Before I dive in to giving more Story Analysis posts, I’d love to explain my process because I get asked about it all the time.
I’ve been trained as a Story Analyst by Katherine J. Farmer, who originated the Farmer System of Narrative Analysis (FSNA), otherwise known as The Story Cone Method. This process involves using a story cone to go through and understand the underlying dynamics found within the story. I work with a team of about 4-6 people and I do about two analysis projects per week with them. On my own, I do anywhere from 2-6 analysis projects per week.
I’m going to give the process of how I analyse movies, but it’s about the same with books or edits I do.
We get together and watch the movie. Individually, we are either really familiar with this movie already (e.g. Jaws, which I’ve seen at least a dozen times) or we’ve watched it within the last two weeks to prepare. That way we come to the story already familiar with the plot. If we attend a movie at the theater, we read reviews and (usually) a synopsis beforehand. I very rarely go into a movie unspoiled unless I specifically am watching it for that experience. Sad, I know, but I’ve come to view story completely differently now and I honestly enjoy this whole process.
The analysis team meets together and we start the movie around 10 AM (and we always buy/bring lunch). We are each assigned a role in which we look for specific things within the story, and we often pause the movie as we go through to point out things we’ve noticed. When the movie is over, we have a 1-3 hour discussion. We look at all aspects and analyze everything from the main theme to how many separate story lines there were.
After that, we write up the analysis. A junior analyst writes down a summary of the group’s discussion (this can be up to 10 pages, but she’s gotten really fast at it), and I write down my overall views and focus on what went wrong and what could’ve been done better.
If I am watching this movie for the first time with no spoilers, after the write up I then go back and watch the movie again to prove if my theories are correct. We then adjust anything in the write up, if needed. After that, we let it sit for 3-7 days, because inspiration is a killer, let me tell you, and sometimes I’ll have ideas that come out of nowhere that I want to add. (I also do this with my edits, and I want them to sit for about a week after I’ve finished so I can just really let it sit in my head. I find my best inspiration there.)
With about 2 analysis per week, that’s over 100 stories per year that I look at. That’s not including any edits that I work on, which I also take through the same process.
So are there times when I’m stumped by a story? Yes.
I’ve been doing this for over 2 years now and I still get baffled sometimes. The story is either so off-kilter, or so insanely good and deep, that I have to walk away from it and let it sit. There are some stories that I come back to after a week, others after a few months. I know that it’s working, but it just doesn’t quite make sense right away. I find this more with the older stories, such as movies from the 1930s, because they don’t follow The Hollywood Formula that every movie seems subject to these days.
However, I’ve found that the more stories I analyse, the more I have comparison titles to look at. So I might come across a story dynamic that is very similar to the one that puzzled me and it makes sense–and when I compare it to the one that puzzled me, that one now makes sense. Truth is really apparent in those comparisons, which is why it’s so important to build up my own examples in analysis.