Them: I have a great idea for a story!
Me: Let's hear it.
Them: It's about a regular guy who no one really takes very seriously. After some strange and
threatening things start happening around the town, he gets caught up in a quest, and has to leave everything he's ever known in order to stop a terrible calamity from coming about. On the way, he makes friends and enemies, takes a few licks and gives some in return, becomes more independent and wise, and gains insight about the world and its people that he didn't have before, making him a better person. He and his new friends overcome all challenges, and when he returns home, everyone sees just how much stronger he is; he finally gains the respect of his clan and family. He lives more or less happily ever after. The end.
Me: Great. I'm sure you'll fill in the details as you go along, and preferably before you sit down to write anything. It's hard to travel without a map, you know. So, you have the basics of the story; now, what is
Them: I don't know what you mean.
Me: You haven't expressed the form. Is it a novel, screenplay, episodic tv show, one-act play, three-act play, five-act play, animation, comedy sketch? The form is going to determine to what extent you will be able to extrapolate on your subject. I won't even begin to discuss genre at this moment.
Them: I'd like to know more about form. Go on.
Me: I'll use the analogy of water. The substance of your story is the water. You are the water-bearer, and the vessel you pour the substance into is the form. We all understand that water has the beautiful property of filling whatever volume of space it is poured into. If the space is too large, the water spreads out to fill the vessel, but it cannot, and so it lacks depth. If the space is too small, the water overflows the container, and there is a great deal of waste. This mistake is often made by the waterbearer (that is, the Writer) not taking into account the form of the vessel that they are pouring the substance into. If, however, you fit your form to the substance of your story, you find balance and parity. The water will not over-flow and become messy, nor will it lack depth, since it is suited to the
form it is designed for.
Them: Okay, so I understand that the form of the story guides how much substance I can safely put into
it, but how do I know how to measure that?
Me: Open your kitchen cabinet: inside you might find a teacup, a pint glass, a liter mug or stien, and a three-gallon cooking pot. The substance of your story must be drunk accoring to the vessel that you choose. How much are you willing to drink? If your story has little definition, but a lot of punch, you only need a teacup full (like an espresso shot). Beginning/middle/end. Done. This is what a comedy sketch or a short animation does. If however, your story requires a great expansion of character and world, you may very well need that huge cooking pot so as to slowly and methodically layer the different flavors over a very long time and low heat before you reach a boiling point. This is the stuff of great novels and prestige episodic television. Films tend to fall in the middle.
Them: I think I understand what you're saying, and will try to match my substance with the proper form. I do think however, that you use strange metaphors sometimes.
Me: Only because the substance of what I'm saying requires the proper form.