Storytelling Makes the Idea
When is the storytelling more important than the idea itself?
They say that there are only a handful of story ideas and that they are simply being retold in different ways. So, if the main story idea is the same what makes one writer’s approach work better than the other writer?
I’ll give you an example with two TV series with a similar premise: Yellowjackets vs The Wilds
Both stories are about a group of girls who survive a plane crash and wind up having to survive in a remote area. This type of plot has been told numerous times to varying degrees. And both TV shows have borrowed heavily from the classic novel The Lord of the Flies.
I remember reading that book when I was younger and some of the stuff that happens to the boys in the book still haunts me to this day. It’s safe to say neither Yellowjackets nor The Wilds have been able to capture that same type of intensity that William Goldman did. That’s because on TV you have certain formulaic beats to meet. Not to mention a group of producers interjecting their ideas to reach a target audience. More often than not the producers don’t know what TF they’re talking about. This is where things begin to diverge between the two shows.
While on the surface they may seem the same, I’d venture to say that Yellowjackets is a much better story. It uses the crash and survival theme but expands it with mystery and deepens it with supernatural elements which is what kept my attention. The events that take place in the mountains on Yellowjackets are far more compelling than what happens in The Wilds.
Early on in The Wilds we discover that a social experiment is being conducted which is why the girls are trapped on the island. I found the reasoning for the experiment so confusing that I had to look it up online. Apparently, the point is to show that women could build a better society if they break societal norms.
That’s where you lose me! Why? Because the writing of the show and its characters is the exact opposite of what the experiment is supposed to be. It’s a weak showcase of cardboard characters who fit into a trope. The aggressive jock, the prepper, the angry lesbian, the Christian who (surprise!) everyone hates because y’know…Hollywood. Etc. These are stereotypes I’ve seen a million times before and as the series goes on the bemoaning of the ‘patriarchy’ BS gets old fast. It’s as if they’re trying to pander to a small percent of viewers.
The cutaways to current day is also confusing. They show the girls being interrogated by (as it turns out people who work for the ‘Eve’ program) but it’s not clear why. If I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief and think that this woman Gretchen is running an unsanctioned experiment on children, you need a better story that explains why their parents aren’t complete morons. The parents truly sent their kids off to this retreat and never heard from them again but there isn’t some massive search happening?
This is another reason why Yellowjackets’ approach works better. When we flash forward to their lives off the mountain, they are adults trying to deal with the events that took place out there. There is also a new mystery to solve as someone is hunting them. It plays better than the way The Wilds approached the same idea.
So, I’ve discussed three different versions of the same type of story. There are many more out there. But if you want to really discover how a youth survival story is told in grand design I recommend reading The Lord of the Flies. Everything else pales in comparison.
"Original Cyn" Cynthia Vespia writes fantasy novels with edge. This blog is dedicated to all things fantasy, writer wellness, and my author journey.