Well, once again, I thought that I’d take a break from writing about the webcomic mini series I’m making at the moment and look at what something else can teach us about storytelling. In particular, I’ll be looking at a fairly basic way to make stories about obscure topics more accessible to a wider audience.
This is because I’ve also been going through a bit of a phase of watching a couple of the earlier seasons of a sitcom called “The Big Bang Theory” on DVD. If you’ve never heard of this show, it’s a sitcom about the lives of four highly-intelligent scientists and/or engineers (who work at the California Institute of Technology) and their friends.
It’s filled with nerd culture references, scientific references, mathematical references etc… yet, not only is it a popular TV show that has been running for over ten years but, even if you don’t get literally all of the show’s many cultural references and aren’t an expert on maths or science, it’s still absolutely hilarious nonetheless.
But, how does this show still “work” as a comedy, even though the audience is unlikely to understand literally everything about it? Well, it has to do with the way that the show focuses on characters, events and themes.
In other words, the humour comes from the eccentric ways that the characters react to various events. It also comes from the show’s theme of romantic relationships. It comes from the main characters’ awkward interactions with people who aren’t scientific geniuses. It comes from more traditional things like irony, slapstick comedy etc… In other words, the comedy in this show revolves around the characters, events and themes rather than science or nerd culture references.
At it’s most basic level, it’s an ordinary sitcom… that just happens to have lots of science-related stuff in the background. If the characters were literary critics or professional chess players or had any other specialised skill, then the show would still “work” because most of the humour doesn’t come from the science but from the characters and the story of each episode.
This focus on basic, timeless underlying elements (eg: characters, story, themes etc..) is one of the most effective ways to make any kind of story about obscure or strange topics accessible to a wider audience.
Another good example of this is probably “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Although this TV show is commonly seen as a ‘nerdy’ show, it’s actually designed for a mass audience. For example, I first watched it when I was a young child and I enjoyed it enough to keep watching it every week. I’m still a fan of it to this day.
Even though the show features lots of futuristic gadgets, complicated technobabble and intellectual discussion – it is still accessible to a very wide audience – purely because this stuff isn’t the sole focus of the show. There’s traditional-style drama, there’s a focus on thrilling puzzle-solving, there are likeable characters, there’s an optimistic utopian view of the future, there’s humour, there’s action, there’s adventure etc… In other words, timeless elements that would still “work” when transposed into another type of story.
So, again, one basic way to make a story about an obscure topic accessible to a wider audience is simply to focus on more timeless and universal elements. Even if the audience doesn’t understand literally everything, then they are still going to be interested because of the characters, the story etc…
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