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Old 04-04-2010, 12:06 AM   #211
asjah8
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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Originally Posted by JimHull View Post
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.
i sincerely don’t want to confuse this thread anymore. it sounds like you really want to make clarity of this so i’ll humbly submit again… ethos.

films are a communication medium. and, films are a way for a writer to communicate something to an audience; ie, what the writer wants to say about the human condition. that is persuasive communication. and, it is exactly what the study of rhetoric is all about.

so, a writer wants to write a story about a man who is convicted of murdering his wife who is more noble than the system that incarcerates him. a rhetorician would look at this and say: okay mr. writer, how do you want to make this argument?

the problems:
your audience won’t (for the most part) sympathize or identify with a man in prison.
your audience won’t sympathize or identify with a man who murders his wife.
how can you bring this to an audience’ level so they can sympathize and identify?
how can you make this man appear not only be sympathetic, but ultimately noble?

the answer:
the first, most obvious answer is to tell the story through another prisoner’s perspective; bring the audience to andy's level so they can potentially empathize. and, of course this other prisoner must have seen far worse, for far longer, and must have learned to absorb, analyze and survive.

but, that’s still not enough. one additional prisoner doesn’t make a persuasive perspective for an argument. the result is we’ll have two prisoners that the audience can’t relate with instead of one. there must be more.

so, fragment the characterization a bit and give a particular dimension to each of the resulting characterizations -- add a prisoner who has killed himself because he was misunderstood; then add another prisoner who… and another prisoner who... and yet another prisoner who… etc.

then, add a crummy warden with an obviously bad attitude who is the perfect unlikeable opposite antagonist.

red, and the guy who hung himself, and the other prisoners (i recall a prisoner who fed birds…?) are all acting as different dimensions to the same persuasive argument characterization: that andy can be a noble prisoner who is misunderstood. red is the primary access character, however the others provide different supporting dimensions to the same concept.

that is the writer’s tool for establishing ethos.

aristotle wrote much more than the oft-lauded poetics; he was an incredibly powerful rhetorician that designed the moral pistis for a persuasive argument.

erm... i don't pretend to be a repped or optioned screenwriter but now we're sorta getting into my field of knowledge.

Last edited by asjah8 : 04-04-2010 at 12:27 AM.
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Old 04-05-2010, 11:21 AM   #212
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I have no problems with what you said, in fact, I think it's a great lead up to more discussion:

Context creates meaning. Without context, you can't have meaning. If I hold my hand up and ask "Is this higher or lower?" you can't answer because you don't have the right context within which to answer it accurately. If instead I used the context of "my head" as in "Is my hand higher or lower than my head?" then suddenly the answer to that question has meaning.

Now if I pulled back even farther and showed that we were really on a satellite orbiting the Earth, with no windows to tell us which end was up, well then what you had previously thought was an accurate answer is no longer applicable. The context has shifted and so has the meaning.

This is what happens in films like "The Sixth Sense" or "The Usual Suspects". In those films the author is shifting context in order to provide an audience with a deeper understanding of the way he or she thinks things work.

There are four different contexts within which we see the world: I, You, We and They. As we live and breathe, we constantly shift in and out of these perspectives in order to establish some meaning in our lives. Unfortunately we can't hold all four simultaneously, stories can and this is where their power lies.

I wrote a huge article about this concept and how Pixar uses this approach (whether consciously or subconsciously) in every one of their films here: Writing Complete Stories.

When writing the original novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" I would submit that Stephen King set out to write a story about hope. Following your line of reasoning in regards to ethos (which again, I think fits perfectly into what I'm saying), he wove together a story consisting of four throughlines:

1. I've lost all hope (Red's storyline)
2. You have hope (Andy's storyline)
3. We argue over the value of hope (arguments at the lunch table, in the yard, etc.)
4. They have issues with hope (the other inmates, the warden's view of where hope lies, and so on...)

I would add, though, that this is a very simplistic way of looking at what is going on within "Shawshank." Andy wavers back and forth on whether or not he has hope, as does Red. Great stories do this. Black and white arguments are boh-ring. Furthermore, the issues affecting Red have more to do with how he is rationalizing the way he thinks about things, but I think in an overall general sense this is how the story was constructed.

My argument would be that these are the contexts present in the story and combined, they present the meaning of the story's message that King originally set out to write.

