How The Storytelling In Start Up, a hit Korean Drama Series Kept Me Hooked
When I Was In The Army
When I was a recruit going through basic military training, getting yelled at was as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning. I lived in constant fear of one Sergeant whose mission in life seemed to be screaming at me for every small infraction. I would literally tremble in my boots when I walked past him. Perhaps it was the excessive trembling that made my boots a tight fit, causing my toes to be bruised beyond endurance. I had to find a way to exchange my boots for a new pair if I wished to survive those drill marches on the parade square. Then I learnt that my grandmother knew the grandmother of that Sergeant and my grandmother said she would pass on the message that I needed a pair of new boots. A week later, I went to his barracks, all quivering with trepidation, and knocked on his door. When it opened, I braced myself for the rain of expletives that would fall like gentle spit from his lips. Instead, the Sergeant was polite, smiled warmly, and handed me a pair of new boots. He said if I still had any boot issues, to just let him know. I stood there speechless, wondering if I had perhaps stumbled into a Singaporean film version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Days later, whenever I saw him yelling at my platoon, and all the other recruits quaked in their boots, I smiled serenely because I knew something that they did not know. He may be a fierce instructor but he sure respects his grandmother. Plus, no alien invaded his body. So he was human after all. I did not fear him as much because I had superior knowledge.
Giving your audience superior knowledge is exactly what Korean Drama series Start Up, did very well, and was how it managed to keep me hooked through all 16 episodes. It’s also a very useful storytelling tool.
Your Dreams and Hopes Can Come True
START UP is a series set in the world of start-ups, and features a group of underdogs who eventually achieved their dreams of making it big in the tech industry. Each episode is framed around a term that is commonly used in the industry. You learnt what MVP meant and what it takes to develop an app that would not just make money but benefit humanity, and the tough choices in balancing the two. It also had good looking lead acting talents, and an infectious soundtrack. Across 16 episodes, the writer took you on an emotional journey, through the high peaks of joys and the low valleys of sadness. Characters persevered and matured, and eventually made their hopes and dreams come true. The journey is affirming, and aspirational and you walk away, comforted by the notion that if their hopes and dreams can come true, so can yours. As 16 episodes meant you had to invest 16 hours of your life in the series, the writer needed to earn your investment. And the way to do it was to get you involved in the relationship stories.
It’s Not What You Reveal But When You Reveal
The key to getting your audience invested in any Korean drama is the attention that is paid to the relationships. In Start Up, it revolved around two men and a woman. The two men are Nam Do San and Mr. Han. I won’t give any spoilers. Suffice it to say that the writer had managed to craft the story such that you are torn between the two men. Both have virtues that endear themselves to the girl. As with any feel-good romantic drama, you found yourself rooting for both men.
The writer had made no mystery. Everything you needed to know about the two men, as well as the girl, was revealed to the audience. At no point were you ever in doubt as to how each man felt about the girl. Or how the girl felt about each man.
There is however one difference.
Only the audience knew.
The Art Of Dramatic Irony
In Start Up, you know that the boy will get the girl, and the underdogs will achieve their dreams. The ending is always inevitable. How the writer takes you there, however, is where the fun and thrills lie for the audience. During the unfolding of the narrative through all 16 episodes, no character in the series knew the full story behind other characters. Only the audience had superior knowledge of what each of the players in the love triangle was thinking or feeling. In many instances, the characters were catching up to what the audience already knew. Creating this imbalance in knowledge, between audience and character is the art of creating dramatic irony.
When you encounter dramatic irony in a story, you feel superior, and you feel sympathy. You see the characters in a new light. You observe an additional depth to the character. As in real life when you glimpse a side to your friend for the first time.
Knowing how much one character is misunderstanding another character, makes you yearn for the two of them to reconcile. Your sense of righteousness has been thrown out of whack. This is not how life is supposed to be. If only this person can truly know the true feelings of the other person, all will be right with the world. And so you watch on, wishing and hoping for the next story turn, that will allow the misunderstanding to clear up. And once it does, you sigh with relief, and then something else happens again.
What Start Up Can Teach Us About Storytelling
Misunderstanding, and then a yearning to see that misunderstanding cleared up, is the result of constantly creating dramatic irony in the scenes. Showing the audience an aspect of the character, a side that all the other characters are not aware, is a fantastic way of creating depth in a character.
Reveal everything and nothing and keep your audience hooked.