One thing that did become alarming in the latter chapters was the reliance on synopsis breakdown from various films, including from our genre. Although it was done to show plot element similarities and would help explain to those who hadn’t seen all the films noted (I’ve only missed two of them myself), I think a little more analysis there rather than in the summary could have capitalised better.

Even so, there’s a lot of commonsense here and, although I think this verges on formula, especially as he says this works only for American films, if it instils a sense of structure to your plots then Edson is doing you a service. If it pin-points areas where you need to tighten up, even more so. For scriptwriters, if you’re going to play with your plots, ensure you learn something about the basics from this book.

GF Willmetts

April 2014

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 348 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-084-5)

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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