From a recent conversation in which part of it turned to gists:
I was just thinking about this the other day, too. About how gists seem like and are often spoken of or used as surface level story matter rather than subtext. But I suspect that they aren’t really meant to be used like that…or at least they would be better used as subtext.
Just because I like to look at examples, I want to see if I can toss one out here. Let’s say we have a gist of “Running a race”. So we might decide that our character is running a very dangerous race and the act of running the race causes him to face dangerous obstacles, fight against murderous criminals, etc. Now because we are using this gist as storytelling, we wrote a scene wherein all these things take place. But over the course of the story, we mention that this race was mandated by a cruel and corrupt govt. Uh oh, we may have just changed our storyform. Now it’s not “Running a race leads to brutal trials” but rather “corrupt govt leads to inhumane race”. We may very well have just switched our OS Physics to OS Universe without even realizing it.
But let’s go back and try again. So let’s keep “running a race leads to facing dangerous obstacles”, but this time, we make sure that “running a race” is the subtext to what we come up with. If a corrupt government becomes the source of conflict, we can’t use it. Let’s try to keep that off to the side and work it in later on as backstory/justification.
But now how do we keep “running a race” as the source of conflict? Well, we can still have our scenes where the character is running the race and facing dangerous obstacles. But we don’t want that to be the whole movie, so let’s come up with some other things that we might like to see. How about a scene where a couple breaks up? Not a relationship scene, necessarily, but just as an example of conflict. Why do they break up? Well because one of them is running a dangerous race and might be killed. And the one leaving doesn’t want to deal with that. How about a scene where a mobster offers a character lots of money to throw the race but death to win it? Well he wouldn’t be getting that offer if he wasn’t running the race, right?
So even though the gists have been discussed as surface level story telling, i think their best used when contained within the subtext of the scene. Does that make sense?
Those are great examples of problematic gists. But they need the context of a story to say if they “work” for what I’m saying.
I’m going to try an analogy and see if I can get it to work.
If your car is running properly, your car battery provides the energy for you to start your car. If you hook jumper cables to your car and jump start it off another battery, then your battery is no longer the source of energy to start your car. A different battery is now that source. So when the energy is leaving your battery, your battery is the source of energy. If you are charging the battery, then your battery is not the source of energy.
Your gist is your battery in this scenario. You want the gist to provide the energy for conflict in your story. You don’t want to be charging the gist with energy from some other source/gist. That analogy probably didn’t really work the way I wanted it to, but it’s about making sure energy is flowing out of the gist to your story and not into your gist from your story. The way to do that is to write your gist and then make sure that you write what the gist leads to and not what leads to the gist.