Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Ultimate Story Checklist: Bridesmaids

Updated to the sixth and final version of the Checklist!

Annie Walker is a failed bakery-owner whose best friend Lillian is getting married to a man in another city. Annie is devastated, but agrees to be her maid of honor, only to find herself in competition with Lillian’s new friend, a brittle trophy wife named Helen. Annie’s whole life falls apart, but she attempts a new romance with a charming cop, and eventually makes friends with fellow bridesmaids Becca, Rita, and especially Megan, which gets her past her depression.

PART #1: CONCEPT 17/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 A broke and broken-down bridesmaid gets into an epic feud with a wealthy rival who wants to steal the position of maid of honor.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 The bridesmaids are not maidenly. An attempt to plan a happy celebration becomes a nasty conflict.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 The stakes are only slightly higher than real life, but a rivalry over a friendship results in plane being forced down, for instance.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 We all know the steps leading up to a wedding, so there’s almost no time spent on setting up plot, it’s all character.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
 Yes, though this one problem eventually spirals out to encompass most of her life.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
 Rivals for the title of maid of honor.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Greatest fear: losing her friend. Ironic answer: she wants to get married, but has to help someone else do it.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 It triggers her suppressed rage and self-loathing.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 She doesn’t want to give up on her handsome but uncaring lover, doesn’t want her friend to get married. Also, she’s afraid of flying.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Sort of.  Unlike in most movies, the hero is not working the hardest to solve the problem, Helen is. Annie’s remarkably passive. Helen needs her help because only Annie can talk to Lillian. And only Annie has the cop connection.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
Transform the situation: Only slightly. Annie talks Lillian into going ahead with the wedding, but we’re not sure if she was really needed, or, for that matter, if she herself wasn’t really the problem in the first place. Transform the hero: She decides to be less depressed, more active, date new guy, let go of friend.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
 Lots of raunchy laughs.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 An unhappy bridal party with attitude.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 The vomit and diarrhea-filled dress-fitting scene.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Bad sex, making herself up before pretending to wake up, getting kicked out of the park, her penis impression, putting food on her teeth when talking to her friend.
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
 Mostly, though her backstory with the bakery looms large.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 A funny baker with a hot boyfriend.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 A depressed, lonely person who no longer bakes.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Childhood: “Look at me, I’m [the other person]”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 She’s an eye roller.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 But not a good one. She gets brittle and defensive, lies badly, makes promises she can’t keep. She also likes to put up a false front.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
 She wants to do a good job to keep Lillian as a friend.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 “I’m not looking for a relationship right now.” About being a bridesmaid: “I’m more than happy to do it and it’s not too much.”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
 Complete her maid of honor duties without anyone knowing how broke or depressed she is.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
 Never getting married, that she’s going to lose her friend.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
 Very much so.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
 She’s depressed, broke, and won’t let things go.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
 The flip side of all three: She’s funny in a self-deprecating way, a good improviser, and loyal.
Is the hero curious?
 She wants to find out about Helen, wants to come up with creative solutions to problems.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 She neaks out of bed in the morning to freshen up, then pretends to wake up looking great. Climbs over gate.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Not really. She doesn’t really have much of a self-image, or self-esteem, or set of principles. Maybe: “I deserve better.” (The most self-destructive rule one can have)
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 She’s got more perspective about life, more self-awareness. It’s like no one else can hear themselves talk.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 Yes, in a petulant-mumbled-aside kind of way.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
Yes, having sex, then working out in the park.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 She’s in charge of the bridal party.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Uses baking skills to get her man.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 18/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
 Doesn’t get to see enough of Lillian, gets no respect from lover.
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 Finds out Annie is getting married, fears that she’ll lose her.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 Gets offered the job of maid of honor, a chance to secure her friendship.
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 She vacillates as she accepts the job.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 It turns out that there’s a rival for the position: Helen.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Takes them to a cheap restaurant, insist on cheap dresses.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
 Bridesmaids bond somewhat, she tries to get excited about Vegas trip.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
 The most epic lowest point ever: Gets everyone kicked off the flight to Vegas, gets the bachelorette party cancelled, gets
fired as maid of honor, screws things up with the nice guy, gets fired from job, gets kicked out of her apartment, disinvited from wedding, car is wrecked, and loses handsome lover!
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Barely. She mostly quits and cocoons, except a half-hearted attempt to bake for the cop.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 Finds out Helen isn’t so bad, Megan is a good friend.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 Not at this point. The wedding is approaching but she’s not going so it doesn’t matter. It’s only when finds out Lillian needs her and there’s only a day left that this kicks in.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 Very much so.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 Megan stops by and set her straight.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 “I’m not okay.” “Things are going to change but they’ll be better.”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 Fix everything.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Somewhat, she still has to be asked to help find Lillian, and doesn’t have any influence on the final wedding.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 Sort of, Lillian disappears, forcing a last-minute crisis.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 Not really.  The cop isn’t at the wedding, which is weird.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
 She enjoys the wedding, bonds with Lillian, accepts the cop’s love.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 19/20 (Sample scene: Annie is driving angry after feuding with Helen when she gets pulled over by a cute cop, who gives her his number under the pretense of recommending a place to get her tail light fixed.)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 We see her look pissed when she’s pulled over, expecting a hassle.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 It jumps from being pulled over to the middle of the DUI test.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 It’s a traffic stop, which is inherently scary, it’s on the side of the road, which is unsafe, and he’s making her walk the line.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 She just wants to get home.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 The fact that the mechanic’s name is Bill Cosby.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Can she talk him out of it before he puts the ticket in the system?
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 She’s too involved in her own pain to realize that she’s meeting a guy. He’s smitten, she’s depressed to be reminded about her bakery.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 It shifts: first we’re rooting for her to beat the ticket, then we’re rooting for him to get her to go out with him.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 She wants out of there, he wants a date.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Surface: will her give her a ticket? Suppressed: will she go out with him, will she learn to feel again?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Debate about whether she’ll bake again, baking = feeling.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 He won’t admit he’s asking her out, she won’t admit her pain about losing the bakery.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 He uses the tail-lights as an excuse to give her his number. She at first tries charm, then pity to get out of the ticket.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 She gets out of the car, back in, she tries to flirt by dancing back and forth along the line. They don’t quite touch, but they exchange pieces of paper.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 She gives him her license, which forms a bond, he tears up the ticket to show his affection, he gives her a card that doubles as giving her his number.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 He is convinced to tear up the ticket, she is convinced to take his number.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Being pulled over by a cop turns out to be a good thing.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
 Who was her ex-boyfriend? What happened to him? Will she call him? Will she get her tail-lights fixed?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, plays out awkwardly to the end, moves on to scene of emotional fallout, as she arrives home and looks at evidence of her bakery.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, we’re happy to finally have a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, now that a new guy has appeared.  But we’re also wary of the likelihood that she will mess it up.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Very much so, even Helen, when we wince to see how her stepkids treat her.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Very much so.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 There are two exceptions, but they justify themselves. The cop becomes selflessly invested in cheering up Annie, but it begins with a believable urge for sex and baked goods, then blossoms into a more selfless level of concern.  Likewise when Megan selflessly reaches out to cheer up Annie near the end, it’s clearly shown to be a personal oddity that she can’t stand to have depressed acquaintances.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
 Until external influences cause them to blurt it out.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
 Yes. Lillian doesn’t hear that Annie doesn’t want to do it, etc.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Not really
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor family: Megan: macho man, Helen: wealth, etc., Default personality trait: Lillian: Brittle, Megan: boisterous, Rita: weary, negative, etc., Argument strategy: Lillian: Shutting you down with fact from past, Helen: passive aggressive, etc.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 Annie and Helen are competing heads. Heart: Lillian and Becca. Gut: Megan. Crotch: Rita.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
Yes, with Lillian.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 The story of the bakery comes out slowly.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Very much so, at the shower.
PART #6: TONE 9/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
 Raunchy comedy
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 The wedding comedy.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Happy wedding, she gets guy, but he doesn’t save the day and the villain is befriended instead of getting comeuppance.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 Snarky, wistful, melancholic, heartfelt-yet-raunchy.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
 Will the wedding go well?
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 Nope, we jump right in.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 The rest of the bridal party provide examples of her concerns: one is unhappily married, one married naively, one is a trophy wife, etc.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Somewhat.  We know that she’s bad on planes, see her rage building at the shower, etc.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 She finally bakes again.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 The story ends very quickly after the wedding comes off well.
PART 7: THEME 14/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Friendship vs. romantic love
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Implied by “I don’t want to lose you.”  Will Annie lose Lillian?
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Fun vs. fiscal responsibility, for instance.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Very much so. Economic realities loom large. Feelings are painful. Nothing is easy.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
 A nice sense of Milwaukee vs. Chicago.  Lots of “I thought I was the only one who noticed that” moments, about weddings, flights, jobs, roommates, etc.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 The economic collapse of 2008 is everywhere.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 The economic and emotional pain is very real.
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Each woman’s problems speaks to each of the others.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 Bill Cosby’s card, the baked goods, the shower gifts, the nice dress.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimate irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 It’s ultimately probably better to prioritize finding a romantic life partner over holding onto a long-distance friendship.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 Helen helps Annie see that she’s the problem, rather than vice versa. Her archenemy helps her get her guy.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 Somewhat. The romance certainly isn’t tied up with a bow.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 There is no analysis of what she’s learned after the wedding.

Final Score: 113 out of 122

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