Sunday, June 16, 2013

How To Structure a Story Around a Large Problem, Step 10: The Hero Tries the Hard Way

Conventional Wisdom:
  • It can be tempting to regard the entire third quarter as a string of betrayals, reversals, and assaults, but it’s important to remember that this is all happening now for a good reason: the hero is finally tackling the problem head on.
What Human Nature Says:
  • As with cleaning your home, tackling the problem means that things have to get worse before they can get better.
  • Trying the hard way should not be instantly-rewarding, and shouldn’t lead to any better results than the easy way, at first. The advantage of trying the hard way is that it forces us to lose our illusions and leads us to a spiritual crisis, and that crisis becomes the secret of our success.
What Writers Should Keep in Mind:
  • This is the section where the hero finds out who his or her real friends and enemies are.
  • The easiest way to drop a huge reversal on your hero is to reveal that all of his or her seeming success was actually all a part of the villain’s plan, but this is never a good idea.  This inevitably creates huge plot holes, and makes the hero seem way too stupid and predictable.  Instead, reversals should come about because of the hero’s blind spots and hubris.
  • It’s tempting to overmotivate the hero in this section.  Beware of the tendency to prop up a flagging story by tacking on an additional motivation, such as revealing that the villain also killed the hero’s family years ago.  If you want to strengthen your hero’s motivation, then simplify it instead of multiplying it.
Examples of Trying the Hard Way:
  • After pretending to be poor in the first half of Sullivan’s Travels, our hero finds out the hard reality.
  • Max in Rushmore learns to struggle through public school.
  • The prince in The King’s Speech finally agrees to talk about the troubled childhood that caused his stutter.
  • The heroes of Fatal Attraction and Silence of the Lambs each admit that they lied their way through the first half of the movie.
  • The heroes of Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, on the other hand, keep lying, but now they have to face the mounting consequences of those lies.
Notable Exceptions (But Don’t Try This At Home):
  • If heroes don’t try the hard way, they get horribly depressed, as in Swingers and Bridesmaids.  This is hard to make interesting, but it can be done.
  • Avoid the urge to simply have a deus ex machina swoop in and bail out the heroes at this point, as in Superbad, where the cops show up and solve a lot of their problems.
Next: The Spiritual Crisis...

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