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Why a Theme is Critical to a Great Story, Just Don’t Tell the Audience

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GREGG
BLANCHARD
       

Note: I misspoke on Monday about how close the view counts of these two videos are. After digging, I found out that the Dubai video has closer to 130,000 views across uploads on different channels.

This next piece of the story puzzle is a really interesting, but less obvious one.

In fact, it’s the indirect nature of this element that gives the story an extra punch, ties subplots together, and carefully holds the audience’s attention.

Element #2: Theme
From my study, the second element is, like I’ve said and you’ve guessed, a central theme.

But the secret is that these themes are best if they’re not blatantly obvious. It’s the silent nature that holds the story together. It’s like the difference between a teacher asking you to guess “what these things have in common” instead of saying “all of these things are reptiles, let me tell you about them.”

Much like uncertainty, one engages your mind as you try subconsciously pull things together, the other turns your mind off.

Nimbus: RUSSIA
Unfortunately for this video, the theme is only as deep at the “Russia” label the video bears.

And even then, much of the skiing could have taken place anywhere. There is virtually no tie between the stock-looking shots of Russia and the powder turns that follow. Red Square, nose butter three. Security guard, pow slash. It’s all Russia with nothing deeper and less obvious to keep us looking for connections.

Without a theme, it’s just footage.

Arc’teryx: DUBAI
On the other hand, watch the Dubai video again closely and see if you can pick out the theme.

Did you see it? The theme is this: impossible things that actually exist. For example:

  • A year-round ski resort in a sandy desert
  • A kid who skis but has never done so outside
  • A mall that transitions from GAP to ski area instead of GAP to Sbarro
  • A guy in Dubai who skis more than anyone on the planet
  • A skier who moved to 100+° temps specifically to ski

See what I mean? They don’t ever say it, but it ties all the sub stories and pieces of the narrative together.

An Example
Think about Star Wars and, specifically, the scene where Vader tells Luke that he’s his father.

Why is that such a massive point in the story? It’s because one of the biggest, underlying themes is how Luke is constantly chasing the memory of his father and trying to learn about and become like him. It’s the contrast between Luke’s quest and the fact his father may be the enemy that makes such a compelling story. Interestingly, that theme is even stronger precisely because it’s not obvious.

So, themes: unspoken threads that tie pieces of story together. Tomorrow we’ll tackle oscillation.


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