Now whether or not Darabont continued to employ these contexts is open for debate. I think he was still telling the story from Red's viewpoint, and that he was trying to put us in Red's shoes, but I can see where some feel that Andy fits that role, especially since Darabont decided to go with Andy's storyline first. Generally, authors tend to focus on the Main Character first as it brings the audience into the story quicker, but it doesn't always have to be this way.

The order in which things are revealed to an audience has little to do with the meaning of a story and more to do with entertainment value. "Sixth Sense", "Usual Suspects", "Memento" and so on are constantly screwing with the order of things. But if you took those stories and told them in a linear fashion (in the order that things really happened) the meaning would be the same as the version we were originally presented with. It just wouldn't have been as cool.
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Old 04-05-2010, 11:55 AM   #213
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

... and then he had to ruin it with a pig.
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Old 04-05-2010, 03:18 PM   #214
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

good discussion.

i canít deny that you make strong points from my understanding and view; but iím not entirely convinced that shawshank is a story about hope. i see it mainly as a story about nobility. as i look at the pro/con sides of the equation; i see andy, red, and the other prisoners as being noble when they have no reason to be. society doesnít expect it from them and they donít expect it from themselves; yet they are. and on the con side, i see the warden, andyís wife, the guards, etc. as people who are in a power-position and by all rights they should act noble, yet they donít. although we donít meet andyís wife (that i recall), her lack of noble character is the cause for the effect of the story that we follow.

good point about presentation, i also donít see order as having much to do with story meaning. i believe what a story communicates rises above the limited trappings of the design.

oops, off again so not able to follow.
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Old 04-05-2010, 05:41 PM   #215
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Just noticed jonpiper's question about the story goal in Casablanca...

I don't see the goal of "Casablanca" as being to secure Laszlo and Ilsa's freedom as much as it is to secure the letters of transit themselves. One leads to the other, but I think everyone in the story (even the young girl and her new fiance) are trying to get those letters. Once Ugarte decides to give them to Rick, balance is upset and the story begins.

I should say though that I don't think it is the most important part of the story.

Since "Die Hard" has been brought up a couple of times...problems exist in that story because some thieves are trying to rob a bank. They're posing as terrorists, but really they're just common thieves. Stopping them is the goal of the story and Officer McClane is the one leading the charge towards that goal. He is both Main Character and Protagonist.

In that film there is another character who sees the world differently than him -- the police officer out in the squad car, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson). Their relationship represents the heart of the story in the same way that Rick and Ilsa's relationship do.

But they are no way comparable in terms of emphasis!

In "Die Hard," the authors focused completely on resolving the problems affecting everyone and only spent a little bit of time on the emotional argument. In the end, Powell changes to be more like McClane and shoots poor Alexander Godunov.

"Casablanca" on the other hand, was completely focused on Rick and Ilsa's relationship as well as Rick's own personal issues about sticking his neck out for anyone. The problems affecting everyone, the missing letters, were important to the meaning of the story but they certainly weren't the main focus of the piece.

You have to have every piece in order for a story to be complete, but it is up to the author's creativity to determine which parts he or she feels are more important or more deserving of attention.

Way back when, there were challenges to the idea that "Terminator" and "Zombieland" had split mc/protagonists --

In "Terminator," problems exist because a naked killing machine has been sent back in time to murder Sarah Connor. Stopping him before he can do this is the goal of the story, a goal that begins the moment balance is upset (when they arrive in those electric balls). The person leading that charge is Reese (Michael Biehn). Again, at the heart of that story is the relationship between Sarah and Reese. Sarah eventually changes to be more like Reese, but not until the very end. The protagonist needs to be pursuing the goal throughout every act, even throughout the first. When they don't, you end up with stories that have little to no narrative drive.

Which leads to "Zombieland"...Problems exist in this story because zombies have overrun the world. Getting somewhere safe then is the goal of the story and for some reason, the amusement park near Los Angeles is considered a safe zone. It's like "The Road", just without all that ash!

The ones leading that charge are the girls. The Main Character, Columbus, isn't driven to reach safety as much as he is to basically survive. Sure he wants to find his parents, but he really seems more like a passenger, rather than the person doing all the driving. He has his own control issues to deal with (the same that affect Rick), and through his relationship with Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson) he finds a way to let go and let a little freedom into his life.

