The Siren Song of a Good Story - Homer style

Odyssey

One of the most useful ways of thinking about a complete narrative is to realise that it’s not a conversation. (By the way, my scribbled note above is in Emily Wilson’s great recent translation of The Odyssey)

When you tell a story face-to-face among friends there is always room for people to join in, ask you to elaborate on a point that they find interesting, challenge you and joke along. It’s at the heart of a conversation; everyone sharing points of view about the world to maybe understand the bigger picture. But a story in a recorded medium - film or TV, graphic novel or novel - leaves no room for any questions. Every possible question that your viewer has, has to exist in the work.

That’s what is meant by a complete story.

There’s another side of this, of course. And it’s where having this knowledge of story structure is so powerful. You can design your film or article to have holes in it. You can create gaps in the storytelling that force the audience to ask “what about....”? That’s propaganda - intentionally leaving holes in your story, which can force the audience to complete the picture in only one possible way. Or you could take that desire to fill those gaps in the story and send them to social media to discuss what’s missing, which is incredibly powerful when it’s in your control.