Fatal Flaw?

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  • JeffLowell
    replied
    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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  • JimHull
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • instant_karma
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    I take it all back about Dramatica. I found a really easy to use chart that made it all make sense.

    http://storymind.com/free-downloads/ddomain.pdf
    My browser (Opera. Yeah, I know. Bite me Firefox users) crashes every time I open this link.

    I think it may actually be so complicated that even my computer can't handle it.

    Leave a comment:


  • instant_karma
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    I
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    understand
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    people's propensity for
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    taking quotes out of context
    It's good to see you have finally accepted this.

    And what's your problem with Dramatica? I thought every screenwriter, be they pro or aspiring, had a deep and abiding love for really boring and complicated graphs and charts.

    I dream of a day when can write our scripts as a series of pie charts and the occasional PowerPoint presentation.

    Leave a comment:


  • NikeeGoddess
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    I take it all back about Dramatica. I found a really easy to use chart that made it all make sense.

    http://storymind.com/free-downloads/ddomain.pdf
    i don't know what you said before but when i see stuff like this it makes my eyes glaze over. and i was a psychology major.

    Leave a comment:


  • JeffLowell
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    I take it all back about Dramatica. I found a really easy to use chart that made it all make sense.

    http://storymind.com/free-downloads/ddomain.pdf

    Leave a comment:


  • NikeeGoddess
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by Steven Jenkins View Post

    Like I say, I'm just a novice and still trying to get a feel for good stroytelling. I'm ruling nothing out as yet.
    i'm not going through pages of posts on this subject. but suggestion: invest in Robert McKee's book Story.

    Leave a comment:


  • JeffLowell
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Yes, but - and I say this with all kindness and no snark at all - using this theory, two days ago you thought that the Emperor and Sauron were the protagonists of their respective movies. It turns out you were misunderstanding... but honestly, the theory is so complicated that I know why.

    And you're right - all of those movies referenced weren't written using the method. And, all of those same movies can also be broken down and shown to fit the hero's journey, and the Dramatica method, and the Save The Cat, and the Sequencing Method, and the Billy Bob's ScriptSecret theory and and and...

    (Just like one country used to look at a group of stars and see a turtle, another country would see a lion, and another one would see a sandwich. They were all certain they were right, but none of them were any closer to understanding what stars were.)

    Which is why I think, at the end of the day, you need to put highly specific structural theories aside and write your movie. Movies have three acts. A beginning, a middle and an end. They have to have a compelling concept at their core. They have to hold your interest all the way through. You have to have a character you're rooting for the whole time. You have to make it seem impossible for that character to succeed. You have to cleverly have them win.

    Worrying about combing the Trickster with the Antipodal Shapeshifter with the Thematic Crunch and making sure they all beat the Clock of Reveal is going to take you way off track, IMO.

    Leave a comment:


  • Steven Jenkins
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    I understand what you're saying

    But i don't think it's rubbish. I think it just describes what most writers do by instinct, and with a lot of hard work getting characters to work together, with each other and the story itself. It's a deff' the movies the theroists use as examples never heard of the theory, but traits are still there and used as described by the theory.

    Like I say, I'm just a novice and still trying to get a feel for good stroytelling. I'm ruling nothing out as yet.

    Leave a comment:


  • JeffLowell
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    I will never understand people's propensity for being offended by taking quotes out of context, but judging by the new article on Jim's site, it's widespread.

    I know that by engaging at all, I'm just clinging to outdated concepts and stifling writers, but...

    Shawshank? Mac H. has it completely right that the protagonist and main character are Andy, but I disagree and think it's pretty clear that the warden is the antagonist. (reddery, are you talking about the short story maybe? I haven't read it, but the movie doesn't end with Andy disappearing and not knowing where he's gone.) And on Star Wars, I disagree with Jim (heresy, I know) and think that the antagonist is Darth Vader.

    In most movies, the antagonist isn't a group or a concept. It's a person. It makes it easier to cast someone in the role, and sell action figures.

    For the whole main character/narrator kerfluffle... In a good movie, lots of characters besides the protagonist can have big stories, changes, themes, whatever. And if a piece of story software (Dramatica) wants to change the terminology up... okay. No one on earth is going to know what you're talking about when you go into a meeting and have to talk about your story, but feel free to call your narrator the main character, even though they're not. Call the antagonist the waffle iron. Go nuts!

    And Steven, this is just one person's advice, but this theory has you twisted in knots. I've been working as a writer for fifteen years, I've spent literally tens of thousands of hours talking to hundreds of professionals about story and characters, and I honestly have no idea what you're talking about.

    That is gobbledegook, and by trying to fit your story into Dramatic role function characters and pure traits and Guardians and Dramatica function traits, you have no idea what actual story you're telling or what your characters are. You need to able to simplify your story so it's comprehensible. A movie is about a protagonist who is trying to accomplish a goal, even though the antagonist is trying to stop him. Once you have that, you can build it up with theme and secondary characters and plot twists and reversals and whatever, but you need to start there.

    Again, one person's opinion, but your story right now has a flawed core, and no amount of Dramatica terms will make it interesting. 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 don't think any one book has the answer, but I would buy Save The Cat if I were you. And absorb it. It's a really good basic guide, and avoids confusing people with neo-Jungian mumbo jumbo.

    Leave a comment:


  • Steven Jenkins
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by JimHull View Post
    Just to clear up any "horrifically bad information" I may be passing on...
    That was my fault, misunderstanding the theory.

