Watching the final episode of BBC’s The Night Manager I was reminded (no spoilers) of the V-model used in software engineering, specifically testing. This led me to V-model story telling, something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while. In essence it’s really simple — close everything important down by the end. It is very similar to the widely known Chekhov’s Gun:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
V-model story telling explained
In a general story there’s a narrative thread (and maybe multiple, one or more per main character) and it moves from events A, to events B and so on until the end. There’s a flow, yet the focus changes. Detective / police / mystery stories are very good examples, yet most stories will or should use elements of this. What’s important is the symmetry, the tying together of ideas and the closing down of loose threads. Subconsciously the reader gets a better sense of completion: Bilbo Baggins gets back home, Chekhov’s gun get’s fired, a clue from the original murder suddenly makes sense and so on.
The shape can repeat across a series. Each title can be closed within itself yet go back to elements from the previous stories. Take Star Wars; one of the most powerful moments is when Luke learns who his father is. This takes an assumption he (and we) had been carrying since he first spoke to Obi Wan Kenobi about his heritage. It is a clever twist and works because of its simplicity.
As an aside this device is a two-edged sword. Take shows such as Lost, Heroes… here there is reveal after reveal and after a while the cross-connects loose their simplicity and it merely becomes about playing tricks with the audience. V-model story telling may be a little simplistic for some, but go too far and you end up with spaghetti!