Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I've Learned So Far From This Blog

So here we are, folks, my final post before my hiatus.  Everyone who comes to this address in the next few months is going to see this post, so I didn’t want to end on the merciless pieces I’ve been doing recently.  The most obvious thing to do is to simply repeat the piece that best sums up all the others, The Ultimate Story Checklist, but a link will do.  Please go there if you want a systematic study of how you can use this blog to improve your story. 

But one thing about the checklist is that it’s very exhaustive, so not all those ideas are ones I can claim.  And so, for this “see you later” piece, I wanted to take a moment to review twenty ideas that were generated by this blog that I hadn’t heard anywhere before.  I could just make this a list of links, but I’d rather try to re-state each one in a self-contained way, as succinctly as possible:
  1. Nobody can become a hero by doing what anybody would do.  A hero should have special skills, and be surrounded by people who lack his/her heroic attributes. 
  2. It’s not very helpful to think about an “inciting incident.”  It’s more helpful to think about a longstanding problem leading the hero to pursue an intimidating opportunity which leads to an unforeseen conflict.
  3. Story comes from a volatile reaction between character and situation, in which each transforms the other. 
  4. A hero needn’t be smart, but must be resourceful.  (Even fools can resourcefully go after what they want, which is why it’s impossible to make anything foolproof.)  This is because audiences find it painful to care for characters that dont care about themselves.
  5. A character’s “metaphor family” is the aspect of his/her background (usually his/her home region, job or developmental state) that determines his/her slang, exclamations, and points of comparison.
  6. A character’s voice breaks down into three components: metaphor family, default personality trait, and default argument strategy.  You don’t need to know everything about a character, you just have to know these three things.   
  7. The best scenes consist of two characters trying to trick and trap each other, resulting in at least one of them doing something they didn’t intend to do when the scene began. Theres nothing immoral about engaging in this behavior.
  8. In the best scenes, there is literal give and take (an object is exchanged, representing larger values), and literal push and pull (characters touch each other at least once, and often only once, to symbolize the completion of the goal).
  9. Sometimes, rather than have an ensemble of fully-rounded three dimensional characters, it’s better to have an ensemble of exaggerated, polarized characters.  One is better at recreating actual interpersonal conflicts, but the other is equally legitimate because it dramatizes our own internal debates.   
  10. The second quarter of a story is usually about tackling the problem the easy way, and ends in a disaster.
  11. The third quarter of a story is usually about trying again the hard way, and ends in a spiritual crisis.
  12. A hero should start out with a false statement of philosophy, which is only replaced by a true statement of philosophy as a result of the spiritual crisis.  
  13. The best way to make a hero compelling is to make him/her misunderstood.   
  14. The theme of a story should never be stated in terms of “good vs. bad”, which is a no-brainer, but rather in terms of “good vs. good” or “bad vs. bad”
  15. Stories thrive on unique, never-before-seen relationships, moreso than never-before-seen characters.
  16. An obstacle is something that makes a task hard to do, but a conflict is something that makes a task hard to want to do. 
  17. Stories that are considered to be literature tend to be primarily about unintended consequences, while stories that are considered to be entertainment are almost always about intended consequences. 
  18. Withhold exposition until both the character and the audience are demanding to know it.
  19. Problems should be visually apparent, so that the characters don’t have discuss the mechanics of the plot.
  20. You shouldn’t have to disable the hero’s cell phone, because your hero should be the only one who can solve the problem.  
That’s it, folks!  I hope to see you all in three months!


j.s. said...

Can't thank you enough for freely sharing all the lessons you've learned the hard way with the rest of us. Have an awesome and super-productive hiatus and please do come back in the fall!

Matt Bird said...

Thanks so much for all your in-depth comments, j.s.!

j.s. said...

The one I keep thinking about from today is your restatement of point number 4. I believe the original entry was about a character in a Dardenne brothers' film. But the way you've put it here with the word "fool" puts me in mind of any number of great comic protagonists -- like Inspector Clouseau or Buster Keaton in any of his films -- who manage to succeed almost in spite of themselves. It isn't that they aren't resourceful in pursuing their goals. It's that they seem to make so many of the "wrong" choices, choices that would lead any regular joe in the world of those films to ruin, but they persist in their "wrongness" until it somehow works out right. Just for them of course. Part of the pleasure of watching fools succeed is seeing them ignore the very same rules of their world that often come back to bite the antagonists.

Christine Tyler said...

Phew, I'll need the three months to review all this golden information. Thank you so much for this blog, Matt! It's been...transformative.

Crystal said...

Transformative is the right word. You've helped my novels, and my writing, so much, Matt. Time to apply that generous spirit to your own writing! Couldn't think of something that would make me happier.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this post and this blog. I'm not a screenwriter but I write theater and all this has helped me a great deal. I look forward to you coming back (not to mention the movie discoveries).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Internet sensei. Good luck with your work. No matter how hard they slap you, never forget what this blog is testament to--you are the man.

Nick said...

Thank you for all your inspiration. Good luck!