Reminders about Parallel Narrative
- All parallel narrative forms struggle with pace, connection, meaning and closure. These will be your big problems. Remind yourself to keep checking that you have achieved all of them.
- The first question any audience asks of films that have multiple storylines 'why these particular stories, what's the point?' Check that you know the point, and check that your stories actually transmit it.
- Plan all of your stories first then interweave them. That way all of your stories are well-structured. It's too easy to forget something if you intercut as you go (I know Guillermo Arriaga intercuts as he writes, but he's Guillermo Arriaga).
- The various parallel narrative structures are genuinely complete structures in their own right, so you can't randomly leave out bits or add bits or the structure will collapse. For example, if your film is about three people in different countries who all win the lottery and react differently, you can't suddenly add a fourth person in another country who has lost their lost their bicycle, or another lottery winner who reacts identically to one of your existing three. I've deliberately given you extreme examples, but remember, certain audiences rejected Babel because they thought the Japanese girl's story didn't fit - no matter that they loved the rest of the film.
- Don't start your film in one parallel narrative form and switch to another. You've set up a contract with the audience to give them A.. Don't expect them to like or understand what you're doing if you give them B.
- if a parallel narrative film comes out, watch it several times to understand its mechanics. Generally, work hard to increase your store of knowledge about parallel narrative. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that tomorrow's producers will casually ask you if you've got any clever parallel narrative ideas up your sleeve.
- parallel narrative is not an exact science . Sometimes writers get upset that there's not an exact model for what they want to do, or that a film differs in some minor structural detail from others in its family. We could say the same thing about symphonies - composers will often push the envelope, they'll often modify the basic form to suit what they want to transmit. Don't get flustered when you find a structural detail that doesn't conform exactly to the model. Instead, study it to find out what effect the change makes, and hence how you yourself might at some point use it safely.