December 6, 2019

How to Write Sociological Stories

We talk a lot about a character's psychology, but what about the sociological things around them that drive the story? 

The world your characters live within affects them in many ways. Sometimes they provide the internal struggles that drive them forward, other times they can help add pressure to make the stakes even higher. 

Character motivations usually come from the internal desire for something, but what about external rewards? 

What about stories that are about vast systems and predicaments that drive the characters within them? 

Today I want to talk about the sociological elements that might be affecting your characters and how to incorporate them into your storytelling. 

Take a look at this video from Just Write and let's talk after the jump. 

How to Write Sociological Stories 

First things first, let's talk about sociology. 

Sociology is the study of human society. It covers growth, development, economic situations, and the way humans interact with one another. 

So how can you write with this in mind? 

Sociological stories are about institutions and the way they work. They show how the incentives of a system drive characters to make decisions. 

In the video, they use Isaac Asimov's Foundation as a template. 

I think it might be easier to look at it through The Big Short

In The Big Short, we learn that banking companies are incentivized to do bad things because it makes them more money. Even if that making of money ruins parts of America and the people inside it. 

It's really a story not about the people inside it but the system and how that system affects those people on every level. 

While you may not want to write a movie about a system or think the system cannot sustain 100 episodes of television, you still need to think about the sociological impact the world has on your characters. 

Game of Thrones: A Sociological Example 

One of the reasons Game of Thrones succeeded was that it was about who would take the Iron Throne and ultimately run an entire society. There are huge stakes in the beginning, but no stake is actually as big as the society we are looking at as a whole. 

The show opens on a map, and season one shows us what problems all the characters deal with in terms of how they are viewed in society. 

Ariya has to become a lady, not a fighter. 

Ned is forced to do anything his king asks. 

Daeny is property bought and sold for an army. 

These are sociological issues that have an effect on who these people are and how they arc against it. 

This show is truly the best of both worlds. We get complex characters dealing with no only sociological oppression but also psychological problems caused by this era. The entire show is about people who want to upset the current norm of the sociological structure. 

And while Game of Thrones shifts dramatically to the psychological struggle later, its finale round table is solely about how the kingdom will move forward on a sociological level. Harkening back to the beginning. 

Where does the leave us? 

The next time you sit down to write, think about every layer of the story. Not only the psychological layer but also the sociological layer as well. What parts of society oppress the people within it and keep your character down? 

Are they struggling against one person or many? 

Is there a system responsible for what ails them? 

Will that system change if they win in the end? 

Let us know your favorite sociological stories in the comments! 

What's next? Read the Knives Out script

Want to learn more about murder mystery screenplays and how Rian Johnson writes? Read and download Knives Out.

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