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Old 03-30-2010, 11:32 AM   #61
JimHull
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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.
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Old 03-30-2010, 12:11 PM   #62
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Thanks for correcting that, Jim.

I guess the bone I pick with Dramatica (and yes, I bought the software and tried it way back when it came on floppy disks) is its comprehensive nature. I think it wants to be able to analyze every story that can be thrown at it by having a million different options... but when you're trying to use it to write a story, the number of choices becomes counterproductive.

As for Shawshank - Red is certainly a main character in the script. As is the warden. But to call him the main character just seems ultimately confusing to me. No one but devout Dramatica users will know what you're talking about, and it's a collaborative industry where commonality of terms is helpful.

Yes, we empathize with Red. But we also empathize with Andy - I would argue much more so. Andy is a man unjustly convicted of a crime who refuses to give up. When Andy's attacked and raped, we're frightened. When the new con who can prove that Andy didn't do it is killed... it's a pretty powerful moment, because we feel for Andy. When Andy plays that music even though he'll be beaten... same. When Andy finally escapes, it's triumphant.

Red has a story. Red has an arc. But it seems, to me, to be so clearly secondary to what Andy's going through that to call him the "main character" seems like theory dictating reality, not the other way around.
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Old 03-30-2010, 12:32 PM   #63
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffLowell View Post
Red has a story. Red has an arc. But it seems, to me, to be so clearly secondary to what Andy's going through that to call him the "main character" seems like theory dictating reality, not the other way around.
I think there's certainly value in having a term to describe Red's role as an access character, a point-of-view character. Because of his role as a storyteller/POV/narrator-guy, he's certainly more important than any other character who has a similarly-sized arc in the story ...

... but calling him THE main character is just confusing.

Lots of academic fields use jargon, but it's worth pointing out that they usually create new jargon rather than repurpose commonly-understood phrases.

Looking at that dramatica PDF, I can't help but think about the difference between classification and understanding. Maybe it's a left-brain/right-brain sort of thing. Dramatica seems very left-briained - "oh, let me label and describe all these parts" but most creativity strikes me as very right-brained.

Of course, computers don't work in that right-brain kind of way. If you can't label it, put it in a box, assigned it binary values, well, then, a computer doesn't know what to do with it. So maybe if you're designing a computer to look at stories you HAVE to do that sort of thing.

But that's not how humans think. We're more holistic. I read all this stuff and I think, wow, that's needlessly complex.

I was a big fan of McKee's "Story" UNTIL I had my big breakthrough on understanding story. I still think there's a lot of value in that book, but lots of it now comes across as needlessly complex and didactic.
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Old 03-30-2010, 12:54 PM   #64
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

OK, my whole goal in life now is to convince you that Red is the Main Character!

First off though, I totally agree about the commonality of terms. That is why I never ever use Dramatica terms in meetings. I know it instantly turns everyone off. Instead, I talk around concepts by using terms familiar to everyone.

For example the idea of "stakes" as in "what is at stake for the Main Character?" For the longest time I couldn't figure out what they were referring to until it hit me that what they were really looking for was what Dramatica calls "Consequences." To me, the term "consequences" is infinitely more helpful when compared to "stakes" when it comes to writing a story. The consequences are what happens when the Protagonist fails to accomplish their goal - the consequences of failing. In "The Devil Wears Prada" the goal is for Andy (Anne Hathaway) is be Miranda's perfect assistant. The consequence of failing that goal is that she'll have to write for a less prestigious paper/magazine. She fails and endures the consequences.

"Stakes" really doesn't mean anything which is why discussions concerning them often lead to endless circular arguments in story meetings. But when they ask, "What are the stakes?", now I just talk about the Story Consequences...I just don't use that term.

OK, so back to Red...what about this angle...

What personal problems or issues are we privy too that no one else is? Issues he would take with him into another story. The judge calls him a cold and remorseless man, but do we get to experience what it is like to have that kind of attitude through Andy? I don't really know who Andy is. Red, on the other hand, I feel like I am Red.

And what about the idea that he disappears for much of the end of the film. If he was the Main Character yet we weren't exploring the story through him, we would feel detached and unaffected by the moments that play out on the screen. Doesn't Red fulfill that role better? Aren't we experiencing what it is like to go from a place of despair to a place of hope?
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Old 03-30-2010, 01:33 PM   #65
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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Your story, as I understand it, is "a man has to carry a flash drive across the country while other people try to stop him." Does that sound like a movie you'd see? Is there anything about that concept that seems like a hook that would draw people in?
I wasn't exactly trying to make a pitch, just show my concern that I thought the subplots and twists may not be as strong or original as I'd like. But I understand there's bigger fish sizzling right now, and I'm enrapt.


McKee was like a trusted friend to me a few years ago, since then I've read a few others, inclucing Save-the Cat and the 135-story-structure. They all work up to a point. I'm not looking for the perfect theory to write by, just get the feeling. Hopefully that magic synapse will pfizzzt over one of these days...

