Monday, June 10, 2013

How To Structure a Story Around a Large Problem, Step 6: Committing Creates Unexpected Conflict

The Conventional Wisdom:
  • The concept of the “inciting incident” often implies that the hero is fully aware of the scope of the problem before he or she commits, but that’s not the best choice, for various reasons…
What Human Nature Dictates:
  • As any filmmaker considering a second film will tell you, it’s much easier to commit to a big undertaking if you don’t know what you’re getting into.  Just because you know an opportunity is intimidating, doesn’t mean that you’ve comprehended what how much trouble you’ll be in once you dive in.
What Writers Should Keep in Mind:
  • You might assume that it would be more sympathetic to have a circumspect hero who sees all the angles of the situation ahead of time, but usually the opposite is true: audiences prefer heroes with a limited perspective.  Given how bad things are going to get, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone who would put themselves and their loved ones into that much risk intentionally.
  • Almost always, the unexpected conflict should come from an actual person, as opposed to the weather, or a physical obstruction or a faceless bureaucracy.  Sheriff Brody isn’t opposed by “the town”, he’s opposed by the mayor.
  • This is a dangerous moment where the story can lose its momentum.  You’ve finally arranged all the pieces on the playing board, so it’s tempting to take it easy for a few pages, but you need to wallop the hero right away to keep the reader from putting down your manuscript.
Other Examples of Unexpected Conflict:
  • Jean Arthur finds that accepting a mink makes everyone assume she’s a mistress in Easy Living
  • The couple in The Awful Truth have just one problem with their divorce: who gets the dog?
  • The hero of Speed has accepted the danger of leaping on the bomb-rigged bus, but he doesn’t know that a wanted passenger will freak out and accidentally shoot the driver, instantly making the whole task a lot tougher.
  • This is also a great moment for the hero to realize that the villain is a lot smarter than anybody thought, such as in Goldfinger, The French Connection, and Silence of the Lambs
Notable Exceptions (But Don’t Try This At Home):
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a surprisingly conflict-free second quarter, becoming more of a smart, quiet, anthropological story.  It more than makes up for it in the apocalyptic second half.
Next: The Easy Way...

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