We are big Ted Lasso fans in our house. I love the messages about vulnerability, the importance of friendships, the challenge to toxic masculinity in sport and the wide world, and Ted’s down home quips that remind me of every great aunt sitting around our family reunions growing up with similar silly sayings twisting their tongues.
**If you haven’t watched Seasons 1 and 2, there may be spoilers ahead**
Before the start of season 3, we rewatched seasons 1 and 2. I commented before we rewatched the first season how excited I was to dissect how the writers had set up Nate’s eventual switch to the dark side at the end of season 2. He protested. The writers didn’t know a second season would be picked up–not everything means something. (*gasp*)
Yes, Rebecca, let’s stop right there.
Indeed, everything in story does mean something. If it doesn’t, why is it there?
Readers (and viewers) are smart. Our brains are wired to look for story connections. If a character suddenly does something out of, well, character, then we as readers/viewers don’t buy it. It’s not earned. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be shocking–seeing Nate rip the sign at the end of season 2 was heartbreaking–but it wasn’t completely unexpected. I went to a workshop once where the writer discussed structuring your climactic moment. He said a climax should be fresh, it should be impactful, it should be surprising, but it should also be inevitable.
As we watched back season 1, moments of Nate gaining what I thought was confidence during our original watch suddenly took on a sinister tone. Each moment we watched through Ted’s eternally trusting and optimistic rose-colored glasses had a different side when viewed through Nate’s perspective. And the writers so deftly distracted us in season 1 that we didn’t internalize it, we found it funny, we cheered for his successes. But each of those moments made the culminating scenes of season 2 inevitable and earned.
Because the writers had a point.
Every subplot, interaction, scene, moment must serve your story’s point. The art is creating a work that isn’t repetitive and come across as a lesson.
How do YOU do that?
Easy. Know your point.
Chances are you sat down to the page to say something. Dig into that. Deep. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Why are you writing this story?
- What do you want the reader to walk away from your story feeling/thinking/doing/understanding?
- What excites you the most about this story?
Chances are, this story point may boil down into a cliche. That’s totally fine (remember those high school english classes sorting all stories into Man vs. God, Man vs. Man, or Man vs. Nature?). In fact, I find this can be helpful because it’s easy to remember as you’re writing. Maybe your story is good wins over evil or money can’t buy happiness. Yes, your stories will (and should) be more complex than these trite sayings, but if your theme is love conquers all, that makes it easier to see if a scene is love winning or being challenged in any given moment.
Nail down that story point and use it as your third rail. All the choices your protagonist makes, all the subplots that reflect or challenge, all the moments of transformation should somehow relate to your story point. If they don’t? Why are they there?
Back to Ted Lasso. If the show’s theme is about optimism and friendship, how does Nate’s arc relate to the story point? He’s rejecting the theme and therefore learning his own lessons as a result.
Now look at your own story. Do you know your story point? Is it clear at the end of the story? (Hint: ask a beta reader what they think the theme of the story is to see if you hit the mark). Are there scenes or characters that aren’t serving your story point? Is your point lost somewhere in the middle of the manuscript? If you haven’t started writing yet, know your point before you begin.
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Featured photo at top by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash