Thursday, October 31, 2013

Storyteller’s Rulebook #196: Ban Parallel Construction

We’ve talked before about how characters shouldn’t extend each other’s metaphors. This is equally true for turning each other’s phrases, creating something that Englsh majors call “parallel construction.” On a recent episode of “Agents of SHIELD” (Yes, I’m still watching it. No, I’m not proud of that.) the perfect-hair-hacker confronted one of her fellow revolutionaries who had betrayed the cause, and they had this exchange:
  • “You’ve changed.”
  • “I know.”
  • “I mean, you’re not the person you were.”
  • “And you’re not the person I thought you were.”
After that third line, I thought, “Why would he rephrase what he just said? Then she said her line, and I just rolled my eyes: Oh, he did it to set up her line.  One reason that this sort of thing doesn’t work is that people have different syntax.  We build our sentences differently.  It may be cute to turn their phrase, but it would come out all wrong if we actually tried it, because we’re not used to phrasing things in exactly that way. 

Parallel construction is bad in a dialogue exchange, but it sounds just as bad when one character says the entire couplet.  In a recent episode of “The Blacklist” (Yes, I’m still watching that one too. I need help.), James Spader is tracking down a killer using a dog hair from a crime scene, and he muses aloud to his henchman, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they do make some lives whole.” Ugh.

It’s a lot of fun to use that sort of parallel construction when you’re writing something down, and it’s fun to read. It’s creates a bit of additional meaning to take a turn of phrase and then turn it on its head, creating a “compare and contrast” moment,  and giving your language a little poetic lilt.

But people don’t say that sort of thing out loud. Our brains just aren’t wired that way. We aren’t that conscious of how our words line up. Also, as I’ve said before, we talk with the assumption that we’re about to be interrupted, so we don’t set up elaborate constructions due to the fear that we won’t be able to finish them.

In real life, that exchange between Spader and his henchman would have gone something like this.
  • “Dogs are not our whole life, but—“
  • “—Yes they are. I love my dog.”
  • “I know you do, but—“
  • “—There’s no but about it. He’s my huggums-wuggums.”
  • “I know, I know, he’s a great dog, that was my whole point, asshole! If you hadn’t interrupted me, I would have said ‘but they do make some lives whole.’”
  • “Oh, I see what you were trying to do: ‘whole life / life whole’, that’s cute. You should write greeting cards.”
  • “Go eat a dick.”
My services are available, NBC. I await your call.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Storyteller’s Rulebook #195: Avoid the Sorkin Stammer

One last thought about An Education. I loved how un-Sorkinish it was.

There are a lot of reasons that I tend to dislike Aaron Sorkin’s writing, but here’s the biggest one: The Sorkin Stammer. Sorkin gives us scene after scene of this: Our hero, a smartass expert at some field or another, sits there and smirks listening to the criticisms of a bloviating blowhard, then unleashes a withering, fact-filled retort, which leaves the critic stammering helplessly as the expert calmly saunters away. What can the blowhard say, after all? When you’re right, you’re right!

Except that’s now how life works. Nine times out of ten, your opponent will simply interrupt you before you can lay down any facts, but on those rare occasions that people actually bother to listen to your whole clever list of rebuttals, it’s only because they’re ready to blindside you with something you failed to consider.

Carey Mulligan’s precocious teenage protagonist in An Education wants to live in a Sorkin universe, where her superior wit and smarts will allow her to reduce her critics to jelly, but she keeps forgetting that, even though she may have the higher IQ, she also has a limited perspective, and they can see things that she can’t see…because that’s always the case.

Let’s look at several times she tries to have the last word, and fails.  First with David’s friends:

Then she tries it on her dad:
Her simple-minded father can’t think of any retort right away, but he leaves and comes back, apologizing, but also saying, “He wasn’t who he said he was.  He wasn’t who you said he was either.”
And then she really meets her match:

Ouch.  Even when her scene partner has no devastating comeback, they at least have the wherewithal to say some version or “Hey, it sucks that you’re trying to belittle me.”
And that’s how you have to treat your heroes. Don’t give them straw men to punch right though. Give them heavyweights that knock them flat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rulebook Casefile: Denying Synthesis in An Education

Yesterday, we looked at one reason why the “third act” of An Education is so short: the story isn’t as interesting once Jenny has dumped her con man fiance, and we don’t want to watch her study for her tests.  That works out just fine.  Nobody misses those beats, and the ending is still satisfying.

