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