Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Build Stories that Resonate – Book Summary and Notes
Tags: book, storytelling
Last Updated on Sun, 26 Feb 2023 15:20:43 GMT - Edit Page
What is invisible ink?
- Visible Ink is what is readily "seen" by the reader or viewer. For example dialogues or words.
- Invisible Ink instead is what is not easily spotted by the reader, viewer, or listener (like the story order). Invisible ink does have a profound impact on the story.
Seven easy steps to a better story
- Stories are deceptively simple but difficult to create.
- Seven steps make up all narratives.
- 1.) Once upon a time
- 2.) And every day
- 3.) Until one day
- 4.) And because of this
- 5.) And because of this
- 6.) Until finally
- 7.) And ever since that day
Once upon a time...
- The start of the classic three-act structure.
- The purpose of act 1 is to tell the audience everything they need to know to understand the story that is to follow.
- "If there is something wrong with the third act, it's really in the first act."
- Just as with a joke, a story's setup must tell the audience everything they need to know to understand the story.
- "Once upon a time" is the reality in which your story takes place and the introduction of your major characters.
- "And every day..." just supports what has already been set up. It establishes a pattern. A pattern to be broken by the next step.
Until one day...
- An inciting incident occurs. The inciting incident is the true beginning of your story.
- The uh-oh moment.
- Also called act break, plot point, turning point, and curtain.
And because of this...
- The start of the second act.
- Time to explore what happens as a result of your first act (cause and effect)
- Whatever the characters do, it must be in reaction to the incident at the act 1 curtain.
And because of this...
- Act 2 is the longest act so it's usually split in two.
- The split is called the fulcrum
- This is your third act.
- It is the beginning of the end of the story.
- This event, whatever it is, starts the chain of events that leads to your climax.
And ever since that day...
- Following your climax is a short scene or two called denouement.
- "They lived happily ever after" is the most familiar denouement.
- The primary reason we tell stories is to teach something.
- Stories resonate with people.
- Having a point, a reason to tell that story, gives your story resonance.
- The armature of a story is the idea upon which we hang our story.
- "Competition" is not a theme. It's just a word. "Competition is sometimes a necessary evil" is a theme. Saying that your theme is competition is like saying your theme is "red". It really says nothing at all.
- The armature is what is called "the moral" in children's fables.
- The armature is your point.
- Your story is sculpted around this point.
- You must get your point across loud and clear.
- I like to use jokes as an instructional tool because they are short stories f a type and are great for teaching structure.
- Just as all elements of a joke support the punch line, so should every element of your story support its armature.
- Good story structure means that nothing is extraneous; every element leads to an inevitable, yet surprising, conclusion.
What it means to dramatize an idea
- Showing rather than telling.
- Dramatization is a way to get your intellectual ideas across to your audience emotionally.
"Bundle of sticks"
- Aesop's armatures are often called morals, but whatever you call them, it all boils down to the fact that he had a point.
- Aesop dramatized his point.
Theme beats logic
- Dramatizing the armature is a way of getting an intellectual idea across emotionally.
- It's ok to abandon logic for a theme to support the armature.
The use of clones
- A clone is a tool for showing, not telling.
- Clones are characters in your story that represent what could, should, or might happen to the protagonist if he or she takes a particular path.
- To the untrained eye, clone characters appear to be nothing more than secondary characters populating the story's world. But in the hands of a skillful storyteller, they are the invisible ink that helps illuminate the story's point.
- The purpose of this ritual seems to be about tearing the character down and then transforming him.
- The second act is a kind of ritual pain that changes your character.
- Usually, your character has what has been called a fatal flaw.
- There is something they need to learn before they can be transformed into a better, more mature, person.
- Ritual pain means painfully killing off one aspect of a characters' personality to make room for something new.
- Character transformation and growth are some of the most powerful forms of invisible ink.
Personal hell exercise
- Cool exercise
- Sacrifice is an important part of what makes a protagonist a hero.
- We admire struggle and sacrifice.
- All characters of change have, at least, an emotional death that allows them to be resurrected anew.
