Tag Archives: Story-design

How to Fix Your Story with Archetypes

Greek statues

Archetypes:

In their book, Dramatica, Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley present a system for crafting stories, which, although somewhat counterintuitive, brims over with important advise. Here is a look at their archetypal characters, some of which vary in naming convention from those put forward by the likes of Joseph Campbell and Christian Vogler.

The Protagonist (hero) and Antagonist, whom we recognise from other writers on the subject, form the first pair. The function of the protagonist is to pursue his goal identified towards the end of the first act and, hence, drive the story forward. The function of the antagonist is to try and stop him at all costs.

The next pair is Reason and Emotion. Reason is calm and collected. His decisions and actions are based solely on logic. Star Trek’s Spock is a typical example of this archetype. Bones, the ship’s doctor, on the other hand, wears his heart on his sleeve. Although a medical man, his opinions and actions are deeply emotional. He presents the emotional dimension of the moral premise.

The Sidekick and Skeptic represent the conflict between confidence and doubt in the story. The sidekick is the faithful supporter of the protagonist, although he may attach himself to the antagonist since his function is to show faithful support of a leading character. The skeptic on the other hand is the disbelieving opposer, lacking the faith of the sidekick. His function in the story is to foreshadow the possibility of failure.

The Guardian and Contagonist form the last pair of archetypal characters. The job of the guardian is that of a teacher and protector. He represents conscience in the story. Gandalf is such a character in Lord of the Rings. He helps the protagonist stay on the path to achieve success. By contrast, the contagonist’s function is to hinder the protagonist and lure him away from success. He is not to be confused with the antagonist since his function is to deflect and not to kill or stop the opposing character. George Lucas’s (Star Wars) Jabba the Hut is such a character. As with the sidekick, the contagonist may attach himself to the protagonist.

As a group, the archetypal characters perform essential functions within a story. Because they can be grouped in different ways, versatility can be added to their relationships.

Their usefulness becomes apparent when editing your manuscript, especially such argument sagas as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

Does your story ‘feel’ wrong?

Do your characters drift?

Identity your characters in terms of function to see if they belong to one or other archetype. Re-examine their function in your story. Are they doing their job as per their definition?

Of course, the task becomes more complex when the archetypes are mixed to create more complex and realistic characters, but even then, you may be able to pin-point their essential combinations and, therefore, work to improve their shared functions—but that, perhaps, is the subject of another article.

Summary

Understanding archetypes and their function in your story will assist you in troubleshooting loose and imprecise aspects of your tale.

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Image: Jason Vance
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Writing is Rewriting

Hand writing

Rewriting

In his book, Screenwriting, Raymond G Frensham, talks about six types of focus associated with rewriting a screenplay: comprehension, structure, characters, dialogue, style, and polishing. Although opinions differ on the exact number and order of rewrites, Frensham’s view offers some useful insights.

In this first post in the series I examine the first stage of the rewriting process and offer some suggestions for piloting the process. I will be looking at some of the other stages in follow-up posts.

The First Rewrite: Enhancing Comprehension

In seeking to make your story as understandable as possible, ask yourself the following questions and seek remedies if the answers are less than ideal:

1. Is my particular story the best vehicle for expressing my dramatic and emotive intent? Would changing the setting or characters or genre improve the impact and effectiveness of my tale?

2. What information does the audience need to know in order to understand the story? Is the information revealed at the appropriate stages?

3. Can I strengthen the story by more strongly referencing its genre, for example, does my action film contain enough action, my love story enough love (or hate), etc.?

4. Are my characters’ actions motivated by their situation, background, and personality type?

5. Have I chosen the right structure for the type of story I’m writing? Is a three-act structure the best vehicle for my particular tale, or would a two, four, or five act-structure be better?

6. Whose story is it? In other words, through whose eyes is the audience experiencing the story?

Summary

The process of completing a screenplay involves several stages, each with its own focus and task. This post has examined the first stage—enhancing story comprehension.

