Themes, goals and MDQs

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  • Themes, goals and MDQs

    So I have a good theme and characters that relate strongly to the theme. I have the protagonist's goal and most dramatic question defined but they don't really relate directly to my theme. The way the protagonist achieves his goal is related to the theme but the goal itself isn't. In fact, the goal and MDQ could almost be a different theme, complementary to the main theme but only slightly related.

    This feels wrong. It seems to me like the protagonist's goal should grow directly from the theme. In fact I'm not sure I understand the concept of most dramatic question. I've been thinking that if the goal is "protagonist must acomplish X" then the MDQ is "will the protagonist acomplish X?" but that can't be right. It seems like the most dramatic question should illuminate the primary question of the theme. Or that it should somehow be more complicated than simply stating the goal as a question. But I'm not sure.

    Am I worrying about nothing or am I right to think that all of these elements should emerge from and relate back to the central theme? I'm worried that I haven't actually formulated the protagonist's goal correctly and if I just thought about it from the right angle it would all make sense without actually changing the plot. But then, maybe the goal and MDQ don't have to relate directly to my theme.

  • #2
    Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

    I don't think you have a problem because the theme relates to HOW the protag gets his goal.

    Let's say your theme, for example, is "believing in yourself". But it's a romantic comedy where his MDQ is whether he'll get the girl. Well, how does he get the girl (the goal)? By finally believing in himself at the end - something he never did.

    In my opinion, theme should always tie closer to the protag's internal goal rather than the exterior one. It's what the character needs to learn to accomplish his/her mission.

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    • #3
      Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

      You have it right, but I wouldn't say you are worrying over nothing.

      THe MDQ is what you mentioned. It's the question as to whether the Protag achieves his/her goal.

      The MDQ in WORKING GILR is: Will Tess win her big business deal?

      It is that simple.

      But I think it's good that you're struggling with the relationship to your theme. That's the hard part.

      Making it all work so you feel it's "right" is never really easy. But the work you put into that should pay dividends in the end because you should be able to develop a story that is very tight and harmoneous becuase you employed theme.

      The idea with the goal or MDQ, IMO, is to keep that simple. Use the theme, however, to build complexity of character and plot.

      As the saying goes, tell simple stories populated with complex characters.

      WORKING GIRL has a very simple throughline. She's struggling to push through a big business deal that will lead to her dream of having the corner office. The main dramatic question is: will she make that deal?

      But coursing through every element in that script is a theme of Liberation. Every character, every plot point, even the names of the company she's trying to merge is born from the thematic notion of somebody fighting to liberate herself from: an abusive boyfriend, a male chauvanist work place, a boss who wants to keep here where she is, the class system, etc.

      It's all there and the simple idea of her winning that big buisness deal is the ultimate External Act of winning her liberty as a person.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

        Thanks for the help. I guess the most dramatic question isn't really a distinct dramatic element separate from the goal, but is just another way to think about and clarify your goal. The Working Girl example helps and funny enough, a liberation is actually the goal of the protagonist in my story which is why I said it also felt like it could be its own theme.

        Working Girl seems to prove that theme and goal don't have to be directly related... sort of. Could you also say that the themes of personal liberation tie into an overall theme of women's liberation and that her goal of the big business deal directly relates to women's lib issues? (note: I haven't actually seen Working Girl) I guess that's the kind of connection I'm looking for. The theme and the goal may be different on the surface and yet there should be a way to tie the ideas together on another level. That's what I feel like I'm getting close to but haven't cracked yet.

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        • #5
          Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

          Originally posted by P.G. Bauhaus View Post
          Working Girl seems to prove that theme and goal don't have to be directly related... sort of. Could you also say that the themes of personal liberation tie into an overall theme of women's liberation and that her goal of the big business deal directly relates to women's lib issues? (note: I haven't actually seen Working Girl) I guess that's the kind of connection I'm looking for. The theme and the goal may be different on the surface and yet there should be a way to tie the ideas together on another level. That's what I feel like I'm getting close to but haven't cracked yet.
          For me, WORKING GIRL does directly relate to overall women's lib issues. It came out at at time when women were really making a push from the administration desks to the corner offices. That movie really celebrated that social change, and Tess was definitely intended to be a metaphor for that.

          I would definitely check out the DVD if you get a chance. I think it's a great example of tying a theme to a very simple yet dramatic throughline.

          If you can, check out the commentary, too. I believe there is a lot of discussion on how Nicholls and Wade worked very hard to mesh everything from story development, setting, characters, and even wardrobe with an overarching theme.

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          • #6
            Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

            OK, first of all, I now realize that MDQ stands for "main dramatic question", not "most dramatic question."

            Since I first asked this question I've made some good progress toward clarifying my protagonist's goal and its relationship with theme. One thing that helped was reading this article and thinking of my character's fatal flaw as being something that directly contradicts the theme. This kind of snapped the whole thing in focus for me. I was definitely looking at my character's goal from the wrong angle before.

