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January 5, 2017

The Collective Goal of an Ensemble Piece

Complete stories do not require a single Hero with a single Goal.

Having four kids who cynically break down a film’s story the moment we exit the theater is a great reminder that I talk too much about Dramatica. The film in question was Illumination’s Sing, and while everyone agreed that it was fun—they all universally felt that there were “too many characters” in it to be a good story.

The real problem with Sing exists in the under-developed Relationship Story Throughline and mostly absent Influence Character, not the existence of “too many” characters. In fact, it is possible to write a compelling and effective narrative where everyone works on separate—yet common—Story Goals.

Melanie Anne Phillips explains in Writing Stories with a “Collective” Goal:

For example, in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” all the characters are struggling with their relationships and not working toward an apparent common purpose.  There is a goal, however, and it is to find happiness in a relationship.

This type of goal is called a “Collective Goal” since it is not about trying to achieve the same thing, but the same KIND of thing.

In Four Weddings the Collective Goal is Becoming (or Changing One’s Nature). In Sing the Collective goal is Being (or Playing A Role). Interesting too that most ensemble movies find their Overall Stories in the Psychology or Manipulation Domain.

One subjective character, one “Protagonist”, one Goal stories are fine and dandy; but it sure is nice every now and then to see someone attempt to work an ensemble piece in the middle of a genre dedicated to the commonplace.

Never trust a Hero.

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