How much more story do you need to stick around?

How much more story do you need or want to remain engaged with the story? That “more story” usually relates to relationships. It helps us get to know the character in different contexts and with different people. In some ways, a character becomes an old friend because we’ve come to know them by knowing their story.

I finished watching Jessica Jones last weekend. Season 2, that is. On Netflix.

Wow! I did not anticipate that ending.

It was fascinating watching how each friend’s personal agenda caused big problems within this close-knit group.

Even more fascinating? These changes opened unexpected possibilities for Season 3. I can’t wait to see what will happen next.

>>>More about Jessica Jones and storytelling. See post: Super Heroes, Secret Identities and the Author’s Pen Name.

The extra side dish I love about this series is wondering how Jessica would interact with the heroes of The Defenders series. Another Netflix special. The Defenders series brings together four different heroes to defend the world from evil.

But to watch The Defenders (and more of Jessica Jones), I faced a dilemma. Dive into The Defenders series straight away and risk being confused about why it was important that each of one of those heroes needed to show up for this new series? Or take a giant step back and watch their stories too?

How far have I gone to watch more story before the “real” story?

A multitude of pocket watches piled together in a random orderStarting with Jessica Jones, Season 1, that’s 13 hours.

I then watched Luke Cage’s series: one season (13 episodes). I moved on to watch The Iron Fist series featuring Danny Rand: another season (13 episodes). But then I balked at watching another two seasons (26 episodes) when it came to Matt Murdoch/Daredevil’s story. So, I skipped. Knowing three of the four characters was still a great way to enter The Defenders, I rationalized.

Still, that’s 39 hours watching a lot of story to feel ready to appreciate the main event —  The Defenders — featuring all four heroes for another 13 episodes (another 13 hours). Total hours invested: 52 hours.

What I found intriguing about this experience is how I wanted more story (3 seasons of 13 episodes) before I even got to the main story of The Defenders.

This need for more story that I’m noticing within myself is helping me deal with a situation showing up in the Nadine and Blunderbuss story that I’m working on.

When should a story start?

Three old-style alarm clocks with bells and clock faces facing of different colours facing different directions and marking different timesThe writing books tell you to start in situ – meaning, as close to the end of the transformation of the hero as possible.

The writing books talk about mistakes new writers make, including the one where the first third of their draft novel could be deleted and not impact the story.

In one of my earlier efforts writing Nadine’s story within the Covenant world, I started with the main character’s enslavement. But, something was off. It started to feel as though I’d started the story too far in.

In this story, the main character needs to escape enslavement to fulfill her destiny, but how will she know where to go if the story starts with her enslaved as a child? How would she know what freedom feels like, and so know to desire a different reality? Why would she leave her father, who is enslaved with her, to abandon him to go toward strangers?

Unless the strangers her father was sending her toward were already known and trusted. Unless she already knew the way. Possibly even, she remembered living a happier, freer life that she wanted to regain.

So, I took a giant step back to tell that story of freedom. My objective was to be as brief as possible giving enough context to answer those questions. Though I felt the need to get back to telling the enslavement story as soon as possible.

How much more story does the story want to reveal?

The story had other ideas and opened up aspects of the story world I hadn’t considered I would ever even need to get into.

For example, the Hero’s home is also a sanctuary for people who are able to find it. This sanctuary has Shangri-La qualities, echoing aspects of that location in the Lost Horizon novel by James Chilton.

Now, that darn building (the sanctuary) seems to have a personality of its own and wants to be revealed. This building reminds me somewhat of how Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter Series, is distinct and unique.

What do you do when a location in the story wants more space?

Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about this building voicing that it has a stronger presence in the story than I’m aware. In particular, it’s not yet clear to me how to allow it more space in the story without slowing down the intended story.  I feel like I’m talking to one of my kids when they want me to buy them something that they really want and I’ve already figured out my budget for the month: “We’ll see what we can do,” is all I can to say to manage this new voice’s expectations.

More tension and conflict: always a good thing

Book Cover of Donald Maass' The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction WritersAnother example of what’s occurring by taking this back step? The relationship dynamics between the key players are richer. The conflict and tension between them are thicker. This is always a good thing.

The writing books talk about micro-tension. The editor Donald Maass discusses this element in very specific ways in his books. He also illustrates his point with fabulous examples. Micro-tension is all the little questions and worries we have about the characters and the story world, hooking us to read just another page, another scene, another chapter, another book. The same concept also applies to binge watching a whole bunch of TV shows and movies in one sitting!

“Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps readers in a constant state of suspense over what will happen – not in the story, but in the next few seconds. […] Micro-tension does not come from story circumstances or from words. It comes from emotions – and not just any old emotions, but conflicting emotions. – Donald Maass, The Breakout Novelist

When I think about what I enjoy as a reader, Robin Hobb is a master of the art of threading micro-tension into every page of her stories. Maass even features Hobb in his examples.

An important goal I’ve set as a reader who wants to write stories that I want to read is to become a master like Hobb, weaving in hundreds of threads of micro-tension throughout the story.

So, getting back to the Covenant stories: the story wants to tell more story. Yet, the main character still needs to experience enslavement because important stuff happens where she’s enslaved.

The lesson for me?

Story consumers want more story, but it can’t be boring or irrelevant. The extra story must help move the main story forward in some way.

What’s next for Jessica Jones?

Where does that leave Jessica Jones and The Defenders?

A Season 3 for Jessica Jones is confirmed, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

They’ve planned nothing for The Defenders.

Sadly.

Though I love the suggestions Lesley Goldberg proposed in the post he wrote for the Hollywood Reporter. Unsurprisingly, he’s recommending that they offer more story, that they have the heroes work together more often appearing in each other’s series. It reminds me of how we hang out more and more with the people we like.

What story series do you love the most? What is it about that story that keeps you engaged?

 

Images courtesy of the artists at Pixabay and book publisher.

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