Animation Scriptwriting
Stories - Part Four: Decisions and Problems
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Vertical and horizontal solutions

In our everyday life we have numerous problems to solve. They can be sorted in the following way:

  • Those that have to be dealt with immediately.
  • Those that can be put off the time being.
  • Those that can be put off indefinitely.
  • Those that require money to solve.
  • Those that require help to resolve.
  • Those that require decisions to resolve.
  • Those that can only be done when other problems have been resolved.

A 'Vertical' approach to problem solving is to take one problem and follow it through while leaving all the other problems aside. You might decide that today you are going to clear out your cupboards, and will continue until they are all cleared out, however long that takes.

This means that the problem of cupboard clearing will get done, but while you are doing it, other problems that also need doing, will not get done. You will have chosen to make 'cupboard clearing' your priority.

In most stories, the characters take a vertical approach to life, it is not because they don't have other problems to deal with, but they are put aside for the moment. When Sherlock Holmes in on a case, we don't read of him taking lunch breaks, or needing to go to the toilet, nor do we read of him doing his shopping, or having to write Christmas cards. Once the action starts, then he follows it through, and we assume that all his personal needs are catered for in some way not explained.

We would not expect James Bond and similar action heroes to take time off to eat, sleep, or tidy themselves up, even if the action takes place over days. This is because it would slow the pace of the action. Once the objective has been set, the characters just devote themselves to this end until it is resolved.

The 'Horizontal' approach to problem solving means dealing with several problems at the same time, and doing as much as necessary or possible at the time. In this way, few problems ever get totally solved, but enough of each is done to allow you to cope with your life.

This offers a different type of storyline. Imagine a navy ship has been taken over by terrorists. The situation might be:

  • The ship has nuclear armaments which could be used against the government.
  • The ship has a large crew who might be harmed if the ship is attacked.
  • The ship has important key people on board who are not replaceable.
  • Public knowledge of the terrorists success might trigger off other attacks.
  • The terrorists are making unacceptable demands on the government.

This requires looking at each of the issues separately and seeing if any of them can be resolved without making another aspect worse. It might require playing for time, or it might require acting immediately and catching the terrorists by surprise. It might require making deals with people the government prefers not to deal with. It might require sacrificing a few lives to save many.

The horizontal approach will have to assess each move and guess the repercussions. At the same time, the terrorists will have also worked out the possible moves by the government, and prepared for any action taken. Having many lines to a story can heighten the action as it switches from one line to another.


Suggest a scenario where a disaster of some form will require many lines of action to be taken at the same time.


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