- Apply enough pressure and heat to change a lump of coal into a diamond.
From butterfly to caterpillar
- Characters don't always change for the better.
- Some stories are about how people are corrupted - how angels fall.
- Cool example from the Godfather.
- Flip-flops are characters who are opposites, but exchange character traits.
- Each has something the other is lacking, and by exchanging traits they become whole.
- Sometimes only one of the characters needs to change and the other is the catalyst for that change (Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, ...)
Characters who don't change
- Do characters always need to change? No, they don't.
- But you always have to remember what your armature is and why you are telling the story. Let that make the decision for you.
- What is the best way to dramatize your point?
- Cool example of this (situation that doesn't change) from The Twilight Zone.
Killing the protagonist
- Killing the protagonist is the ultimate sacrifice.
- Make sure they finish their story first.
Tell the truth
- Always tell the truth ie. don't make your characters say or do something stupid or create unlikely or illogical situations just for plot convenience.
- Lying is visible ink. It is easy for the audience to see and therefore doesn't work.
- If you can show that a hero had fears, doubts, and human foibles but did a heroic thing anyway, it makes him all the more heroic.
- The truth will always be sadder, happier, funnier, scarier, and more profound than the best lie. More importantly, the audience never "sees" it, but does feel it.
The masculine and the feminine
- "The King died and then the Queen died" is a story.
- "The King died and then the Queen died" of grief is a plot.
- There are "masculine" and "feminine" elements of a story.
- I define masculine elements as external, while feminine elements are internal.
- Without equal, or close to equal, parts, your story is unbalanced.
- One without the other is a lie (read the chapter for a better understanding).
- Masculine traits are anything that moves the story forward externally (plot, action, ...).
- Feminine traits are anything involving emotional matters.
- It is the balance of those two elements that creates dramatic tension and keeps an audience interested.
- Films and books that are more feminine are often called "character-driven".
- Things that affect a character physically are masculine and are visible ink. How he feels about them is feminine and invisible.
- The masculine conflict only forces the hero to deal with his feminine conflict.
Drama in real life
- "Blue eyes/Brown eyes exercise" explanation
- Experiencing rather than telling is what transformed these children through ritual pain.
- When the film of the elementary school teacher's exercise is shown to adults, they learn all the lessons the kids did, but without having to go through the experience themselves.
- This is what makes drama so powerful-it is a way for people to experience things without actually experiencing them.
- Your responsibility as a storyteller is to be a good teacher, not a good preacher.
The myth of the genre
- Genre is visible
- Invisible ink is about the inner working of the story, not the costumes the characters wear.
- Good drama doesn't understand the boundaries of genre.
- Genre is concerned with the external.
- Genre is irrelevant to the dramatist. A dramatist should only be concerned with drama. If one genre can help you tell your story better than another, use it. No genre is better or worse than another.
- The armature must be so strong that it makes the story universal and makes the genre inconsequential.
- Don't let your medium or your genre stop you from telling a good story.
- A climax is the bringing together of the masculine and feminine elements that show the character's change, or lack thereof.
- We can see how much a character has changed based on how they respond when the pressure is on.
- The climax of a story puts the protagonist in an intense situation that forces a choice that shows growth or lack of growth.
God from the machine
- deus ex machinas are boring and lazy.
- It's not really satisfying to have your hero not save himself.
- It is a form of dishonesty (your job is, to tell the truth).
- On the other hand, feel free to throw new trouble on your characters.
- Trouble is good, because trouble is conflict, and conflict is ritual pain.
Supporting plots (subplots)
- They are there to support the main plot. Everything should hang off the same armature.
- Few can see the impact of supporting plots on the armature idea; but there they are, invisibly making stories more resonant.
Slave, not master
- You are a slave to your story, not a master. Your characters, places, scenes, and sequences must be built around the armature.
- Think of it more as making discoveries rather than decisions. You will then find yourself looking for things that illustrate your point. If you do this, your work will be stronger and more focused. It will elevate your work over most.
