How do you write a believable story when your premise is unbelievable? I re-watched Legally Blonde a few weeks ago and I came across a real gold nugget for storytellers, and I decided to start a new blog series for QUICK STORYTELLING TIPS. (See also: my favourite books to teach you important fiction writing skills.)
If you’ve never watched Legally Blonde, the premise is this: When Elle gets dumped by her college boyfriend for not being serious or smart enough to be a future lawyer’s girlfriend, she decides to follow him to Harvard law school to change his mind.
As we’re watching the movie, we’re immediately faced with two problems: going to law school is HARD, and also, Elle definitely doesn’t seem like the smartest cookie in the jar considering she is like a human version of Hello Kitty with fabulous hair extensions.
Right from the beginning, it was the writers’ job to make sure we would believe it could happen that Elle could get to law school, and later on that she would win the court case she was working on, because no matter how unbelievable the story premise is, we NEED TO be able to believe it could happen. We want stories that are incredible, but the writers need to make us believe in them, and that’s also our job when we’re writing our own stories.
In the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where Elle and friends are shopping for a dress, and this scene helps establish her character as well as make us believe in the story. The salesperson in the shop is already convinced that Elle is just another dumb blonde spending her dad’s money, and she tries to sell her something from the sale rack at a full price. Elle asks her a series of questions about the dress, to all of which the salesperson says yes, and then Elle goes:
What even is a half-loop top stitching? I know what rayon is, but how is low-viscosity different? We don’t need to know. What we do now know is that a) Elle is no fool, and b) she is actually rather smart, she has just decided to use all of her smarts on fashion.
Later on we find out she does also have really good grades, but this scene shows that she’s more than capable of having specialised knowledge and that she can totally tell when people are lying to her. Pretty good qualities for a lawyer, don’t you think?
So here was the first edition of Quick Storytelling Tips! Please share it with your writer friends if you’ve enjoyed it, and let me know what you’d like to hear about next.