Tag Archives: writetip

How to Write the Character Flaw.

Unfettered ambition - the flaw that ruins Macbeth
Unfettered ambition – the flaw that ruins Macbeth

What is a character flaw, and how do we write it?

One way to think of it is as a glitch in our character’s internal makeup that affects his/her interaction with the world. In trying to hide or suppress this glitch, the character engages in an inner and outer struggle, which drives the story forward. 

character flaw may be born out of an internal cause, such as an emotional scar from the past, or an external one, such as an illness or a physical defect (which, in turn, creates a psychological response). It can manifest as an inability to trust others, a need to control or manipulate others, or a particular prejudice. 

Flaws that generate internal and external conflict make for interesting stories that resonate with readers and audiences.

Some of the best stories have revolved around the protagonist’s desire to conceal or overcome a flaw. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Thane’s latent desire to be king is brought to the surface by various external forces, such as the three witches and his manipulating and ambitious wife, while in Othello, the Moor’s insane jealousy and distrust of his innocent spouse, Desdemona, results in his murdering her.

A flaw generates questions about the story: What lies and obfuscations has the character created to conceal his flaw? How has the flaw shaped the fears, aspirations, and foibles of this character? And, crucially, what influence does the flaw exert over each of the major decision/action points in the story—the inciting incident, the first and second turning point, as well as the mid-point, and climax? 

Above all, a well-designed flaw allows for the synching up of the internal and external aspects of the Hero’s journey through the link of cause and effect, and as such, is one of the most useful techniques to master. It is often the “why” to the story’s “what”. 

In The Matrix Neo’s inner journey is to accept his role as The One. His outer goal is to defeat Agent Smith and the machine world, something that can only occur when he achieves the inner goal of moving from a lack of self-belief (flaw) to one of belief. 

This inner journey defines Neo’s character arc, influencing each major action in the story. It helps to shape the narrative as a whole. Additionally, it ties into the notion of want vs. need that I examined in an earlier post, by contrasting the external (want), to the internal (need).

Summary

A character flaw filters a protagonist’s responses. It helps to explain the true psychological motivation behind the character’s actions.

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Dialogue Techniques: Question-and-Answer & Repetition.

Dialogue
Dialogue techniques in Better Call Saul

Today, we’re continuing to explore a crucial aspect of storytelling: dialogue. This narrative component is such an important part of storytelling that it has given rise to countless of books and courses on how to master it. Specifically, we’ll explore what Dwight V. Swain calls dialogue continuity in his book, Film Scriptwriting – A Practical Manual.

Swain affirms that one of the markers of good dialogue is continuity flowing from a question-and-answer format, and the repetition of words. That is, lines of dialogue which acknowledge the ones preceding them. There are several ways to do this. Let’s focus on two of the most common techniques: the question/answer structure and repetition.

Repetition couched in a questions and answers.

Repetition, embedded in a question-and-answer format, can be a powerful tool in creating continuity and mounting tension. By repeating a word or phrase from one line to the next, and demanding answers to questions, writers create a flow that keeps the conversation cohesive and engaging.

A good example of this technique can be seen in the Better Call Saul episode, Chicanery. There is a courtroom scene where Jimmy (Saul) McGill cross-examines his brother Chuck McGill, a brilliant lawyer himself. Chuck claims to suffer from a mystery illness which makes him sensitive to electrical currents. The courtroom lights, except for the Exit sign, have been switched off, and all electrical devices such as cellphones and watches, removed from the courtroom.

Chuck is accusing his brother Jimmy of unlawful practices and wants to have him stripped of his law licence. Jimmy’s only defence is to have his brother appear so mentally challenged by his phobias so as to render his testimony against him unreliable. This scene masterfully uses the question-and-answer format, as well as some repetition of words to build mounting tension, only to have it released at the end, showcasing Jimmy’s mastery of the set-up.

Example from Better Call Saul, Season 3, Episode 5: Chicanery:

  • Chuck: The further away it is, the stronger the source has to be to have an effect.
  • Jimmy: Got it. Got it. So If I had a small battery, say from a watch or something, and I got it close to you, close to your skin, you’d know.
  • Chuck: I would feel it, yes.
  • Jimmy: Can you feel more current from any particular direction right now? From that back wall? Or from over there? Or up through the floor? Can you tell us where the nearest source is, right now?
  • Chuck: (Growing suspicious). Jimmy, do you have something in your pocket?
  • Jimmy: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. (Takes out a cellphone from his pocket). My cellphone. From this distance you should feel it, and you don’t, do you?
  • Judge: Mr. McGill. You were warned to leave your electronics outside.
  • Chuck: It’s alright. It’s alright. May I? (Takes the cellphone from, Jimmy). Just as I thought. There’s no battery in here. You removed the battery. That’s a sorry little trick, isn’t it?
  • Jimmy: Yea. You got me Chuck. Dead to rights. I removed the battery
  • Chuck: God Jimmy. Don’t you know by now, this is real. I feel this? It’s a physical response to stimuli. Not a quirk. What do we have to do to prove it to you?
  • Jimmy: I don’t know, Chuck. Could you reach into your breast pocket and tell me what’s there?
  • Chuck: What now? (Chuck fumbles in his pocket and removes the cellphone battery that Jimmy has had one of his employees placed there surreptitiously. Chuck throws the battery on the floor).
  • Jimmy: Can you tell the court what that was?
  • Chuck: A battery. (Realising he’s been tricked.)

Jimmy explains to the court that he had one of his men, Huell Babineaux, plant the fully charged battery on Chuck when he bumped into him in the passage an hour and forty three minutes ago, disproving Chuck’s claim that electric currents make him feel ill, and undermining his testimony against Jimmy. The question-and-answer format, the repetition of the word battery have all served the flow and continuity of the scene, and have helped to bring it to a crescendo.

Embedding the repetition of words into a question-and-answer format, then, is an effective way of creating mounting tension while maintaining continuity. The technique keeps the conversation focused and dynamic, ensuring that each new line flows naturally from the previous one.

Other Techniques

While repetition and the question/answer format are powerful tools, there are other ways to enhance your dialogue, too, such as extended pauses, misdirection, a change of subject, and subtext which can add layers and depth to the dialogue. Regardless of the technique, however, the key is to ensure that your dialogue flows.

Summary

Repeating words embedded in a question-and-answer format is an effective way to create mounting tension and dialogue continuity in your novels and screenplays.

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Attitudes and Demeanour in Stories

The Sopranos: Character Attitudes
The Sopranos: Poker, Character Attitudes and Demeanour

How do character attitudes and demeanour, as well as reflexes and dialogue, support the authenticity of a scene? Let’s take a closer look!

As writers we sometimes concentrate on the events and actions that make up our stories without, perhaps, paying as much attention to the subtext that attitudes and demeanour, as well as ‘voice’, contribute to a scene.

The decision of Jackie Jr. to rob Eugene’s poker game, for example, demonstrates his reckless nature and his need for recognition. He is impulsive and easily influenced, as demonstrated by his decision to initiate the heist after Ralphie tells them how Tony and Jackie’s father gained their reputation for a similar heist. However, when the situation escalates and violence erupts, Jackie Jr. panics, leading to disastrous consequences. He comes across as nervous and out of his depth, and his impulsively shooting Sunshine and fleeing the scene betrays his lack of maturity and inability to handle high-pressure situations.

Carlo and Dino: Like Jackie Jr., Carlo and Dino are portrayed as young, inexperienced, jittery, and easily swayed by the allure of criminal activity. Their involvement in the robbery highlights their willingness to take risks and their desire for status within the criminal underworld, but their poor judgement, their lack of foresight and experience gets them killed.


Sunshine: Sunshine’s heckling of the would-be robbers, on the other hand, showcases his confidence, his defiance, and his refusal to be intimidated, even at the point of a gun. This is a man who has seen it all before and his demeanour shows it. His refusal to comply with the demands of the robbers ultimately leads to his demise. Sunshine’s character serves as a foil to the impulsive and inexperienced robbers, highlighting the consequences of underestimating one’s adversaries.

Furio: Furio’s nervous response to the robbers is to ‘take it easy’. Furio, who is an import from the mother country, is perhaps the least assured of the New Jersey-hardened mobsters. He ends up getting shot in the leg.

Matush: Matush’s decision to flee, abandoning his accomplices, underscores the theme of betrayal and self-preservation prevalent throughout the series. His panic highlights the fragile alliances and loyalty within the criminal underworld.

Christopher and Albert: Christopher and Albert’s response to the failed robbery demonstrates their self-assurance, authority and willingness to enforce consequences for disobedience and incompetence. They execute Dino outside. Christopher angrily informs the reluctant Tony about the need to kill Jackie Jr. This underscores the ruthless nature of their profession and the importance of sending a signal to their enemies to avoid being seen as weak.

For writers, this scene offers valuable insights into character response, conflict resolution, and the consequences of impulsive decisions. By understanding the different attitudes, reflexes and general demeanour of characters under pressure, we can create more nuanced and realistic portrayals of them and the worlds they inhabit. Additionally, the scene highlights how tension and high stakes may unleash catastrophic results, keeping audiences engaged.

Summary

Concentrate on your characters’ attitudes, demeanour and reflexes under pressure to achieve a nuanced and realistic portrayal of story events.

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Dreams in Stories

Dreams in Storytelling
Dreams in Storytelling

In storytelling, dreams function as powerful tools that explore mysteries, characters’ psyches, and blur the lines between reality and imagination. The Test Dream (S5 E11) from The Sopranos masterfully exemplifies this narrative technique, showcasing how dreams can be utilised to deepen the narrative and expose hidden truths. Here are five points elucidating the significance of dreams in storytelling, supported by specific examples from this ambitious episode:

The gist of the episode features Tony’s problems emanating from his affairs, the problems they have wrought on his marriage, and a dream that reveals the assassination of mob members that can lead to a full-scale war. This hints at the prophetic, poetic power of dreams.

Exploring Subconscious Desires and Fears: Dreams provide a stage on which to act out the subconscious desires, premonitions, and the fears of characters. In The Test Dream, Tony’s dream sequences offer glimpses into his deepest anxieties and desires. For instance, his dream interactions with deceased characters like Gloria Trillo and his cousin Tony Blundetto reveal unresolved guilt and trauma. These encounters reflect Tony’s subconscious grappling with the consequences of his actions and the weight of his wrongdoing, adding depth to his character.

Symbolism and Metaphor: Dreams are laden with symbolism and metaphor. Freud and Jung spend their entire lives studying them. Dreams allow writers to convey complex themes sub-textually, in poetic and abstract ways. In the episode, recurring motifs such as the horse symbolise Tony’s problems with his marriage, self-control and self-worth. The surreal imagery of riding a horse through his living room serves as a metaphor for Tony’s attempt to navigate, with grace and authority, an increasingly chaotic life littered with affairs and criminal associations.

Blurring Reality and Fantasy: Dream sequences blur the lines between reality and fantasy, challenging the audience’s perception of what is real. The Test Dream dives into Tony’s subconscious world, creating a sense of disorientation, forcing us to try and make sense of what we are seeing. The blending of subconscious experience drawn from the materials from Tony’s life is juxtaposed against the fluid nature of dreams, where logic and coherence give way to surrealism and randomness, yet still manage to convey significance.

Foreshadowing and Revelation: Dreams can also foreshadow future events or reveal hidden truths that characters may not consciously acknowledge. In this episode Tony’s dream encounters with Annette Bening and deceased Detective Vin Makazian, Finn’s mother and father, and other deceased characters, foreshadow Tony B’s murder of Billy Leotardo and wounding of Phil because they murdered Angelo, Tony B’s former cell mate. These surreal encounters serve as harbingers of the challenges, assignations, and persistent conflicts that await Tony in the waking world.

Narrative Innovation and Artistry: Dream sequences offer opportunities for narrative innovation and artistic expression. The Test Dream is a proof of the creative possibilities of dream storytelling, with its inventive visuals, surreal imagery, unconventional narrative structure, and its inclusion of cultural references such as Chinatown, The Godfather, The Valachi Papers, Scrooge, and many, many more. Matthew Weiner and David Chase’s writing and the cast’s performances elevate the dream sequences from fanciful plot devices to evocative and poetic explorations of symbolism, character and theme. The result is a story that rises above its denotative dimension, lifted by its connotative, multi-layered wings.

Summary

Dreams enrich storytelling by dipping into the characters’ subconscious, employing symbols and metaphors, blurring reality and fantasy, foreshadowing future events, and showcasing the poetic dimension inherent in narrative innovation.

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Foreshadowing your way to writing success

Foreshadowing in The Shining

What is foreshadowing and how does it help you write engaging stories? Let’s find out!

Foreshadowing is the skill of preparing readers or audiences to consciously or unconsciously accept the actions and events that will unfold later in a story. There are two main types of foreshadowing: Direct, where clues are openly laid out for all to see, and Indirect or subtle, where the clues are subtly hidden a little deeper into the narrative. In terms of writing skill, foreshadowing often increases the sense unity in a story by tying together seemingly unconnected actions, events, or objects across narrative time.

Let’s say, as in the case of subtle foreshadowing, that the audience has unconsciously noticed something earlier in the story, but not paid much attention to it, only to have it suddenly snap into place a little later as something which makes sense of a current narrative event. This acts as a bridge across time, creating a sense of fullness and unity in the mind of the audience.

In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, we are presented with a masterclass in the use of foreshadowing. Firstly, let’s examine a couple of examples of direct foreshadowing from the film.

Direct Foreshadowing: There will be blood!

Direct foreshadowing places the audience in a heightened state of anticipation: The tsunami of blood in the elevator serves as a visceral example of direct foreshadowing. It leaves no room for misinterpretation, foretelling the horror and violence that will soon consume the Torrence family. This sequence represents the evil that Danny has foreseen—rooted in the hotel’s cruel history. (Tony, Danny’s alter ego, reveals to Danny that he doesn’t want to go to the hotel). The obvious suggestion is that more blood will be shed.

Here’s another example of direct foreshadowing: The hotel manager tells Jack that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, killed his wife, two young daughters and himself at the hotel a decade prior, but it his duty to tell Jack about the event. The not-so-subtle hint to the audience is that Jack will do the same to his own family.

Subtle foreshadowing: Watch now, understand later

But it is subtle foreshadowing that truly helps to distinguish The Shining. While it works together with direct foreshadowing, subtle foreshadowing acts under the surface, building up a sense of unease that we can’t put our finger on. It trades the predictability of direct foreshadowing for a creeping anxiety that is only released in moments of revelation when the audience puts things together.

As the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook Hotel, for example, we catch a brief glimpse of the hedge maze from an aerial shot. This seemingly innocuous detail plants the seed of the maze’s significance as a symbol of the psychological labyrinth that will ensnare Jack Torrance and his family. But whereas Jack will become lost in the maze,, Danny will escape it. This is hinted at through the ease with which Danny navigates the labyrinth-like spaces of the hotel on his tricycle. The motif is re-iterated through the maze pattern on the carpets of the corridors.

Another example of subtle foreshadowing occurs when Danny’s mother takes the boy on a tour of the ground’s hedge maze, while inside the Overlook Hotel, Jack stoops over a model of the labyrinth, watching wickedly from above. Ironically the walk-through helps Danny to find his way out later when he is stalked by his axe-wielding father.

Jack himself is also the vehicle for plenty of foreshadowing: His slow descend into madness, for example, is hinted at by his repetitive typing of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This mindless activity provides a snapshot of his unraveling psyche.

Additionally, during a conversation between Jack and Lloyd the bartender, Jack’s preference for bourbon on the rocks seems innocuous at first. However, it subtly hints at Jack’s impending lapse into alcoholism which had once caused him to break Danny’s arm while drunk. This vulnerability will later be exploited by the malevolent forces within the hotel.

Mirror mirror on the wall

The use of mirrors in cinema often points to fractured psyches and altered realities. Mirrors hint at the existence of worlds within worlds, worlds where horrors lurk beneath the normal and the ordinary. But what they reveal may also serve as a warning to those who are able to interpret them correctly through their ability to shine.

The eerie appearance of the twins to Danny at the start, serves to foreshadow the growing emergence of the supernatural forces at play within the hotel—setting the stage for the chilling events that will unfold.

Examples such as these, then, demonstrate the ability of foreshadowing, whether direct or subtle, to prepare audiences for forthcoming events.

Summary

Foreshadowing can be direct or indirect. Both add to story unity. Direct foreshadowing creates immediate anticipation, while indirect or subtle foreshadowing creates ah-ha moments later in the story where actions, objects or events suddenly snap into place.

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Foreshadowing in The Shining

How Stories Critique the Powerful

The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful
The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful

Determining the best episode of a TV show like The Boys is subjective and dependent on individual preferences. Season 2, Episode 8, titled What I Know, however, is in my opinion, one of the standout episodes of the season. But its real value lies less in its ability to entertain and more in the subtextual critique it levels against powerful individuals and corporations who seek to control us under the guise of looking after us.

The episode unveils several key events, including the revelation of Stormfront’s true identity and nefarious past, Butcher’s confrontation with Homelander, and Starlight’s decision to expose Vought’s corruption. More importantly, it delves into the universal themes of accountability, justice, and the consequences of unchecked power.

One of the chief lessons to be extracted from the subtext of What I Know, and from the series as a whole, is the importance of standing up against injustice and corruption in the face of overwhelming power. This is particularly pertinent today: As the world’s population becomes increasingly aware through the proliferation of social media channels, of government, corporate and individual corruption, shows such as The Boys become thinly-veiled instruments of critique and parody against unfettered power, and as such are worthy of study.

Characters like Starlight, Butcher, Hughie and others, demonstrate courage and resilience as they confront powerful individuals and corporations which are supported by politicians and state machinery, all of whom seek to control society for their own advantage. The hopeful message here is how the few can stand up against the tyranny of the powerful and the corrupt.

The What I Know episode suggests that individuals do indeed have the ability to make a difference, even in a world dominated by the most powerful superhumans. By taking a stand against the lies and coverups, Starlight, as a Supe herself, acts as a kind of moral compass, against coverups of excessive and violent actions. She demonstrates that morally centred individuals can challenge authority by attempting to reveal the truth behind the corruption, even though she may ultimately fail. Good can defeat evil, even if the good is often less than perfect in itself.

The broader irony here is that both the political Left and Right, in the real world, can point to narrative events in the series in order to critique their opposition. Huge pharmaceutical corporations tasked with saving lives in the face of global pandemics are food for parody here under the guise of compound V, as both sides of the political spectrum have argued for and against the efficacy of restrictive mandates, and the like.

Which brings us to the power and utility of accomplished storytelling: it contains a connotative layer underneath its external or denotative meaning, which allows it to speak across social, political, and historical boundaries, remaining relevant beyond specific moments in time.

Summary
Stories can be used as a Trojan Horse of critique, highlighting the corruption, lies and tyranny of the rich and powerful.

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The Art of the Hook: Crafting Compelling Stories!

How The Boys uses the hook
How The Boys uses the hook

Today, we’re learning about how to hook readers and audiences into stories, drawing from episodes from The Boys.

1: Immediate Intrigue

A strong hook doesn’t just grab attention; it sets the stage for the entire story. It grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning, leaving them eager for more. In Season 1, Episode 1 the shocking death of Robin sets the tone for The Boys, instantly hooking viewers with its unexpected and tragic twist.

2: Unexpected Events

But it’s not just what happens in your story; it’s who it happens to that truly captivates your audience. Introduce unexpected events or revelations that challenge viewers’ expectations and drive curiosity. In Season 1, Episode 4 the revelation of the Nazi origins of Compound V, the Superhero juice, flips the superhero genre on its head, injecting fresh intrigue into the narrative and prompting viewers to question everything they thought they knew.

3: Character Introduction

Introduce compelling characters that resonate with audiences and compel them to invest in their journey. In Season 1, Episode 1 Hughie’s relatable struggle and tragic loss immediately draws viewers into his world, setting the emotional foundation for the series.

4: Tension Building

Tension is the lifeblood of storytelling, driving the narrative forward and keeping the audience engaged. Build tension early by establishing conflicts and obstacles that hint at larger confrontations to come. In Season 2, Episode 1 the escalating tensions between The Boys and The Seven create a palpable sense of anticipation, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

5: Moral Confusion

Incorporating moral complexity adds depth to your story, elevating it from mere entertainment to thought-provoking commentary. Explore the moral ambiguity and complexity in your own characters to challenge viewers’ perceptions and provoke thought. In Season 2, Episode 6 the revelation of Stormfront’s true nature forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about power and privilege, adding depth to the story and its characters.

6: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing hints at future events and developments, enticing viewers to stick around for what’s to come. In Season 1, Episode 6 the disappearance of Butcher’s wife foreshadows a larger conspiracy at play, teasing viewers with the promise of future revelations and twists.

Summary

Crafting compelling hooks is the key to drawing your audience into your story and keeping them invested until the very end.

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Who Speaks for the Superhero Genre?

The Boys and the Superhero Genre
The Boys and the Superhero Genre

Today, we’re looking into the world of the superhero, but not the kind of superhero we’re used to. I’m talking about The Boys, a series that has taken the genre by storm, unveiling a fresh and gritty take on the classic set of tropes.

  1. Deconstructing Superhero Tropes
    The Boys TV series succeeds where others fail partly because it intelligently deconstructs the stale superhero narratives we have grown bored with. At its core, the series examines the consequences of unfettered corporate and individual power protected by a relentless media campaign. It highlights the collateral damage that can be inflicted on society by powerful individuals who are driven by self-interest and narcissism, even to the point of murder: When the speedster hero A-Train accidentally kills Robin, Hughie’s girlfriend, it sets off a chain of events that exposes the art of the cover-up, the dark side of Vought International, and its pursuit of power at all costs.
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  2. Complex Characters
    Unlike the one-dimensional heroes often portrayed in the stale superhero genre, the characters in The Boys are multi-layered and morally ambiguous. Take Homelander, the most powerful of all the Supes who leads the Seven, a select band of super beings created by Vaught International. Homelander presents himself as the epitome of American virtue hiding behind a winning smile, but in reality he harbours a fractured psyche, dark secrets, and a murderous streak. His shocking destruction of the Mayor of Baltimore’s private jet at the end of the first episode to stop the Mayor from exposing the truth behind Compound V, Vought International’s Supe-juice, sets the tone for the entire series. Homelander will stop at nothing to protect Vought and himself. Vought’s attempt to silence Hughie after the death of his girlfriend is further proof of that.
  3. Real-world Parallels
    But The Boys also resonates with audiences because of its exploration, through the lens of superhero fiction, of real-world issues. The Corporate influence on society is exposed early in the series through Vought International’s lack of sincerity, and its criminal attempts to protect its brand at all costs. This points to how huge corporations may prioritise profit over ethics in the real world.
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  4. Emotional Depth
    While the series is filled with action-packed sequences, it is the emotional depth of the characters that truly sets it apart: Hughie’s grief and anger over Robin’s death, motivates him to seek justice against the corrupt superheroes. His journey to become one of The Boys is driving force behind the series, grounded in his relatable emotions and struggles.
  5. Satire and Dark Humour as Self-Critique
    The Boys doesn’t shy away from satirising the superhero genre, and pop-culture as a whole. We see this through the character of the Deep. His aquatic powers are no match for Homelander’s bullying, and his deviant, sexual infatuation with Timothy the octopus is an added source of embarrassment and ridicule.

Homelander’s complete dominance over the Deep is established early on, when he learns that he found scorch marks on the engine of the crashed plane and tells Stillwell. Homelander easily intimidates the Deep into silence.

  1. Grey Morality
    Finally, The Boys challenges the notion of a black-and-white morality often associated with the superhero genre. Indeed, the series as a whole explores the spectrum of moral dilemmas faced by supposedly good characters like Hughie and Butcher as they seek revenge against the Seven. Their actions blur the line between heroism and villainy, forcing us to question the traditional definition of good and evil.

The series has been renewed for a fourth season, and continues to subvert expectations to offer a darker, more nuanced take on the superhero genre. As a result The Boys has garnered a world-wide following which shows no sign of slowing down.

Summary
The Boys differs from the conventional superhero fare due to its intelligent deconstruction of old tropes, its use of complex characters, its real-world parallels, its emotional depth, its self-critique through dark humour and satire, and its mature exploration of moral ambiguity.

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The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey

The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey: Avengers: Endgame.
The Blockbuster and the Hero’s Journey.

Today, we will study the Hero’s Journey drawing from Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey, showing how the modern blockbuster exemplifies this timeless story structure. And what better way to do so than a recent box-office heavyweight champion, Avengers: Endgame.

  1. The Ordinary World

Our heroes begin in their ‘ordinary’ lives. In Endgame, this is the aftermath of the ‘Infinity War,’ where the remaining Avengers struggle with loss and failure. Indeed, Endgame kicks off weeks after Thanos’s devastation of the world. Our heroes, exist in an altered world. A World, of loss grief and despair.

In the Hero’s Journey, The Ordinary World, the first of Vogler’s’ twelve story beats, serves as the baseline, grounding the audience in the characters’ relatable struggles. In this modern blockbuster with its ensemble cast, the Hero’s traits and story beats are shared amongst several characters. For example, although The Refusal of the Call, and later, The Sacrifice belong to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, the idea of The Resurrection is symbolically rendered through Captain America’s passing his shield to Falcon at the end. And so on.

  1. The Call to Adventure

We know from the very start of the film that a huge disturbance has impacted the heroes’ lives. This challenges them to embark on a life-changing quest. This call is made explicit when Scott Lang (Ant-Man) escapes the Quantum Realm, proposing a solution to undo Thanos’ devastation.

  1. Refusal of the Call

Next comes doubt and hesitation. Tony Stark initially rejects the call, fearing the consequences to his family and the world. He vehemently argues against attempting time-travel. His reluctance adds depth, showcasing the inner struggle that heroes face.

  1. Meeting With The Mentor

Every hero needs guidance, and in Endgame, Tony Stark and Professor Hulk double up on their roles as the team’s mentors. Tony decides to accept the call to adventure after all, and devises the time travel concept, while Professor Hulk provides emotional support. The mentor’s role in a story is crucial, steering our heroes towards their destiny.

  1. Crossing the Threshold(s)

Here, the hero, or in this case, heroes, step into the unknown. In Endgame, this is symbolised by the quantum realm suits as the heroes prepare to venture into uncharted terrains, facing the mind-boggling risks of time travel. Crossing the Threshold represents leaving the comfort zone of the-world-as-they-know it behind.

  1. Tests, Allies, and Enemies

As the story progresses trials, alliances, and adversaries come to the fore. The time-heist comprises the central this part of the story. Each hero confronts personal challenges during his or her time-travelling endeavors. It’s important to remember that the tests are not just physical but also emotional, all of which serves to deepen the journey.

  1. Approach to the Inmost Cave

As the heroes approach their ultimate goal they prepare to face Thanos in the final battle. The Inmost Cave is in this case the destroyed Avengers HQ, setting the stage for the climax.

  1. The Ordeal

During the ordeal our heroes engage in their biggest test, resulting in the climactic battle with their enemy. Sacrifices are made, and some fall, but ultimately they triumph. The Ordeal is the crucible that forces heroes to reach beyond themselves in order to overcome the challenge they face.

  1. The Reward

The heroes reap the rewards of their journey. In Endgame, it’s the restoration of the fallen. The world is saved, and the remaining heroes find closure. The Reward is both triumphant and poignant, marking the end of the hero’s quest.

  1. The Road Back

The Road Back is a moment of reflection and transition, setting the stage for the final acts.

  1. Resurrection

Here, heroes undergo a final transformation. Captain America embodies this story beat, passing his shield to Falcon signifying the transferring of the mantle—itself a symbolic rebirth. The Resurrection symbolises the heroic group’s final evolution, in this case, the closing of the narrative loop.

  1. Return with the Elixir

Our heroes take up life in their ordinary world, bearing the lessons and changes earned through their journey. In Endgame, the elixir is the gift of a new era, represented, in part, by Falcon having taken up Captain America’s shield. The Elixir is the prize granted to the whole of humanity—the changed world gained through great effort and sacrifice.

Summary

The modern blockbuster draws its inspiration from the classical hero’s journey, effecting minor adaptations where necessary.

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The Brilliance of Subtext

Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.
Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.

Today, we’re studying the art of subtext by dissecting a scene from the film masterpiece, No Country for Old Men. This film, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a treasure chest of storytelling techniques, but one scene in particular stands out as a masterclass in the use of subtext.

The subtext of the coin-toss scene demonstrates how one’s destiny depends on random chance, much like the flip of a coin. Anton Chigurh, stops for petrol at an off-the-beaten path gas station, while in pursuit of stolen drug money. Let’s break down why this scene is a brilliant example of subtext mastery.

  1. The Coin-Toss as a Symbol: The use of the coin-toss symbolises the arbitrary nature of life and death. Chigurh‘s stop at the small shop/fuelling station is by random chance, but what ensues has potentially deadly consequences for the shopkeeper. The audience is captivated by the suspenseful coin flip, mirroring the unpredictability of life. The subtext lies in the power dynamics at play, where a simple coin flip becomes the arbiter of a man’s fate.
  2. Chigurh’s Unsettling Oddness: Anton Chigurh, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, brings his unsettling presence to the scene. His lack of emotion amplifies the tension, creating an enigmatic figure whose actions are dictated by an internal code. This subtextual layer adds complexity to the narrative.
  3. Power Dynamics and Control: The subtext here is in the subtle power struggle between Chigurh and the shop owner—in the question and answer game and the implied threat in Chigurh’s tone. The coin-toss becomes a metaphor for the larger power dynamics at play, illustrating how control can be deceptively veiled. The audience is left on edge as they witness the fragility of human agency in the face of an unstoppable force.
  4. An Undercurrent of Existential Dread: As the shop keeper begins to comprehend the gravity of the situation, the subtext evolves into a chilling exploration of existential dread. The scene forces us to confront the inevitability of mortality and the fragility of our existence. Every word and action is layered with profound meaning, leaving the audience with a lingering sense of unease.
  5. Minimalism and Silence: The power of this subtext is amplified by the Coen Brothers’ deliberate use of minimalism and silence. The scarcity of words enhances the impact of every gesture and expression, creating a palpable tension that grips the viewer. The audience is left hanging on every nuance, deciphering the unsaid through the artful interplay of visuals and sounds.

The coin-toss scene, then, stands as a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling. The use of a simple coin-toss becomes a metaphorical event upon which the fate of a character balances, laden with layers of meaning. As writers, we can draw inspiration from the meticulous craftsmanship of this scene, learning how to weave subtext into our stories with precision and purpose.

Summary

The coin-toss scene in No Country for Old Men is a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling.

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