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Old 03-30-2010, 11:32 AM   #11
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 28
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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