Story Worlds

Screenwriting guru Robert McKee says stories must obey their own internal laws of probability. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting


What was taken? Was anything taken?  I don’t recall anything being taken. I said, doesn’t that seem a little weird and a, a fluke? You know, a relatively affluent, white collar neighborhood that somebody would, in the middle of a beautiful day, just kill somebody for no reason? Well, you know so what are you implying? I said well, I’m not implying anything. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Don Beckett, 2008


Cue a brick-and-clapboard house with a carriage lamp over the mailbox, just off the busy thoroughfare of Arapahoe Road. Pan to a cop ticketing a motorcycle and a VW bug on Arapahoe. Across the road and cater-corner to the house, three carpenters install siding on a new home. Zoom out over a tidy subdivision of suburban tract homes where residents water lawns, feed roses and hang clothes on a brilliant Saturday morning in June 1973.

Because the houses have been platted to face the street, each backyard abuts the yard of the neighbor behind it. Directly behind this house the Hardings live. Doug was buddies with their son; he knew him in high school and roomed with him at CU. Rosa Lee Harding was the only neighbor who saw anything unusual the day Betty was murdered. 

At 10:00 a.m. Mrs. Harding watered the flowers in her backyard. She hung out her first load of laundry between 10:15 and 10:30, and the second at 11:30. Between the first and second loads she heard a noise from Betty’s house, like something fell. The timing would prove crucial when a neighbor boy said he’d been to the Frye house that morning looking for Doug’s kid brother Greg, and Duane answered the door.

Places are more than locations. They form a sticky web. A house backs onto its neighbor’s and a woman hears a noise. A carpenter sees a cop giving tickets and a man in a yard. A kid goes looking for his friend and finds someone else. Thirty-five years later, Doug’s sister’s boyfriend remembers nothing fit. When a world defies its internal laws of probability, people notice. 

What internal laws govern your world? Who would notice if those laws were defied?


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