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            • #7
              The Dramatic Questions in Working Girl

              This is a great discussion, but I have a quibble with PreScribe. I would say that the MDQ in WORKING GIRL is "Will Tess make the move from Asst. to Executive?" Getting the deal is a part of that, but the deal can exist apart from her involvement. The other goal, which constitutes the other story in the film is will she get the guy, Harrison Ford? These two stories are very tightly woven together, and like in most successful narratives with two stories they are two separate genres (A quest with caper elements, and a romance)It's funny, I just covered the whole multiple story narrative in my latest podcast: Direct link = http://writethatscript.com/2008/05/0...ry-narratives/ .
              Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

              -Steve Trautmann
              3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                Murder Death Quilt?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The Dramatic Questions in Working Girl

                  Originally posted by KitchonaSteve View Post
                  This is a great discussion, but I have a quibble with PreScribe. I would say that the MDQ in WORKING GIRL is "Will Tess make the move from Asst. to Executive?" Getting the deal is a part of that, but the deal can exist apart from her involvement. The other goal, which constitutes the other story in the film is will she get the guy, Harrison Ford? These two stories are very tightly woven together, and like in most successful narratives with two stories they are two separate genres (A quest with caper elements, and a romance)It's funny, I just covered the whole multiple story narrative in my latest podcast: Direct link = http://writethatscript.com/2008/05/0...ry-narratives/ .
                  I think you're confusing *want* and *goal* here.

                  From the very opening scene she *wants* a better life. She wants the Corner Office. I agree with you there. But that's not really the goal of the story per say.

                  The goal is what she has to do to get what she wants.

                  In the confines of that story, the deal is the ultimate goal. She either makes that deal or the dream is lost.

                  In the story set up, it is her one and only shot at the corner office. If she fails... she may never get another chance. If she succeeds.... the dream is realized. All in one climactic finish.

                  That's why the MDQ is the deal. Will she close the deal? It is the physical dramatic obstacle she must overcome to get what she wants: the corner office.

                  The love affair in WORKING GIRL is subplot. It has serious ties to the main plot, though. She meets him because of the deal. Their releationship grows because of that deal. It basically even hinges on that deal at one point. It even complicates the deal (something most good subplots do).

                  Even there, though, the deal is the driving force. If she wins the deal, she gets everything she wants: the life, the corner office, the guy.

                  If she fails, the clock strikes 12 and there's nobody around to pick up the slipper.

                  Think of it like sports. The Giants wanted to get the Super Bowl trophy. The Goal was to beat the Patriots. By accomplishing the goal, they obtained what they wanted.

                  The MDQ in a story is: Will the lead succeed or fail in the goal?

                  It is NOT necesarily: Will the lead get what he/she wants.

                  Take GONE BABY GONE.

                  Kenzie wants to do the right thing. He wants to make things right in his mind.

                  The goal is to save the little girl and return her to her mother.

                  All along, it seems that if he accomplishes that goal, he will get what he wants.



                  SPOILER WARNING

                  Kenzie ultimately succeeds in the goal. He finds the girl and he returns her to the mother.

                  But in the closing scene, it's pretty clear that may not have given him what he wanted. The little girl may have been better off had he failed in his goal.

                  The MDQ never changes, though. It's always a question of whether or not Kenzie will find the girl and return her to the mother.

                  What Kenzie wants, however, is left with a big question mark. One could argue he didn't get what he wanted.
                  Last edited by prescribe22; 05-09-2008, 07:28 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                    Originally posted by Slappynipsy View Post
                    Murder Death Quilt?
                    Modern Dazz Quartet

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                      my damn quagmire... murder da quakers... mad dog quayle... acronyms are exhausting.
                      The end is too damn nigh.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                        Originally posted by P.G. Bauhaus View Post
                        So I have a good theme and characters that relate strongly to the theme. I have the protagonist's goal and most dramatic question defined but they don't really relate directly to my theme. The way the protagonist achieves his goal is related to the theme but the goal itself isn't. In fact, the goal and MDQ could almost be a different theme, complementary to the main theme but only slightly related.

                        This feels wrong. It seems to me like the protagonist's goal should grow directly from the theme. In fact I'm not sure I understand the concept of most dramatic question. I've been thinking that if the goal is "protagonist must acomplish X" then the MDQ is "will the protagonist acomplish X?" but that can't be right. It seems like the most dramatic question should illuminate the primary question of the theme. Or that it should somehow be more complicated than simply stating the goal as a question. But I'm not sure.

                        Am I worrying about nothing or am I right to think that all of these elements should emerge from and relate back to the central theme? I'm worried that I haven't actually formulated the protagonist's goal correctly and if I just thought about it from the right angle it would all make sense without actually changing the plot. But then, maybe the goal and MDQ don't have to relate directly to my theme.
                        The character's external goal (i.e. Se7en: track down the psycho before he kills again) & Main DQ (will protags catch this psycho before they become victims themselves) do not have to relate to theme. IMO it's better if the character's internal goal is related to the theme.

                        A discussion of the theme in Se7en is in this excellent thread by Taotropics:

                        http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...ad.php?t=32288
                        Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                          Yeah, my problem wasn't related to theme after all. I simply didn't know what my protagonist's goal really was yet. It was like I was thinking the goal was "he wants to stay out of jail" when it was really "he must find the one armed man who murdered his wife."

                          Thinking of a flaw that is the opposite of the theme helped. I think that's related to what you're saying about the internal goal being connected to theme. If the character's internal goal is drawn from a character flaw which contradicts the theme, and if the pursuit of that goal is in conflict with acheiving the external goal, then it all dovetails nicely. The character must overcome his flaw and abandon the internal goal in order to achieve the external goal, thereby proving the thesis and rejecting the antithesis.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                            Your theme is what was learned by the end of your story, so it has to relate to the main character and his or her quest and the MDQ. (Mothafu--in' Dairy Queen!)

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                            • #15
                              Re: Themes, goals and MDQs

                              Biohazard just won the "MDQ Challenge."
                              Sent from my iPhone. Because I'm better than you.

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