But only recently has it become clear to me how important this really is, and how important it is that the two ideas being pitted against each other are both morally good ideas. As McKee says, a story cannot be about good vs. evil or it will be a no-brainer. Every story must have at its heart a question of good vs. good: two equally appealing but irreconcilable ideas, such as…
- Solidarity vs. individualism
- Compromise vs. sticking to principles
- Personal achievement vs. the greater good
These dilemmas need not dominate the story immediately. Slowly, over the course of the emerging conflict, it should become become clear that there is a fundamental human dilemma underlying the interpersonal conflict.
This should be an irresolvable dilemma, and so you should give both sides equal weight for as long as possible… until the climax. The trick is to come up a finale that addresses this conflict, and says something concrete about it, without definitively declaring one side to be right and the other side to be wrong.
The first three seasons of “Lost” each had a powerful overarching theme:
- First Season: Our future is dictated by our past vs. Our future is a blank slate
- Second Season: Faith vs. Skepticism
- Third Season: Strict, Safe Order (the Others) vs. Chaotic, Unsafe Freedom (the Losties)
At the end of each season, the characters advocating one side in this debate were proven “right”. The characters each find ways to move on from their pasts at the end of season one, and even sing “Redemption Song” together on a boat; at the end of season two, we find out that Locke was right to have faith in the button; and at the end of season three, the Losties finally defeat the Others, but in each case this “victory” is ironic and ambiguous. A statement is made about this dilemma, but it’s not settled once and for all.
Okay, I got that out of the way, now let’s move on to How to Structure a Movie...