The girls, however, are very weak protagonists which is why, when they reach a certain celebrity's house near the end of the 2nd act, everything comes to a grinding halt. With no one actively pursuing to resolve the story's major problem, the audience has no idea where the story is headed or when it is ever going to end. That moment is fun, but it really slows the story down. Protagonists must always push towards reaching a story's goal -- when they don't, narrative drive plummets.
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Old 04-05-2010, 05:48 PM   #216
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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For the record, all this discussion about Casablanca forced me to watch the film again last night on DVD. I have come to the conclusion that anyone who thinks Laszlo is the protaganist is deranged. It just ain't so. The character arc, motivational action and screen time all go to Rick.
Like I said - It's Rick's story.

The fact that this is even under discussion saddens me to no end. I just refuse to believe that so many WRITERS have trouble comprehending one of the most fundamental elements of storytelling.


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Old 04-07-2010, 07:20 AM   #217
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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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.
funny. this is EXACTLY why i see andy as the main character and redd as the protagonist. the film ends when redd finds andy and his hope is finally resolved.
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Old 04-07-2010, 07:26 AM   #218
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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Like I said - It's Rick's story.

The fact that this is even under discussion saddens me to no end. I just refuse to believe that so many WRITERS have trouble comprehending one of the most fundamental elements of storytelling.


what many "WRITERS" are you talking about? isn't it just one dood (or is it 2?) who thinks lazlo is the protag and others trying to convince him that he's wrong?!

when i first saw this post about someone rewatching casablanca to prove a point, i laughed. but now (after your post) i see it differently. billmarq was going out of his way to see if he could see what this guy was seeing in lazlo. obviously, he couldn't do it b/c yeah, the guy is deranged.

but so what. this shouldn't make you sad. you're so melodramatic!
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Old 04-07-2010, 10:40 AM   #219
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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Originally Posted by JimHull View Post
[post edited]

I don't see the goal of "Casablanca" as being to secure Laszlo and Ilsa's freedom as much as it is to secure the letters of transit themselves. One leads to the other, but I think everyone in the story (even the young girl and her new fiance) are trying to get those letters. Once Ugarte decides to give them to Rick, balance is upset and the story begins.

I should say though that I don't think it is the most important part of the story.

Since "Die Hard" has been brought up a couple of times...problems exist in that story because some thieves are trying to rob a bank. They're posing as terrorists, but really they're just common thieves. Stopping them is the goal of the story and Officer McClane is the one leading the charge towards that goal. He is both Main Character and Protagonist.

In "Die Hard," the authors focused completely on resolving the problems affecting everyone and only spent a little bit of time on the emotional argument. In the end, Powell changes to be more like McClane and shoots poor Alexander Godunov.

"Casablanca" on the other hand, was completely focused on Rick and Ilsa's relationship as well as Rick's own personal issues about sticking his neck out for anyone. The problems affecting everyone, the missing letters, were important to the meaning of the story but they certainly weren't the main focus of the piece.

You have to have every piece in order for a story to be complete, but it is up to the author's creativity to determine which parts he or she feels are more important or more deserving of attention.
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Originally Posted by NikeeGoddess View Post
what many "WRITERS" are you talking about? isn't it just one dood (or is it 2?) who thinks lazlo is the protag and others trying to convince him that he's wrong?!

when i first saw this post about someone rewatching casablanca to prove a point, i laughed. but now i see it differently. billmarq was going out of his way to see if he could see what this guy was seeing in lazlo. obviously, he couldn't do it b/c yeah, the guy is deranged.
Nikee, before calling Jim -- or anyone who argues that Rick is the Main character while Laszlo is the Protag -- deranged, you should understand the issue.

Let me lay it out for you.

In theory, the protag pursues the Story goal, while the Main character is who the story is about.

According to Jim, Laszlo's pursuit of the stolen letters of transit is the story goal; therefore, he is the protagonist.

Jim also says, "I should say though that I don't think it is the most important part of the story."

So it can be Rick's story. Rick is the central character in the screenplay, while Laszlo is the protagonist who pursues the Story goal.
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Old 04-07-2010, 10:51 AM   #220
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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So it can be Rick's story. Rick is the central character in the screenplay, while Laszlo is the protagonist who pursues the Story goal.
If you don't mind, would you diagram this out for us? Showing each characters' goal (internal/external) and then map it to the above statement?

Sorry, I have this thing for "POC."


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