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Planet Earth: Truer than True

The truth of a story can exist independently of its objective reality.

When I tell a story (especially one based on fact), I have a goal in mind: a specific emotional response I want to elicit from the audience. That goal guides how I organize the story: which details come first, which details build suspense or curiosity, which details are revealed at the end. My goal also governs which details I emphasize … and which details I’ll leave out entirely.

Everyone does this. Storytellers just admit doing it, and we do it more deliberately and artfully than most.

Documentary filmmakers do this, too — though the “documentary” label often tricks the audience into believing this particular brand of storytelling is more objective than it really is. In the video below, you’ll see a good example of the “structured reality” presented by the popular the Planet Earth series.

Planet Earth’s nature stories are assembled out of bits and pieces filmed at different times. They’re augmented with sound effects and emotive soundtracks. They’re enhanced by everything from clever editing to digital effects. The stories told in the series aren’t objectively true (“This happened, and then this happened”), but they are subjectively true (“Here are some things that happened, organized in a way that feels authentic”).

The result? Stories that are truer than true.

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Mark McElroy

Mark McElroy

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