Bella 4 – Story Design

OK. So now we have:

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  1. A character arc. The journey the protagonist will take.
  2. A framing. The story is about the death of a loved one.
  3. A storification. Our protagonist will spiral downwards into grief, but when all looks lost, the decision they make under pressure of this grief will lead to them finding their way out of depression and back to a fulfilling life.
  4. The audience will fill knowledge gaps to derive the above. Because they will do the work and will derive knowledge of life that says: ‘Yes, life is like that’ and ‘Yes, this is how a person should lead their lives under these circumstances’ and because we will give them a glimpse of depth of sadness they want to understand (but also avoid) in their own lives, they will experience catharsis and personal emotional depths.

This is all very promising as a story architecture. Now we need to go into the depth of the design. I have to say, I do feel a little foolish at this point, because I deliberately chose an unorthodox architecture and design in order to show you that we don’t have to follow the standard formulae, and I should have done something ‘easier’ first. However, it still all holds up, and I will include more standard progressions in Mayakin (The next project like this one, but that will be a novel and a feature film!)

Story Design

This part is largely reliant on your personal mindset, inspiration and imagination, but it can still be ‘guided’. Depending upon just how inspired you are, this can be seen as a positive or a negative, but for most writers I do find that this guidance can be a postive at least some of the time.

The way to work is to think up what you want your story to say and do; then punch knowledge gaps into that progression. So, for example, I know the storification means my protagonist (a lady (64) called Johanna), will put energy into escaping grief and get her mojo for life back. Her family support will be a part of that. So I am going to have her replace her family with her grief in some symbolic way. Then bring the family storming back in at finale. OK. Good. This will deliver the knowledge gap through storification that: To lead an appropriate life, grief must be followed by a conscious energy to rejoin life and to be proactive in driving and gaining fulfilment.

Before that, I know that she will be spiralling downwards into grief. She will replace elements of her family with the lossed love. I am going to make the loved one a dog (Bella). This means she can replace her family with dog stuff and the audience will know that this is unhealthy and a little disfunctional so we will fear for Johanna. Her ability to recognise that and proactively return to her family life will be the storification transition.

This means that the death Johanna is mourning is the loss of her beloved dog. To create a knowledge gap, I am going to have her grieve the loss without giving away, firstly, that there has been a death, and secondly, that the loss was a dog. The audience will see her actions in ritual and grief and I will deliberately place a gap between those actions and understanding what they are about.

So, as you can see, I am working backwards from the storification down through characters to the framing. And all the while, I am introducing knowledge gaps because I know that they cause story power.

Johanna will do weird things, such as buy a shovel and some rope and some firelighters. She will dig in the garden and make a fire up on the hills. She will gather items to burn on the fire: toys, a ball, a bone, a chewed glove (things that we recognise but hopefully won’t instantly link to her dog or to a death ritual). She will tie a biscuit bone to the rope. She will replace her family photo with some doggie item – hopefully that we don’t realise is a doggie item. She will commission a skilled worker as part of the mysterious behaviours (a sculptor to make a statue of the dog, but we won’t know that is what is going on). She will take delivery of a mysterious package (it’s the sculpture).

If she is going to replace the family with doggie artifacts, they had better be there to be replaced, so maybe the family help her with her ritual funeral pyre up on the hills. She can tie the biscuit bone to a Chinese lantern and set it off into the sky to give it to Bella in heaven… I like that one! Totally bananas!

You get the idea. I have lots of things she can do, but I’m not going to give the audience enough information to create a logical narrative. This will cause story grip. Fine. Of course, in a more traditional story each of these component scenes and sequences would have structure, and we might be looking to develop the conflict, characters, value changes and arc across each and every one. With Bella, however, it is a little different. There is no conflict in anything. She just has to do incongruous, puzzling things and there is a deep and persistent gap between what is going on and what the audience can get a grip on, so there is excellent, implicit story power for as long as I can keep it uncertain what she is doing within each scene/sequence, as well as in the big picture story.

At some point, the audience will realise that it is a process of grieving and loss. Once she comes off the end of that ritual and process… now she will be lost. Alone. No more ‘things to do’. Just the death hanging in her life. We will sit with that for a bit. Feel her loss. Wonder where it can go. Then she will take action. Shake herself out of it and put in some positivity. That will trigger her family to help with that and between them they will build her to fulfilment and positivity again. This will all need to happen pretty quickly, because the danger with this story is that the major knowledge gap is closed once the audience realise this is a story of loss and a ritual of grief.

Her family can give her another dog. New Bella! There we go. She can go through the process of mourning, get her mojo back… and get a new Bella. That will be a lovely twist at the end to finish the story.