Monthly Archives: August 2014

How to Save the Cat in your Story

Cat

Save the Cat, Save the Day:

Blake Snyder’s (Save the Cat) beat-sheet of 15 dramatic units that define the entire story offers perhaps the most potent and clear advise on structuring your tale. So, far be it for me to try and modify it. I do, however, want to expand upon Mr. Snyder’s 13th and 14th beats, The Dark night of the Soul, and Finale, since I believe they may allow for a possible weakness in the verisimilitude of the story, if not properly used.

These beats follow in the wake of several others, immediately before, which show the hero at his lowest ebb. They concern the moment when, despite the hero being down and out, both physically and spiritually, his goal in tatters, he finds the strength to try again. It is the most vulnerable point of Hollywood’s ‘up endings’ — the moment when the story, which cannot allow the protagonist to fail, ushers in an event that turns the tables on the antagonist.

How do we prevent this event, this new twist, from appearing trite and forced? How do we avoid our beats being labeled ‘a typically predictable Hollywood moment?’

We concentrate on making the intersection between the visible outer journey event, and the hero’s inner journey—his backstory, the theme, and his character traits—the best and strongest it can be.

What possible justification can we offer the audience or reader to convince them that the hero can find the inner strength to try again, at this late hour? It can’t be opportunistic—an out-of-left-field event would reek of the very triteness we seek to avoid. It has to tie into the spiritual and moral strength the hero garners through pain and suffering in the outer journey. It has to tie into the theme of the story.

In Gladiator, Maximus finds himself on his knees in the arena, poisoned, swordless, and pierced by the Emperor’s blade. His efforts to avenge his murdered family and save Rome from the clutches of the madman seem ended. But his love of family and his loyalty to Rome are enough for him to find the strength to pull the Emperor’s sword from his own body, and turn it against the Emperor himself, ending the tyrant’s life.

The solution to the initially hopeless situation is deeply routed in Maximus’ moral strength and his realisation that there will be no further opportunity than this to end the tyrant’s life, ironically enough, by his own sword. It integrates the theme of the story — integrity and moral fortitude trump lascivious greed — with one last heroic act. It avoids the accusation of a forced and predictable ending. It feels right because we find it fitting that a man as righteous and noble as Maximus, who has given his life to the service of Rome, should rid it of its incestuous ruler by sacrificing his own life. It is a fine example of how the inner journey motivates and explains the outer journey, especially at the critical last points of the Blake Snyder’s beat-sheet.

Summary

Tying crucial physical events to the hero’s inner journey helps us to experience them as fitting, rather than as forced and predictable.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Moyan Brenn
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Why the Outer and Inner Stories Must Cross

Powerlines

Crossing Lines:

In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder offers us this piece of invaluable advice: “Keep in mind the only reason for storytelling and why [story] A [outer] and [story] B [inner] must cross throughout: It’s to show the true reason for the journey is not getting the tangible goal, but learning the spiritual lesson that can only be found through the B Story!”

This is what the tale is really about: learning the spiritual lesson that allows the hero to overcome the obstacles life and the antagonist throw his way.

At the inciting incident, the hero is given a wake-up call. A ripple runs through his ordinary world. His first response is usually incorrect. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise is told he is to go to the war-front to film the allied invasion. His response is to try and blackmail the General in order to force him to reverse his decision. Not a good call.

The first turning point represents the true start of the story. It also sets the outer goal. Tom Cruise is killed, but gets covered by the blue blood of the Alpha Mimic, which causes him to return to relive the day. His response upon finding himself back at square one, however, is to try and talk the Master Sergeant into letting him call his superiors. Lesson still not learnt.

By the midpoint, Cruise finally realises why he keeps returning to the same event, over and over again. He has to team up with the Angel of Verdun and defeat the Mimics by killing their leader, the Omega. Our reluctant protagonist has gone from unwilling participant to motivated Hero. Here, the outer and inner journeys fuse into a single and clear purpose—a plan to save the world from the invading Mimics—even if it means sacrificing oneself to do it. Over and over again.

