Analysis

Life on the Fast Lane (The Simpsons: S1 E9)

Telling a complete story in a relatively short amount of time

A complete storyform takes two hours to reach an Audience. Four Throughlines. Eight Dynamics. Static Plot Points and the reinforcement of all the above stack up the needed minutes to convey their importance.

Or you can do it in 22 minutes.

The Simpsons Episode, Life on the Fast Lane (Season 1, Episode 9), is exquisite in its economy of storytelling. From establishing the Relationship Story Throughline between husband and wife to the climactic final Story Driver, writer John Swartzwelder and director David Silverman hit just the right amount of Storypoints needed to deliver a meaningful and moving message.

No surprise that Swartzwelder is famous for writing the most Simpsons episodes (59), and that many consider him one of the best comedy writers in the business.

The Four Throughlines

Establishing the Four Throughlines is key to any competent narrative structure. The relationship between the subjective (Main Character) and objective (Overall Story) sets the Genre, or overall genre-al feel, of a story.

A dysfunctional Family Comedy narrative, like The Simpsons, finds the Main Character in the Universe Domain and the Overall Story in Psychology . The subjective account of being stuck somewhere syncs up with the dysfunctional ways of thinking expressed objectively by everyone.

Marge, as Main Character, is stuck in a marriage where nothing ever changes. The Overall Story, which includes everyone from Marge's sisters to the kids, runs rampant with characters at odds over what it's like to be in that kind of relationship dynamic.

The narrative then falls naturally into balance with an Influence Character Throughline in Mind , and a Relationship Story Throughline in Physics . Jacques, the bowling instructor, played by Albert Brooks, challenges Marge with his obsession with her. Husband and wife come into conflict over extra-marital activities (quite like the husband/wife relationship found in The Incredibles).

With these four perspectives in place, the narrative frames a sense of mind for the Audience to inhabit.

Key Character Motivation

Time is of the essence. With only 20 minutes left to convey the rest of the storyform, the writer must quickly box in narrative concerns to keep the story focused.

Bart found a cheap bottle of perfume for his mother's birthday and was done with it. Lisa worked forever on a macaroni-and-glue card to shut out any competitors for the best present. Homer, meanwhile, rushes out to buy his wife something—anything—for her birthday. Patty and Selma waste no time telling their sister Marge that at 34, she still has time to start over.

The narrative element of Ending drives conflict in this story:

The Ending characteristic causes a character to look toward the conclusion in every process or situation. He may wish to prevent it or to hasten it, but his primary concern is when it's going to be over.

Homer wants to get it over with. Bart is done. Lisa completed a masterpiece. Patty and Selma think their sister would be better off starting over.

Even Marge thinks she has to do something to stop the constant disappointment.

And that's what leads her to Jacques.

Jacques, for all his evil intentions, represents the solution to all this conflict. As Influence Character, he introduces the opposite motivation—Unending—into the narrative.

The Unending characteristic sees nothing as ever coming to completion. What others may see as an end, this characteristic sees as a change of direction.

His feelings for Marge are never-ending. They're eternal, and the love-making will never stop...

...which is precisely the kind of solution the story needs to resolve both subjective and objective concerns.

Marge's arrival on the factor floor (a la An Officer and a Gentleman) reestablishes the romance between her and Homer—a love eternal as their final exchange reveals:

Lenny

What will I tell the boss?

Homer

Tell him I'm going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love, and I won't be back for ten minutes.

Marge

Shh!

Some things never change. Some things stay eternal.

Rounding Out the Rest of the Story

With the general and the specific set, the rest of the story falls into alignment. Homer's constant letdown is the Relationship Story Problem of Proven. He's shown time and time again that he is a thoughtless husband. Which then carries over into the Overall Story Issue of Thought. This issue of what others think of each other then falls into the Overall Story Direction of Theory—Homer's touching speech about why he thinks Marge is so special.

Life on the Fast Lane is a masterpiece of economical and meaningful storytelling. So many writers reach out to ask how in the world can you use Dramatica to tell a short story. As Life on the Fast Lane shows, the question should be: what kind of story do you want to tell, short?

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