Thursday 29 June 2023

Where's the Story?

I had some lovely reviews for my book Storm Horse and I’m grateful for every single one of them. But many of them saw themes in it I only thought about once I read the reviews. I honestly thought I was just writing a story about a boy and a horse he rescued. Anything else anyone saw in it was fine with me. Except…

I now find myself sometimes, as I write, wondering what the themes are. What am I trying to say with this story? And it slows me down. Sometimes it stops me outright. I can’t go on. So it was a comfort and a help to read this quote from Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad and co-creator of Better Call Saul.

He said he was once working on a script for director Michael Mann (Heat, Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans) and asked him, ‘What are we trying to say here?’ He then went on the recount what Mann replied.

He listened very patiently. I forget exactly the words he used—I wish I could quote him verbatim. But essentially what he said was “It’s your job to write an entertaining story. It’s your job to come up with a script that inspires the actors and director. And then, hopefully, this work will be viewed by moviegoers, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, wow, that was interesting. I didn’t see where that was going. I like the twists and turns. I like the characters.’ ” He said, “That’s the job, period. The froufrou thematic stuff is for other people to figure out. The college professors. All you have to do is tell an engaging story.

So I think about this now when I’m stuck and it’s a big help. Because that’s what’s important: the story. Forget the themes. Just tell a good story.


Pippa Goodhart said...

A very useful reminder to me just now for my current project, thank you, Nick!

Nick Garlick said...

You're very welcome, Pippa.

Susan Price said...

I have a lot of time for your point of view here, Nick. When you're trying to get the damn thing written, it certainly helps to take an uncluttered view and simply try to get an entertaining story down on paper.

BUT, seeing what the underlying theme is can be helpful, especially when rewriting. For me, it's usually like something falling on my head as I'm reading through the mess of a first draft, trying to figure out how to improve it. And once it dawns on you what the theme is, then you can see how cutting those scenes or building up that character can help to strengthen it.

Nick Garlick said...

I'd agree with that too, Susan.

Discovering a theme can definitely help shape a story. A book I once wrote started out as an adventure about sisters rescuing ponies. But I cam to realise that the heart of story was 'cooperation', and once I understood that, it helped enormously with the writing. But only, like you, once I'd got the first draft down.