As a species, we are highly emotive, and one of the most distinguishing parts of being human is the ability to communicate those emotions. Through evolution, one of the skills of interactions we have cultivated is storytelling, which is the cumulative result of emotion, imagination, and expression. It is an intricate process – like separating all the colourful threads from a yarn. That is what draws people towards fiction.
Fiction is synonymous with alternate realities. It is a form of escape for both those writing and reading it, but what separates good fiction from raw imagination is how it is expressed. A captivating story is one that satisfies and feeds curiosity simultaneously. The wish to get a window into another world, another life; to know places that may not even exist and feel like you have a shot at it.
NBC’s This is Us is a show which has taken the art to another level. The show revolves around a couple and their unique triplets. The show’s creators have managed to make a seemingly regular theme into one of the most vivid, dramatic, and emotional experiences. We are taken on the vicarious journey of the life of the Pearsons – their struggles as a young couple, as parents of triplets, the trauma of losing a baby, and of raising three tangentially different adolescents who lose their father at a young age. The show follows the triplets as they move on with their own individual lives. This is Us has a lot to teach about the art of storytelling.
1. Sew a Story Using Intense Emotional Connections The story takes the audience through a range of emotions. There is love, and there is loss, there are fights along with the small joys of living with and celebrating the people you love as they are – imperfect and human. Each incident, each tragedy touches you as if it were your own. The portrayal is tear-jerking, and yet it makes us laugh.
2. Keep the Reader Guessing Although the story flows smoothly and one starts to anticipate the story line, there is still always a twist at the most unexpected points. This prevents the story from becoming too monotonous or too ambiguous. The consistent effort of keeping the audience ‘on edge’ is oddly gratifying.
3. Create Attention-grabbing Transitions The phenomenal use of flashbacks in the show has proven to be highly effective in captivating the viewer. We find that the story keeps swinging back and forth from these triplets’ childhood into their present. The transition is not abrupt and hands us the keys to understanding their complex personalities and relations.
4. Familiarize Truth in Fiction The storytellers do not shy away from the harsh and often controversial truths. The show tackles these subjects with commendable grace and political correctness. We see the concerns of alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic abuse, racism, sexism, varied parenthood experiences, mental health issues, and even war sewn into the story through each character, all addressed with the intention of being normalized.
5. Create a Sense of Belonging and Looking Inward The more we know the Pearsons, the more we are attached. The audience finds itself emotionally invested in the Pearsons’ lives, maybe because we all find parts of ourselves in the characters. This is a crucial component since all of us seek to belong. Once found, that sense of belonging is impossible to let go of. The show paints what healthy relations look like and how they help mould who we become. We see how Jack’s equation with his children impacts a major part of their individuality. How, even though he never received the love he wanted as a kid, he showered his children and wife with an excess of it.
6. Build Characters with Nuances and an Invisible Mirror We see a good human in each of the characters who are continuously striving to be better. They all strive for perfectionism in their own ways. They lead different but successful professional lives, with their family as a constant source of energy and support despite the differences. Each character, with their unique talents, perspectives, and a different yet extraordinary way of loving, are bound by their insecurities and brokenness. Despite everything, they long to add beauty to this world. This is the spirit that most of us inherently have. As humans, we want to be ‘basically good,’ and This Is Us hits the right cords.
7. Use Background Overlay Creatively The subtle portrayal of emotions made the stories realistic and sensitive. Actions speak louder than words, and songs used in the background connect with your emotions faster than the narrative. The show has made excellent use of songs to increase the depth of emotions manifold. You can feel your senses opening up as each episode progresses.
8. Include Parallels and Build on Details We experience one of the finest nostalgic trips with This is Us. The use of detail is exceptional in every context – places, words, food, clothes and more. Even though a lot of characters are introduced, we accept each one just the same. They might not be constant but are always linked and in the loop. The significance of each tiny detail has been portrayed quite intensely.
9. Simulate a Thrilling Emotional Cliffhanger Each episode leaves us wanting more. They manage to make the audience feel locked up inside a room for the rest of the day in a good way. You want to cherish it and keep watching more because you don’t know what’s next.
10. Cater to the Audience Like any good piece of fictional work, the show makes excellent plot developments, plays on conflict, sticks to the genre while dipping into a wide range of sub-themes. It includes that factor of being marketable as it creates the loop of demand and supply by identifying exactly what the audience wants to consume- that a lot of times it does not know itself.
This is Us presents us with a rich experience of the kind of life and the kind of love we all want. It brings us closer to ourselves through the characters and the story. It is sweet and sad and funny. The show is exactly like the painting that Kevin Pearson shares, which is abstract, full of colours on the entire spectrum that makes no sense but accurately tells us of the connections we make at different points in time that run a lot deeper than we realize.
By Srishti Singh|2021-01-24T10:15:39+05:30November 9th, 2020|Creators' Dialogue|Comments Off on Writing Fiction: 10 Storytelling Lessons from Drama Series ‘This is Us’
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