Invitation

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

How to Write Story Twists: The Craft of the Dramatic Beat

In these posts, I often talk about the large structural elements that make up the overall infrastructure of a story — the turning points, the mid point, and so on. These structures, important as they are, in that they steer and turn the narrative at crucial junctions, however, do not constitute the bulk of your story. The brick and mortar of your story lies in the details — in the large number of dramatic beats that makes up your scenes.

Dramatic beats

Dramatic beats

Dramatic beats, we are reminded, are small but significant actions that make up a scene. In a scene in which a murder occurs, for example, a character ambling around the room doesn’t constitute a dramatic beat; his spotting the gun under the table, which is to be used in the murder, does.

The question now arises: what sorts of dramatic beats keep our readers glued to the page, and how can we best structure such beats?

For one, we can fashion them in a way which creates suspense, as has been mentioned in a previous post. For another, we can introduce the element of surprise. Or, we can do both.

Twists to Keep your Readers/Audience Interested.

A twist, by definition, contains an element of surprise. It is an event or action that the reader does not see coming, rendering it fresh and unpredictable. Plan your scenes to contain at least some beats in which one or more of the following occurs:

1. A betrayal of trust.
2. A loss of resources.
3. A lie is uncovered.
4. A new problem arises.
5. Unforeseen consequences of past actions arise.
6. A new character is introduced.
7. Trust is betrayed.
8. A character swaps sides.
9. A plan goes wrong.
10.A new motive is revealed.

In Inglorious Basterds, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Colonel Hans Landa’s (Christoph Waltz) reputation of ruthlessness drives one of the longest and most suspenseful scenes in the entire movie. At the start of the film, Landa arrives at a dairy farm in the French countryside in search of the Dreyfuses, a missing Jewish family, who he suspects is being sheltered in the area. Landa insists on being introduced to each of the dairy farmer’s daughters individually, heightening the sense of implied threat. Although LaPadite (Denis Menochet) at first resists admitting that the Dreyfuses are, in fact, hiding beneath the floorboards of his house, Landa eventually ferrets the truth out of him through a series of compliments, threats, and innuendoes.

The scene utilises some of the techniques mentioned above: a new motive is revealed — Landa did not come to LaPadite’s farm house to close the book on the case as he, at first, claims but to torture him and catch him out; a lie is uncovered — Landa is able to ferret the truth out of LaPadite; a new problem arises — LaPadite knows that if he continues hiding the Dreyfuses, his own family will be executed; a trust is betrayed and a character swaps sides — LaPadite is forced to betray the Dreyfuses; a plan goes wrong — LaPadite’s plan to hide the Dreyfuses under his floorboard misfires.

In Summary

Organising your scenes’ dramatic beats according to some of the above-mentioned suggestions is an effective way of ensuring that each scene contains enough twists to keep your readers and audience interested.

If you’ve enjoyed this post or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting.

How to Write Effective Subplots

Subplots perform several functions – they add depth and resonance to your story by inviting comparison to the main plot, allow for variation to the tone and pace, often through comic relief, and cause deviations to the plot itself. Linda Seger remarks that subplots give your protagonist an opportunity to smell the flowers, to fall in love, to enjoy a hobby, or to learn a new skill. Subplots also echo the main concerns of the story at a more transcendent level, by adding a different perspective, enriching the tone, and strengthening the themes and symbols of your story. But subplots are not only concerned with protagonists and their world. An action originating from a minor character within the subplot, may twist the plot around in a surprising way. Indeed, crafting a turning point from the subplot is one way to ensure that you don’t telegraph the event and ruin the surprise. Like the main plot, a subplot has a beginning, middle, and end. The number of subplots depends on the needs of the main plot, and how much underpinning it requires.

Sherlock HolmesMain Plot

In the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to stop Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) poisoning all opposing voices in parliament, installing himself as leader of the nation, and extending the Empire. A declared practitioner of the dark arts, Blackwood personifies the forces of irrationality, Holmes, the forces of logic. At a thematic, moral, and symbolic level, the premise is of cool-headedness and rationality vs. fear and irrationality.