- Most people are under the impression that scriptwriting is coming up with dialogue. It is the writing that people can see, so they focus on it.
- Subtext is a kind of invisible ink.
- Subtext is all in the setup. (see the example)
- Dialogue is a tool. It can be used to define your armature, give essential plot information, or reveal character.
- (example about exposition from Some like it hot)
- Exposition is some of the hardest writing to do. Finding a natural way to have characters speak things they already know can seems impossible at times.
- There is nothing really useful in this chapter.
- Just write natural-sounding dialogues.
- Real people don't talk like movie people.
Address and dismiss
- Sometimes audience members need a representative within the narrative. It allows you to address and dismiss their concerns so that they can stay engrossed in the story (see the example from John Carpenter's The Thing).
- It's a tricky tool because it could pull people out of the scene but when used correctly, it is invisible.
Address and explain
- This is related to address and dismiss but serves a different function.
- See the example from Star Wars (... then Luke exclaims, "What a piece of junk!").
- Some of the best dialogue is quiet and subtle and reveals things about the plot, theme, or character, with the precision of a surgeon.
- Example of Superior position from Alfred Hitchcock
- The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.
- Is it when the audience knows something that the characters do not know?
- Most of the time it's used for suspense, but not always.
- Even frightening experiences in our own lives can be funny in the retelling because we have a superior position over our past selves. We know everything turned out okay.
Show them once so they know
- This is a great tool for storytelling. It is almost always invisible to an audience.
- It is used to give the audience a sense of scale, and things to compare.
- This is a very interesting chapter full of examples that are difficult to summarize.
- Invisible ink is all about communicating with your audience clearly and getting to feel and think what it needs to so it will experience your story.
When bad things happen to good stories
- Some cool examples of mistakes in popular movies.
How to translate critiques
- Most people don't have the skills to articulate what is bothering them about a piece of writing.
- They will see everything through the lens of their tastes and their concept of drama.
- Rarely will they look at what you are attempting to do and be able to give unbiased advice about how to achieve it.
- Their comments will be subjective, not objective.
- They will say things to make themselves sound learned.
- Some tips:
- If you hear the same critique from three or more people, listen to it.
- Keep in mind they might be describing the symptom, not the disease.
- If someone doesn't understand what is going on in your story, that is worth listening to.
- If someone loses interest in your story, it is worth finding out where and why.
- When you show WIP, they will always feel obliged to tell you what's wrong with it and how to fix it. But when you show them a finished piece, they are much more accepting.
Judging your own work
- Just worry about the craft and the art will take care of itself.
- Learn to look at your work as if it isn't your work.
- Be as hard on yourself as you would anyone else.
- Learn from the masters. Figure out how they did and what they did, why it worked, and apply it.
- Don't be fooled by flash-in-the-pan success and don't try to imitate what is new and novel.
- Respect your audience. It's not their job to "get it"; it's your job to communicate it to them.
- Understand that you are only as good as you are today, and don't beat yourself up. You'll get better.
Good stories, good business
- Telling good stories and telling them well can be good business as well as being good for the world that consumes them.
- People who understand the elements of stories (like Pixar) have been able to constantly put good movies.
- Well-crafted stories never go out of style.
- A film or book can be a hit for many reasons: timing, new technology, and hip language. But only one thing makes a classic: a good story that speaks to the truth of being human.
My own process
- The author presents his White Face short film.
- The complete script of the film, followed by an explanation of the invisible ink used.
Tell them what you told them
- The idea that one could view a story through the lenses of objectivity is so foreign to some that they don't even know it is a possibility. But if you are to master this craft, that is what you must strive to do.
- Drama is a language, and its principles can be observed, learned, and executed.
- One way to master this skill is to try to understand what you respond to in a story.
- It is necessary for the story to be told this way? Ask this question about dialogue, costumes, scenery, photography, politics, special effects, genre, music, and any other elements that might find their way into a story.
- You will have strong feelings about some of these things and it will distort your view of a story.
- We must take ourselves out of the equation if we are ever to learn to see and use story structure.