By the second and final turning point, his recurring efforts are in danger of stalling—a blood transfusion will rob him of his ability to return and relive the day, just as it did the Angel of Verdun’s. And while he is at first reluctant to sacrifice her to this possible permanent-death scenario, he realises that he has no choice but to risk it, if he is to have any hope of defeating the Mimics. This represents a step up in spiritual growth and is a perfect illustration of the two journeys intersecting once more.

The inciting incident, the first turning point, the midpoint, and the second turning point, then, present the writer with perfect opportunities for interweaving the inner and outer journeys of the story. They weld the Hero’s transformational arc to his pursuit of the outer goal.

Summary

The inner journey, or the B Story is the spiritual transformational arc the hero undertakes in order to acquire the true goal.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Daniel Oines
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Why the Hero Needs his Nemesis

Sword fight

Force for Growth

One of the chief functions of the antagonist is to force the protagonist to evolve. Without the constant prodding that causes the hero to recognise the way to overcome his nemesis is through personal growth and inner strength, his actions and decisions to achieve the goal remain on an even keel, and are, ultimately, doomed to failure.

Die Hard‘s John McClane is in a bad marriage. He is separated from his wife and is headed for divorce before Hans Gruber enters the fray, kidnaps a bunch of people, including John’s wife, and forces him to step up to the mark. By having to rescue his wife from the arch criminal’s clutches, John realises how much he truly loves her and what he has to do to save his marriage, which he does. Thank you, Hans Gruber.

In The Matrix, Neo is riddled with self-doubt. Is he indeed The One? The answer remains unclear until he faces and defeats agent Smith in one rollicking fight to the finish. But for agent Smith, Neo might still be vacillating over this world-changing question.

At the beginning of Casablanca, Rick Blaine is self-serving and unlikable, until he gives up on the woman he loves in order to contribute to the war effort. This is a huge shift for him. Were it not for Ilsa Lund, the opponent who turns his world upside down, he would not have grown through this sacrifice, remaining static and selfish — someone of no moral consequence.

In Crash, Terrance Howard has to deal with a series of problems concerning his wife, as well as with the specter of racism. But having to respond to and overcome Matt Dillon’s constant harassment, he emerges a stronger and better man. Here again, no Matt Dillon, no personal growth.

Although the clash between the protagonist and antagonist ostensibly occurs at the surface level, the level of actions and events, it is the effect on the Hero’s inner landscape that marks its true significance.

Summary

The antagonist is the protagonist’s polar opposite. He forces the protagonist to change for the better.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Kris Krug
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

How to Structure your Reveals

Girls whispering in ear

Revealing Secrets:

When and how do you reveal that big secret in your story? All at once? Through smaller increments and surprises? The latter encourages your reader to follow the bread crumbs with heightened interest.

In his chapter on structure William Akers stresses the importance of placing your reveals at the right place. He uses an example provided by UCLA’s screenwriting programme head, William Froug, about an old man feeding pigeons from a park bench. Does he dump the whole bag of crumbs on the grass right away, or does he scatter a few at a time to keep the feeding dispersed and the pigeons interested longer?

Clearly the second option is the better one.

The book upon which the film Notes From a Scandal is based starts with a big scene in which it is revealed that the Cate Blanchett character has had an affair with one of her students. The book handles this information as the inciting incident. It’s a heck of a start for the story, but it does give away the biggest secret right away. The film version handles this differently, revealing the news a little later. It keeps the audience on a string and loads up the reveal with more punch.

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, screenwriter William Goldman saves the small surprise that Butch is from New Jersey for when the movie is well under way, and only offers an even bigger reveal a little later when the men are about to hit the payroll guards in Bolivia. During the face-off with a bunch of rough-looking bandits, Butch tells Sundance that he’s never shot anyone in his life before. It’s not a good time to let your partner-in-crime know of your lack of experience, but it is a hugely impactful moment for the audience.

Imagine, if you will, if Goldman had started the story by having Butch introduce himself to Sundance with,”Hi there. My name’s Robert Leroy Parker. I’m really from New Jersey. I’ve never shot anyone in my life before!”

Pretty lame.

Summary

Withholding crucial information for as long as possible, and releasing it at dramatically heightened moments, makes for keener audience interest and improves the quality of your story.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Lisa M Photography
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode