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Old 04-03-2010, 03:56 AM   #201
Mac H.
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Jim - I just read your linked website and I think I see why there is some confusion.

You define : "The Main Character is defined as the character through whose eyes we experience the story"

That definition is just confusing. You could define it that way - just like a cooking expert could define: "Parmesan Cheese is defined as the topmost ingredient in a Lasagna"

But would that definition help chefs (and potential chefs) to understand cooking? You could argue that the definition is true for most recipes - but then you'd get stuck with other dishes. You would argue that a given ingredient MUST be Parmesan cheese just because it is topmost on the dish !

It will just confuse chefs who already had a definition of 'Parmesan cheese'.

Every movie goer already has an idea of what the 'Main Character' of a film means. Their definition may not always agree ... but it isn't going to help your discussion if you arbitrarily define 'The Viewpoint Character' as 'The Main Character'.

Here's an example. Imagine if we filmed this anecdote:

Quote:
"When I was at school, I used to sit behind my friend Tom in math class. Tom was always getting in trouble. Tom used to flick pencils at the girl who sat in front of him until she'd get mad at him. He eventually got up the courage to ask her out on a date, but by then he'd been diagnosed with Leukemia. That changed everything.

Eventually of course, they fell in love and, when they graduated, got married."
Ask any movie goers to identify the antagonist and protagonist.

There would be argument whether Tom's Leukemia was an antagonist, or whether his own insecurities were. Some people might argue that his love interest (who he eventually married) was the antagonist. But would there be any argument that Tom is the protagonist ?

And - here is the real question - who is the Main Character? Ask any movie-goer.

The options are:

(1) Tom
(2) The girl who sat in front of Tom - the one he eventually married
(3) Mac H. - because he is the narrator and is the viewpoint character.


Any movie-goer would answer (1). Can you think of anyone (who hadn't read your definition) who would answer (3) ????

Surely your definition just doesn't make sense. It might be true in many cases - but that doesn't make it a definition !

Using it as a definition just makes all conversations confusing.

Why not just use the phrase 'Viewpoint character' ?

Your opening post on this thread would also makes perfect sense if you did that ! Writing is about communicating. Your opening post in this thread failed to communicate because you had an odd definition of 'Main Character'. If you don't have the same definition as your readers then you simply can't communicate. Why not just use the same language as your readers and use the phrase 'Viewpoint Character' ?

In fact - I urge everyone who can't make sense of Jim's arguments to go and re-read his original post - but replace the phrase 'Main Character' with 'Viewpoint Character'. It actually makes sense !

In fact, I'm going to repost it using the normal definitions of the words:

Quote:
The idea that the Protagonist and the 'Viewpoint Character' have to be the same person is an outdated concept that stifles writers and obfuscates true meaning in narrative fiction.

As Steven points out, you can combine the two to get the classic "Hero" character that most writers are comfortable with. However, if you want to write something different, something unique and closer to real life, then yes you can split them apart as in the aforementioned "Mockingbird." "Shawshank Redemption" is another great example of a story where the two are split.

Why would you want to differentiate between the two? Because the thematic issues that affect everyone in the story are not the same as those that affect the Viewpoint Character personally. In point of fact, it is the differential between these two that actually provides the meaning audiences are looking for. In real life we cannot live both within ourselves and also look outside at ourselves objectively - it is a physical impossibility.

This is why stories exist - to provide us with both perspectives and therefore give us the meaning we so often crave, yet can't find in real life.
See !! It actually makes sense now.

(I'm not sure I agree with every subtlety of it - but at least I can understand it well enough to have an opinion)

Mac
(PS: Jim - please don't force everyone who reads your posts to have a translation manual! It doesn't help the communication!)

Last edited by Mac H. : 04-03-2010 at 04:45 AM.
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Old 04-03-2010, 08:58 AM   #202
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

I would be willing to use the term "Viewpoint Character" if it accurately communicated what is going on inside of stories. I don't think it does.

Every great story has a Main Character through which we the audience experience a story. They are more than simply a Narrator or Viewpoint Character as they have deep personal issues that are tied thematically to the problems everyone in the story deals with.

Along comes another character, the Impact Character, who sees the world differently than them. They argue back and forth throughout the course of a story over the best way to solve the problems affecting everyone -- each thinking their way is the best (more or less). This argument represents the emotional center of the story.

At the end of the story, the Main Character is offered a choice -- either keep doing things the way they always have, or change and adopt the Impact Character's way of doing things. Regardless of what decision they make the Impact Character will do the opposite.

Sometimes this change resolves the greater problems affecting everyone, sometimes it doesn't. Likewise, not changing sometimes resolves the problems, and sometimes not changing leads to horrible failure.

This is where the true meaning of what the author is trying to say lies.

So when I define the Main Character that way, I am simply saying there is more to him than whether or not they are the one telling the story.

I would say your short story example is an incomplete story as I have no idea whether the one telling the story is suffering from the same kind of avoidance issues as Tom. I also have no idea if his relationship with the girl is tied to these issues as well. It is implied but not explicit. This is another reason why loglines are insufficient when it comes to determining a story's true meaning.

Last edited by JimHull : 04-03-2010 at 09:14 AM.
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Old 04-03-2010, 10:15 AM   #203
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Jim, you call Laszlo the Protagonist in Casablanca, because you say he is the character who pursues the Story Goal. In Casablanca, you then define the story goal as Laszlo and Ilsa's freedom.

Then, if I undersand you correctly, you define the story goal of any story as the goal the Protagonist seeks at or near the end of ACT 1. From my understanding of a story, this is when our Protagonist's world is so upset that he or she must act to bring it back into balance.

True, Laszlo seeks his and Ilsa's freedom, but how can that be the story goal, if Laszlo had been seeking their freedom since this story began?
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Old 04-03-2010, 10:20 AM   #204
Mac H.
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

OK - I'm lost again. I thought I made sense of your system.

Let's look at something very simple - perhaps one of the old Sherlock Holmes stories.

The viewpoint/narrator character is Dr Watson.
The Protagonist is Sherlock Holmes.

To quote:
Quote:
Every great story has a Main Character through which we the audience experience a story. They are more than simply a Narrator or Viewpoint Character as they have deep personal issues that are tied thematically to the problems everyone in the story deals with.
You are saying that either:
1. Dr Watson must have a deep personal issue that is tied thematically to the puzzle in the story -or-
2. Sherlock Holmes stories are not great stories --

I can see that having the Viewpoint/narrator character having a deep personal issue that is tied thematically to the issues of the story is a powerful technique.

But you seem to be arguing that since, in your belief, this technique *MUST* be used for the story to be classified as 'great', you define the 'Main Character' as being the viewpoint character by definition !

This makes no sense. Imagine if I argue that all great cars are rear wheel drive, so I choose to define 'drive wheels' to be 'rear wheels' for all cars - no matter how the car is configured.

Could you imagine me having sensible conversations about all cars?

Look at the silly snippet I suggested. As you point out, if you are in a meeting and starting to talk about stories, you can't use basic phrases like 'Main Character' until the script is entirely finished with all themes worked out!

You have to have everything basically complete before you can decide who the 'Main Character' is !? So I can't see how this naming convention or technique could be useful for developing stories.

Just to explain it .. can you show us one of your scripts (or just point me to the DVD) that you've developed using this system? Maybe then I'll be able to understand it.

Mac
(PS: And you haven't answered the most basic point - you are using a phrase that is already commonly used and giving it a different hamster. If you have a new hamster , then give it a new name.)
(PPS: According to my definition, 'Hamster' is a word for a concept very similar to 'meaning'. I hope this shows how confusing these conversations about the hamsters of words can be!)

(PPS: On a serious note, one interesting thing that struck me while trying to understand your system is that having the viewpoint & protagonist character as being separate used to be the norm - look at Sherlock Holmes for example. Much of the literature from that period was from the POV of some mundane clerk who happened to witness something mysterious happening to SOMEONE ELSE. Instead of inviting the reader/viewer to imagine being the hero, they were basically inviting the reader/viewer to imagine being the boring sidekick ! It's definitely an different literature style.)

Last edited by Mac H. : 04-03-2010 at 10:30 AM.
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Old 04-03-2010, 10:49 AM   #205
JimHull
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

I was wondering when the "what have you written" question was going to come up. I have sold something, but I don't think that kind of accomplishment has anything to do with whether or not someone truly understands story structure. There could very well be someone on this messageboard who knows more than I about how to write complete stories, yet hasn't sold a thing. Likewise, there are those who have sold plenty, yet still write stories that simply don't work.

When I speak of great stories, I'm talking about complete stories -- stories where the author is using the form of narrative fiction to communicate a universal meaning that they hold true. These are the stories that you can watch or read over and over again because they are giving you something you can't get in real life: meaning.

In regards to Sherlock Holmes, yes I would say that quite often Watson is the Main Character and Holmes is the Protagonist - the one driving the efforts to solve the mystery. Some Sherlock Holmes' stories are complete, some are not. I would venture to guess that those that stick with you years after you have read them are complete stories (#1 in your example).

As far as answering the basic point. I'm not sure how classifying an animal as a hamster is similar to determining whether or not a story has true meaning. The current definition of protagonist is inaccurate because it can often come in conflict with a writer's intuition. The OP felt compelled to write a story where the character we experience the story through was not the one driving the efforts to resolve the problems affecting everyone. In clarifying the distinction between the two terms I only wanted to show that there was nothing wrong with his instinct.
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Old 04-03-2010, 12:01 PM   #206
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JimHull View Post
The current definition of protagonist is inaccurate because it can often come in conflict with a writer's intuition. The OP felt compelled to write a story where the character we experience the story through was not the one driving the efforts to resolve the problems affecting everyone. In clarifying the distinction between the two terms I only wanted to show that there was nothing wrong with his instinct.
I'm not saying this out of disrespect to the OP (and I'm in no position to anyway, having never written anything noteworthy), but he seemed quite confused about some basic terminology.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Jenkins View Post
Basically I pit the MC against the Protagonist (who's now revealed to actually be the Protagonist of an evil plot) at the end of the film, if that makes any sense? Most of the movie is a smoke-screen, and MC spots the truth and foils the plan in the last few minutes of the film. How - I don't know yet
The 'Protagonist of an evil plot' is simply an Antagonist. Every Bond movie villian is the 'Protagonist of an evil plot'. And who are they in conflict with?

That would be the Protagonist.

So really, once we correct the misuse of terminology there, we are left with a Protagonist pitted against an Antagonist, with no need for a Main Character fulfilling some separate story function.

There are many movies where the Antagonist masquerades as a good guy. That deception does not actually affect their story role.
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Old 04-03-2010, 12:33 PM   #207
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by instant_karma View Post
I'm not saying this out of disrespect to the OP (and I'm in no position to anyway, having never written anything noteworthy), but he seemed quite confused about some basic terminology.
Beyond terminology, the OP seems to have designed a plot with little drive for the main character, since he felt that splitting up the protag and the MC was okay.

That's my quibble with the Dramatica Theory Of Script Deconstruction - used descriptively, whatever. Call a plot a soundtrack. Who cares?

But when people try to use it prescriptively, it's a mess. From everything I've read and seen, you're forced into artificial decisions so that the script fits into the paradigm. If Shawshank had actually been written with the method, and care had been taken to keep from emotionally connecting with Andy, and instead connecting with Red... Well, we wouldn't be talking about that movie today.
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Old 04-03-2010, 01:55 PM   #208
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
Beyond terminology, the OP seems to have designed a plot with little drive for the main character, since he felt that splitting up the protag and the MC was okay.

That's my quibble with the Dramatica Theory Of Script Deconstruction - used descriptively, whatever. Call a plot a soundtrack. Who cares?

But when people try to use it prescriptively, it's a mess. From everything I've read and seen, you're forced into artificial decisions so that the script fits into the paradigm. If Shawshank had actually been written with the method, and care had been taken to keep from emotionally connecting with Andy, and instead connecting with Red... Well, we wouldn't be talking about that movie today.
Sorta on a side note. I think Red sees Andy's story as his own.

When Andy says, She was beautiful. God I loved her. I just didn't know how to show it, that's all. I killed her, Red. I didn't pull the trigger, but I drove her away. And that's why she died, because of me.
(but Red did pull the trigger)
Red comes back with, That don't make you a murderer. Bad husband, maybe. Feel bad about it if you want. But you didn't pull the trigger

Andy, No. I didn't. Someone else did, and I wound up here. Bad luck, I guess.

Bad luck? Jesus.

Andy, It floats around. Has to land on somebody. Say a storm comes through. Some folks sit in their living rooms and enjoy the rain. The house next door gets torn out of the ground and smashed flat. It was my turn, that's all. I was in the path of the tornado. I just had no idea the storm would go on as long as it has.


I see this scene in two ways, one it changes Red's POV; he finally takes responsibilty for the murder he commited years before, and Red is us-the audience-saying to Andy 'we still believe you're innocent.

BTW: Frank Darabont and Stephen King are graduates of the Dramatica Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too!
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Old 04-03-2010, 07:33 PM   #209
Mac H.
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JimHull View Post
I was wondering when the "what have you written" question was going to come up. I have sold something, but I don't think that kind of accomplishment has anything to do with whether or not someone truly understands story structure. There could very well be someone on this messageboard who knows more than I about how to write complete stories, yet hasn't sold a thing. Likewise, there are those who have sold plenty, yet still write stories that simply don't work.
Agreed. I love story structure. I can geek on it for hours - I can usually find something surprising that makes it worthwhile.

But I simply can't make sense of your system. I thought I found a way of understanding it, but it turns out that it isn't right either.

I don't expect to agree entirely with any system - the world is always much more complicated than simple models, but those models are still really useful.

But I can't figure out someone could use the system to develop a story. Because that is what I'm interested in.

If you can't point to one of your stories that was developed using this system, can you point to any others?

Quote:
The OP felt compelled to write a story where the character we experience the story through was not the one driving the efforts to resolve the problems affecting everyone.
Exactly - the viewpoint/experience character isn't the protagonist. It's a very standard technique - even going back to Sherlock Holmes !

So why start renaming the viewpoint/experience character ? If you didn't do this your attempt to explain and communicate would have been a lot easier!

If you start your explanation by explaining that the true Main Character of the Sherlock Holmes story was Watson you are just going to get dismissed as a bizarre crank - just because you are using words in non-standard ways.

Mac
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Old 04-03-2010, 09:37 PM   #210
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JimHull View Post
Jeff -

My apologies for taking your quote out of context -- that's what I get for posting right before I go to sleep. For some reason I connected that "bad info" line with the concept of splitting the Main Character and Protagonist, my mistake and I'll correct it on my site. I also apologize ahead of time for the super long post, more replies came in as I was responding...

As far as "Shawshank" goes, here is my argument for why Red is the Main Character and Andy is the Protagonist: problems in the story exist because an innocent man has been unjustly incarcerated. Take away the fact that Andy is not guilty and there is no story. This problem affects everyone. Once Andy is freed the problems in the story will be resolved. This is the Goal of the story - getting Andy out of jail.

The person pursuing this Goal is Andy himself. Though we don't know it until much later, he spends a lot of time digging a giant hole and planning his escape. I totally agree that the Warden is the Antagonist - he's the one preventing Andy from escaping and gives him plenty of opportunities to rethink things over (throwing him in the hole, etc.).

Red represents our eyes into the story. I agree too that the concept of Narrator is a storytelling device and that there are many stories where the Narrator is not the Main Character. However, in the case of "Shawshank" we are privy to so much more than Red's simple retelling of the story. Through his eyes we get to feel what it is like to be someone who has become "institutionalized." Red has given up all hope and proceeds to each parole hearing with his tail tucked between his legs, saying whatever it is he thinks they want to hear.

This is his personal problem - the fact that he so easily rationalizes away all the evil and injustice that occurs in Shawshank because he has lost all hope. We are emotionally invested in his journey and Darabont even sets up the shots so that we are literally him - P.O.V. shots of the jail doors opening and walking into the hearings. When you have shots like that, it's usually a good indicator that the filmmakers consider this person the Main Character as well.

Conversely, we don't get to experience what it is like at all spending that month in the hole as Andy. We see him go in. And we see him come out.