Last edited by Steven Jenkins : 03-30-2010 at 01:43 PM.
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Old 03-30-2010, 01:57 PM   #66
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

Maybe I've been lucky, but I've never been in a meeting where everyone there didn't know that "raise the stakes" means "increase what's at risk," but if it helps writers think of that as consequences, score one for Dramatica.

Quote:
What personal problems or issues are we privy too that no one else is? Issues he would take with him into another story. The judge calls him a cold and remorseless man, but do we get to experience what it is like to have that kind of attitude through Andy? I don't really know who Andy is. Red, on the other hand, I feel like I am Red.
I think you feel like you're inside Red's head because we hear his thoughts constantly. He's the narrator. It's no more complicated than that.

Again, I know exactly who Andy is. He's a guy who won't give up hope when all others have. The record scene I mentioned is the prime example of that - he told the guys the time he spent in solitary for it went by like nothing, because he could hear that music in his heart. He remembered there was beauty outside the walls.

And that's not the only example of getting inside Andy's head. Remember, near the end, in the last conversation Red and Andy have in prison? Andy admits that he is guilty of his wife's murder in a way - he was a bad husband and drove his wife away. That led to the chain of events that eventually got her killed.

Quote:
And what about the idea that he disappears for much of the end of the film. If he was the Main Character yet we weren't exploring the story through him, we would feel detached and unaffected by the moments that play out on the screen. Doesn't Red fulfill that role better? Aren't we experiencing what it is like to go from a place of despair to a place of hope?
Last point first - Andy makes a journey from despair to hope. Remember when the movie opens, he's drunk and has a gun in his hand? Compare that to where he ends.

Yes, we have some scenes with Red at the end of the movie. But even then, he's making a journey because of Andy - he saved Andy in prison, and Andy is saving him back on the outside. I'd say it's all more of a coda, and it's building up to the last scene, which shows where Andy ended up.

And even in that Red heavy ending... there's a lot more Andy than people remember.

I may forget a scene or two, but here's the climax and end of the movie:

Andy in the warden's office, setting up the scam.

Andy polishes shoes, gets rope. Red is worried that his friend is killing himself.

Next morning - Andy is gone.

Norton finds wrong shoes. Grills Red, who knows nothing. Discovers hole.

Huge Andy scene as we see how he actually put the plan in motion for a long time.

Andy the night of the escape.

Andy at the bank, taking the money and mailing the evidence.

Warden in office discovers he's been outed. Opens safe and finds message from Andy. Kills himself because Andy's outsmarted him.

Red and friends receive postcard from Andy. Realizes he made it.

Red finally paroled.

Red doesn't fit in in outside world. Thinks about going back to prison. Remembers what Andy told him.

Red finds money and clue from Andy.

Red travels down, remembering Andy's words.

Red and Andy reunite.

***

Now, there's a good five or ten minute chunk where we don't see Andy, but Andy's still driving the action. Red's worrying about Andy or missing Andy or remembering Andy's advice or digging up Andy's clues or traveling to see him.

It's certainly an interesting narrative device, but I don't see how that makes Red the main character. Unless you ignore the other 90% of the movie, where Andy is clearly the main character. This Andy not on screen = Red main character theory ignores all the time that Red is not on screen and Andy is.

I can point to entire sequences in movies where the main character/protagonist isn't on screen and yet the audience is riveted - because we can care about multiple characters. Look at The Empire Strikes Back - do we lose interest when Luke's being trained by Yoda? Does the fact that we don't mean that Han Solo is really the main character? Or LOTR - the protagonist and main character is Frodo (I think we agree on this). In the last two movies, he's split off from everyone but Sam. Does that mean the 75% of the time that he's not on screen, the audience is detached and unaffected?
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Old 03-30-2010, 02:12 PM   #67
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

I know I will regret this but what the **** is Dramatica?
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Old 03-30-2010, 02:16 PM   #68
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A piece of software that helps you write a script by guiding you through it using it's own unique theory of story. Just like the Save The Cat software. Plug in answers; get outline.

On this page you can find the 400 page book that explains the theory.
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Old 03-30-2010, 02:16 PM   #69
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

The two main examples that seem to be repeatedly cited as an example of this Main Character not being the Protagonist theory are Red in Shawshank and Boo in Mockingbird.

Since both these movies are adapted from prose fiction (short story and novel), might these characters functioning as narrators in the movie not just be a consequence of the screenwriter trying to remain faithful to the source material?

Some examples from original screenplays might better serve in illustrating the theory.
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Old 03-30-2010, 02:24 PM   #70
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Default Re: Fatal Flaw?

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A piece of software that helps you write a script by guiding you through it using it's own unique theory of story. Just like the Save The Cat software. Plug in answers; get outline.

On this page you can find the 400 page book that explains the theory.
I'll pass.

I actually like doing that stuff for myself.

And I thought Save the Cat was just a crappy book by a high end screenwriting consultant??? There's software, too? Are we writers or typists now?
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