Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: The Story Book by David Baboulene (Dream Engine Media/Kindle)

A second UK offering up for review now: David Baboulene's The Story Book. Mr. Baboulene is a writer of novels, children's books, scripts - and he's actually doing a PhD. on subtext in storytelling as well!

So how does this book stack up against other story-centered tomes?

First, you need to know the book isn't specifically about screenwriting, but talks about story in all (or most) forms of fiction. However, screenwriting is a very big part of the equation, as the central example used to illustrate the theoretical principles is Back To The Future. And that's a very good choice - though as mainstream Hollywood as you can get, BTTF is extremely well-constructed and has many different levels which all influence each other constantly.

Second, mr. Baboulene throws a big frag grenade at the beginning, causing shock and awe no doubt, when he states that you need to disregard structure when you're creating your story. For starting out with a set structural model may be like forcing a square peg in a round hole. It limits your creativity and may 'disfigure' your story from the start.

Wow, heady stuff. I can hear a bunch of writers whooping with glee and another bunch raging in disbelief.

Do not despair, fellow structuralists - story structure still has a very important part to play and the book also spends a lot of time discussing it in detail. However, in the author's view, the structural model should be applied after the fact of story creation, in order to make sure you tell the story as well as possible, hit all your emotional moments with maximum efficiency, and engage your audience to the utmost. So in fact you get the best of both worlds.

Another crucial point in this approach to story us the use of subtext. Subtext, the story underneath the story, is a crucial element for telling a great story, as mr. Baboulene sees it. And the way to achieve subtext is to work with knowledge gaps - which can operate on several levels. Between the characters, between the audience and the characters, the audience and the writer... all is examined in depth and eminently practical. The research Mr. Baboulene has done for his PhD thesis suggests that the more subtext is present in a story, the higher it is rated by the public. So if you ever needed any encouragement to start mastering subtext...

Other chapters consider the plot vs. character divide (hint: there isn't one), dialogue, the story development process (which offers a way of working any writer can adopt), story analysis, and the commercial realities facing authors and screenwriters today.

To round things off, you get six interviews with professional writers (screenwriter Bob Gale, dramatist Willy Russell, novelist Lee Child and the late, lamented sitcom god John Sullivan), actor Mark Williams (best known internationally for his role of Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) and publisher Stewart Ferris. Each interview is in-depth and first-rate, and together they provide a wonderful spectrum of approaches to storytelling. Often the advice is totally contradictory - and totally correct in each case.

One of the high points of the book for me is the analysis of one very short scene from Back To The Future. It's barely one minute of screen time, but as David Baboulene conclusively proves in analyzing it, it's chock-full of layers, subtext and has a very strong dramatic structure as well. This is exactly the kind of analysis which students of writing need.

The book is available in hardcopy here:

or at a ridiulously low price for the Kindle version here:

So you basically can't go wrong, and have no reason not to check this book out. As for me, I'm eagerly awaiting the results of mr. Baboulene's PhD thesis. An understanding of story theory that moves beyond Aristotle, Propp and McKee... Sounds good to me!

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