Subplots

Enriching the story are three subplots: that of the mysterious Professor Moriarty who, behind the scenes, manipulates the conflict between Lord Blackwood and Holmes, and in particular, Irene Adler’s (Rachel McAdams) love for Holmes, for his own evil ends; the Holmes/Dr.Watson/Mary Morstan triangle; and Holmes’s own relationship with Irene Adler. Some of the major deflections to the main plot come from these subplots: Moriarty gets Irene to drug Holmes in his own rooms by threatening to kill him if she doesn’t (subplot 1). Irene has access to Holmes because of her (past) relationship with him (subplot 2); meanwhile, Holmes tries to break up Watson’s (Jude Law) relationship with his girlfriend, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), perhaps for fear of losing his only friend and confidant (subplot 3). Holmes’ antics succeed in making Watson feel guilty about abandoning his old friend, which results in his saving Holmes’ life on several occasions (main plot). Coincidently, the Watson/Mary relationship invites comparison to the Holmes/Irene one, suggesting an even tighter bond between the two men. In this way, events and motivation from a subplot serve the main plot, helping to keep it on track.

Summary

The function of subplots, as shown in Sherlock Holmes, is to explain and motivate character actions, deflect the main plot, and deepen resonance through contrast and parallel. Although subplots vary substantially in focus and emphasis from story to story, the use of the three aspects identified above will certainly help to deepen and enrich any plot.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing, in story-telling, is a technique used for creating mood, supporting plot, and deepening character. Robert McKee defines it as the purposeful arrangement of early events intended to prepare us for later ones. The use of foreshadowing is not just limited to events, actions, or dialogue, however. Every decision a writer makes regarding setting and genre also plays a role in setting up the context for conflict — the essence of story-telling — and is, therefore, a part of foreshadowing.

How the Inciting Incident Foreshadows the Obligatory Scene

Foreshadowing creates anticipation, either directly or indirectly, through character predictions, warnings, and new information, and, through setting. Shakespeare, for example, uses inclement weather, and bizarre occurrences (such as horses eating each other — Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 4), to ramp up anxiety and foreboding in his plays. While foreshadowing takes many forms, perhaps its most important function is to heighten the sense of impending crisis to be played out in the obligatory scene — the climactic moment in which the protagonist confronts and answers the chief dramatic question of the story: will the primary goal be achieved, despite setbacks and opposition? In the example below, we look at foreshadowing with specific reference to a story’s overall dramatic question.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

In Eternal Sunshine, Joel Barish (Jim Carey) learns that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), has had her memory of their failed relationship erased through a new scientific process performed by Lucana Inc. Devastated, Joel decides to follow suit. While undergoing the procedure, however, he realises that he’s made a mistake. He attempts to hide memories of their relationship inside other more obscure ones, in order to preserve them, but ultimately fails. The story is an interwoven catalogue of Joel’s memories, wishes, fears, and influences stemming from the Lucana procedure, ending where it began — with Joel and Clementine running into each other again, as if by accident, destined to try again.

Foreshadowing and the Dramatic Question

The inciting incident, in which Joel learns that Clementine has had him erased from her memory, asks the question: how will Joel deal with the news? Prior to the story’s mid-point, Joel’s answer is to try and forget Clementine ever existed. This provides the dramatic context for the first half of the movie, allowing the scenes to rally around it. But this early version of the dramatic question also foreshadows the overarching question, which is answered only in the obligatory scene: will Joel and Clementine manage to get together again? Joel’s realisation, at the mid-point, that memories are precious, provides the context for the second half of the story. Seen in this light, foreshadowing is the pilot that keeps the story on track, endowing events with a sense of inevitability and truthfulness. In Eternal Sunshine, the suggestion is that love is transcendent — greater than the pain rooted in individual memories.

In Summary

Foreshadowing prepares us for the story climax and resolution. It takes its lead from the inciting incident and culminates in the obligatory scene. Used skillfully, foreshadowing helps to give cohesion and context to your stories by asking and answering the main dramatic question.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting on the subject.