Analogy as a Story Development Tool

Sometimes I fall in love with a concept, scene or character and then struggle  to write a script to put that element into. A concept, scene or character isn’t a script, because a concept, scene or character isn’t a story.

One way to think of a story, is that a story is an analogy– creating a new story by following a similar story and adding a twist. Sounds like many formula’s of screenwriting, eh? Heard an NPR radio show about a new book, “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking,” and it occurred to me that this discussion really works to talk about screenwriting and filmmaking.

Consider this:

Girl goes to the store

This is a concept, not a story.

An analogy is for example,  ‘Here comes trouble.’ You expect ‘Here comes…’ to be followed by a person’s name, but when you see ‘trouble,’ it triggers your imagination. You get a clear idea that the person walking down the street will cause, create, or inadvertently contribute to bad things.  Or maybe the word ‘trouble,’ will be animated, moving down the street, personified. But you can almost see a whole story coming from there: Trouble comes. Trouble happens. Trouble is resolved, changed, solved, enabled, grows… whatever.

Now, consider this.

The horror movie of a girl going to the store.

Now this is interesting.  It suggests certain story elements like conflict, an antagonist, and it creates not just an expectation for the viewer, but a narrative structure for a filmmaker.  Could you imagine a film with a great comedic sequence, an awesome horror scene, a great action scene, a love scene and some found footage sprinkled in for taste? It’d be like a dish that has everything in it, and tastes like nothing. Stay focused and specific. Do something well, don’t try to do everything in one project.

Here are a few other examples of options.

  • The romantic comedy of a girl going to the store.
  • The action adventure of a girl going to the store
  • The Film Noir mystery of a girl going to the store
  • The Video Game Spoof of a girl going to the store.

The analogy is that the banal, (or plain for you who don’t like colorful language) idea of a girl going to the store cast as an action adventure, or romantic comedy, or whatever.

There are tons of examples of this, especially in the Sci-Fi space. District 9 is alien invasion as apartheid. The X-men comic books were “Superheros as US Race Segregation.” The upcoming X-Men film, “Days of Future Past” is the superhero story as Jewish Holocaust. Director Ryan Johnson’s film, Brick, is an 80’s TV-movie set as Film Noir. Westside Story is a urban street gang fight musical.

Here’s a video that’s been going around the web lately called Cargo.  It’s a ‘Dad infected with a zombie virus takes his infant to a babysitter’ story. Dad takes his infant to a babysitter, isn’t really interesting. Add a zombie virus, and you get people’s attention.

Analogy helps me write. One guy’s interrogating another in a dark room can be cast as a “game show of death.” A Pokemon card game can be the method of  beat down between rival prison gangs.

Analogy also makes a great pitch, because it tends to be concise and pithy. It’s evocative, which is why it inspired you to write a story.

This post was inspired by an interview with WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook called The Brain Analogy Machine. It suggests that analogy is the way we think and grow as a society. It’s also a way we process myth, create stereotype and story.

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