    I got confused by the term "prime mover of the story". I now think I've got that bit right: It's the prime mover of the particular story I'm telling, not the prime mover of the overall battle, unless I decide to tell the general's story. Then if I decide to tell the general's stroy, but use somebody else's POV to expeience the effects of it then I have a split Protag/MC. Pls correct me if I'm still wrong here

    Originally posted by JimHull View Post
    It has been awhile since I've seen "Thelma and Louise", but if I remember correctly, Thelma (Geena Davis) is the Protagonist while Louise (Susan Sarandon) is the Main Character. I'm not sure if this is the same kind of dynamic you have in your own story, but it certainly sounds like it.
    Thanks Jim
    I'm looking to T&L for help as my story is mostly a road movie, and I have very few main or secondary characters. Actually there's only about 5 what you'd call Dramatic role function characters, none of whom have pure traits. (Protagonist has: 'persue', 'conscience', 'uncontrolled', 'feeling' traits for example). T&L characters seemed to have similar mixed traits, with nearly all the 16 Dramatica function traits being shared out between the two girls.

    But my main problem is the antagonist.

    I started with just one story - getting info on a flash drive to a person/destination. Then I started looking for twists and subplots, which landed me with at least two.

    main plot - delivering the info - easy antagonist here.
    subplot1 - the authorities who use the hero as bait so they can capture the antagonist.
    subplot2 - the guardian who gives the hero the task to deliver the info is actually using him as a red-herring/decoy, while he arranges to sell a copy to the chinese.

    So in the last few minutes the guardian becomes the antagonist who has to be stopped, (this is where I think I may be making my greenhorn fatal-flaw - eg: old & worn twists, predictable swapping of antagonists, and probably other things too.)

    I'm trying to explore the theme of mixed loyalties, and these (maybe old) subplots and twists seemed to fit quite nicely.

    hope I'm still OT here...?
    Last edited by Steven Jenkins; 03-30-2010, 06:30 AM.

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  • reddery
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Mac,

    not that I agree with any of this stuff, as I am trying to figure how he mixes Plot and Theme in his theory, here's Shawshank


    Antagonist: Corrupt system of government/courts
    Protagonist: Red
    MC: Andy

    Now the story is always told from Red's POV; that is why at the end you don't really know what happend to Andy when he escapes - it's jsut the next day and he's gone.

    The beginning is - what they would call in the literary world - a prelude.

    Red's up for parole - he's the one fighting the system - at the end he's the one that beats the system.

    Leave a comment:


  • Mac H.
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    I'm trying to write something at the moment where I've deliberately chosen to make the 'main character' not the protagonist.

    It's a lot harder than you think - it almost seems like a play where all the interesting events are happening off screen. (Although in this case it is the emotional moments that are happening off-hero)

    It almost feels like it's a TV spinoff series where I'm trying to keep the viewer's attention and emotion on someone who clearly isn't the main character.

    I'm not sure it's successful (or, to be less polite, I'm sure at this stage it isn't !) but it certainly is an interesting writing exercise.

    It's becoming a bit like 'You, Me & Dupree' would have been if Dupree hadn't changed at all. The 'Dupree' character is causing all the strife to everyone and is clearly the most interesting person but I'm trying to focus the viewer's attention onto those who are learning to change because of the 'Force of Nature' character.

    However the thing I'm really struggling with is that the viewer in me keeps wanting to shout 'Why are you forcing me to watch 'Sidekick' for so long when 'Hero' is doing the much more interesting stuff?'

    ====

    Despite my (not successful) experiment, I really can't see how on earth we could count 'Shawshank Redemption' as an example where the Protagonist and the Main Character is split.

    The person the audience follows from the beginning is Andy.
    The person who initiates all the changes in the story is Andy.
    The person who the audience would sympathize with is Andy.

    The fact that he meets someone else who is quite interesting and has a bit of a story of his own doesn't change the fact that Andy is the main character.

    Under what argument could you say that Red is the Protagonist? He isn't an agent for change.

    Under what argument could you say that Red is the main character? Just because he's the narrator?

    Most of Red's narration is about ANDY - because ANDY is the main character. If the narrator was an omniscient point of view, would that make the omniscient point of view the main character? (Now that I think of it, in a way Red's narration is almost omniscient POV - he knows the history of everyone up until the end.)

    Plenty of films are narrated by someone who isn't the main character.

    'The Castle' is a film about a battle to save a family's home. The main character is the father of the family - the David in the David & Goliath battle. The narrator is a young kid who, quite literally, does nothing throughout the entire film except dig a hole. And the hole isn't even relevant to the plot !

    You can't tell me that the kid who dug a hole is the main character. It's just the POV to show us who the main character really is.

    Mac
    Last edited by Mac H.; 10-27-2010, 07:24 PM.

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  • JeffLowell
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    To give the full quote, Jim:

    I'm not sure who's teaching you the theory that makes Sauron the protagonist of LOTR, or the Emperor the protagonist of Star Wars, but you should never talk to that person again, because they are giving you horrifically bad information.
    I'm going to go ahead and stand by that, especially since it sounds like you agree.

    Leave a comment:


  • Ravenlocks
    replied
    Re: Fatal Flaw?

    Originally posted by asjah8 View Post
    golum, as a conflicted symbol of degradation solves everything neatly.
    It also makes Gollum one of the most memorable characters, IMO.

    Originally posted by asjah8 View Post
    tlotr though, none of the films can stand alone. it's like total commitment in the writing from 1 to 3.

    does any of my sleepy writing make sense, or am i off-track looking at it from this perspective? appreciate thoughts.
    Makes sense to me. I'm not as qualified to talk about the films, though, since I only saw them once, and I saw the non-extended versions. For me they simply couldn't measure up to the books. I probably should watch them again and see how the narrative builds through the three films.

    Leave a comment:

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