Storytelling with How I Met Your Mother

In my effort to improve my storytelling abilities, I’ll look over a number of things, not just books or stories, but comics, movies, and TV shows too.  As someone who has been a fan of How I Met Your Mother from the very beginning, I get to enjoy the show on multiple levels because I am a writer.

So, I’m going to take a moment and explain why the ending of Season 8 of How I Met Your Mother works.  I’m going to talk about everything new brought up by the finale, including that last detail.

OK, now that I’ve played nice and not spoiled, here’s what I’m really going to talk about in this post:

Some fans of the show are probably frustrated that we’ve seen “The Woman With The Yellow Umbrella,” but I love how they pulled it off.  We, the audience, have seen her, heard her speak even.  None of the core cast have seen or heard her, especially not Ted, our main character and narrator.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Mother was on the screen in the finale, the episode would have an incredible amount of dramatic plot set up, with almost no hope of a positive group outcome.  Ted, having yet to meet the Mother, is pining for Robin again, enough that he’s going to give her the wedding gift of a locket she was wanting to wear as her “something old.”  Marshall just took a judge seat, even though Lily thinks she and Marshall are going to live in Italy for a year.  These are things that, triggered by themselves could easily tear this group to pieces.  Permanently.

What could keep the friendship going between Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, and Marshall?  Something has to upset someone’s current plans.  And we know Ted and the Mother are about to meet.

I’m sure someone will ask, if this is how he meets the mother, why didn’t the story just start here?  There are a few reasons, a lot of which have to do with the character of Ted.

  • Ted is an unreliable narrator.  This is probably the element that is the most important when it comes to the writing.  In the first episode, he leads us to believe that he is actually telling us the direct story of how he met the Mother.  Instead, he’s telling the story of how he met Robin, much to the shock of his children.  There’s also the fact that he covers up his drug use by saying that he used to eat sub sandwiches.
  • Ted believes in signs and has sprinkled them throughout his story.  If he hadn’t been giving us clues about the Mother’s personality and habits.  We know she plays bass guitar and likes Neruda.  We’ve seen her ankle and her yellow umbrella, which Ted carried for a couple of years.  While the signs aren’t always in place for Ted to see in the present, when they become important or noteworthy, he always lets us know.
  • Ted will tell us about future events and leave out past ones.  This isn’t just a matter of editing, but also a matter using flashbacks and flashforwards.  This doesn’t just strengthen the telling of events or create a realistic way of characters relating to one another, it also lets the writers build themes into every episode.

In short, the story started where it do because that’s where the group formed for the first time.  It’s the group that we love on the show, as I’m sure Ted Mosby is one of the least impressive main characters ever, at least among his group of friends.   [Note: I relate the most to Ted and his trials since his struggles echo my own.]

How I Met Your Mother might be a show founded on Ted’s quest for love, but it’s focus has been on Ted and his four closest friends.  As the final Season approaches, with the strife that could hit the group soon, I wonder if the plot will focus on how the Mother will help the group stay intact.



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