In addition, the story doesn't end when Andy is freed. The major story problem has been resolved, but there is still this lingering question surrounding Red. Will he end up like Brooks or will he finally muster up the kind of hope that Andy taught him during their years together? "Get busy living or get busy dying." The emotional meaning of the story is tied up in Red's decision on that.

-----------

Re: Steven's question about his problem with the Main Character/non-Protagonist feeling like a 3rd wheel or just a sidekick, I can completely relate. I often write stories where the Main Character isn't the Protagonist because I've seen so many powerful films that use this technique. From my own experience, I know that studio development execs aren't comfortable with these kinds of stories because the Main Character isn't "taking action." They've all been told MCs are Protagonists and therefore have to be the ones that "drive the story."

The key is to give those Main Characters elements or characteristics that are more actively tied to the larger story goal.

In "Shawshank", Red plays more of the Guardian role. He helps Andy in his efforts to escape, even mentioning that if you need something, he's the kind of guy who can get it for you. By crafting his character like this, he feels less like someone who is just sitting on the sidelines.

The same thing happens in "The Live of Others" which, if you haven't seen, you need to -- truly one of the greatest films of all time. In that film "Lazlo" is the Protagonist and Minister Hempf is the Antagonist. "Lazlo" is always pursuing a course of action where his blacklisted friends can make their art while Hempf is doing everything in his power to prevent him.

But it is through HGW's eyes that we witness the entire story. We are emotionally invested in him because again, we are privy to private things about him that many others in the story don't know (his pathetic and secluded homelife, etc.). The emotional meaning of the story is wrapped around whether or not people like him (Stasi) can change.

But like Red, HGW fulfills the Guardian role to "Lazlo". Behind the scenes he helps and aids him - what specifically he does I'll leave open because I don't want to ruin the film for anyone. Safe to say he is an integral part of the plot, yet he doesn't drive it.

-----

In regards to Save the Cat! I also agree. The book (books) are wonderful, the best part being that Blake was such a great inspiring writer that you can't help but start writing after reading only a couple of pages.

The only problem with it is that it can lend itself to what people refer to as "stock" stories. "How to Train Your Dragon", which just came out, is based in large part on the Save the Cat! beats. One of the directors was a member of Blake's NY writer's group and it shows. You can literally pick out the Fun and Games moment, the All is Lost moment and so on.

Personally, I don't feel the story is stock -- I think it makes these moments feel fun and fresh, but of the few people who have complained about the story in this film, that is the term they use. The problem with Save the Cat! and McKee's story explanations is that they are so simple and so reductive that they can lead to familiar sequencing of events and character development. You'll note too that often these paradigms need to be bent or twisted in order to account for movies like "The Lives of Others" or "Up in the Air."

-----

The reason the Dramatica theory of story is so complicated is because it attempts to define what is happening in stories as accurately as it possibly can. Once you truly understand what it is trying to explain, you'll see that it doesn't need exceptions -- it's completely comprehensive.

Writing great stories is a major pain in the ass and probably one of the most difficult things a human being can ever try to do. It isn't and shouldn't be something that can be broken down into 15 beats or six sequences. The entirety of human experience is as complicated (if not more) than the chart that was previously posted. Stories deserve as much attention

I will, however, agree that one can get lost in the understanding. If the end result you're after is knowledge and comprehension of the mechanics behind great storytelling then by all means learn as much as you can, maybe even start a website where you write hundreds of articles about it (referring to me of course! )

If instead you want to be known as a great author then Jeff is 100% correct, just write. I think it's great that you thought the Emperor was the Protagonist but that you're willing to admit that you might have had it wrong. There's nothing wrong with learning and I'm willing to bet that your writing will improve because of it.

I would also agree with Jeff about your movie's concept of carrying a flash drive across the country. As opposed my above arguments which are based in rational thought, my emotional subjective opinion about your story is that the hook doesn't seem strong enough. Perhaps that could only be one part or one step of the greater problem?

This to me is the hardest part of writing and something that yes, any theory or paradigm can't help you with.

Wow! There is so much truth in this post. I believe SAVE THE CAT, breeds mediocrity. I am not saying it can't be helpful for some. But man, the greats like Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, Tony Gilroy, care about stories. Which is a forgotten art in Hollywood. I think people spend way too much time on concept, before asking themselves can this be a great story. Epic post.
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