This was true in Nick Hornby’s script as well, but somewhat less so.  Director Lone Scherfig is extremely faithful to the script overall, but she cuts several exchanges out of the last part of the script, and replaces the last page entirely.  These judicious cuts made the movie much better, and exemplified the importance of not allowing the characters to process the theme.

In the finished film, we end with Jenny, at Oxford, happily riding a bicycle through campus with a boy she seems to be dating, as we hear a voiceover (for the first time in the movie), saying that she tried to forget the whole thing, and one day, when a boy asked her to go to Paris with him, she said yes... “as if I’d never been.”  Fade to black. 

On the last page of the original script, we also have Jenny bicycling through Oxford, but then, one day...

This is way too much closure. What’s so great about the final onscreen ending is that it’s haunting. She never expunges the ghost of David, so he hovers over her whole life. She can pretend that it never happened, but she’ll always know better.

Director Lone Scherfig knew she had a brilliant script  on her hands...but she also knew that the last page blew it, and a better last page would make it a classic. She kept pushing until she found the last page the movie needed.

But wait, we’re not done!  Tomorrow, we derive a new rule from this movie, and what it does better than a certain Oscar-favorite screenwriter...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Straying from the Party Line #10: An Education

This is going to sound weird, but this movie’s heroine actually has a lot in common with Tony Stark. Both combine a hard-charging intellectual curiousity about the world with a near-fatal level of passivity and naivety about people close by that are plotting against them.
  • Deviation #1: The first and third acts are each ten minutes long, leaving room for a massive 2nd act, and the heroine is incurious and passive throughout almost all of that 2nd act., not investigating big clues, and allowing herself to be duped.
  • The Potential Problem: In theory, we should get fed up with Jenny’s failure to investigate big clues to David’s duplicity. Even when the truth comes out, it’s because she’s looking for a cigarette in his glove compartment, not because of any intentional poking around.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, and I’m not sure why. This is the ultimate “execution dependent” script. The astoundingly good performances that director Lone Scherfig gets from Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike make a very unsurprising, low-key movie into something lively, captivating and moving. But that’s not to sell Nick Hornby’s amazing screenplay short. This isn’t a movie about what happens (we can guess almost immediately), but about how each failsafe fails along the way, and how it all feels. How do a very smart girl and her very careful parents fall into such a blatantly wrong situation? The dialogue is so smart and incisive that the thin, passive plot isn’t a problem: it just gives us a chance to get a much deeper understanding of the hidden intricacies of a relatively-typical situation.
And one more…
  • Deviation #2: The movie is no longer as compelling or ironic after the twist.
  • The Potential Problem: This should kill the third act.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, but only by cutting the third act to ribbons. They know we don’t want to suddenly watch a movie about studying Latin, so the whole third act “a long way to go and a short time to get there” sequence is reduced to one quick montage, ending in an acceptance letter. This works just fine. 
But wait, if you look at the script, you’ll find a significantly different third act.  Let’s look at that tomorrow when we do our Rulebook Casefile for this movie...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ultimate Story Checklist: An Education

Jenny Mellor is a bored Oxford-bound high school student in 1961 Britain who meets a flashy older man named David that whisks her off her feet, charming not just her but also her working class parents. When she finds out that he’s already married, it’s almost too late to get her life back on track.
PART #1: CONCEPT 14/21              
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?                                                                 
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 A clever-but-bored schoolgirl in pre-Beatles London puts her Oxford dreams on hold when she meets a devilishly charming older man.
Is this a new twist on a classic type of story?
 Not much of a twist. Just a very classic coming of age cautionary tale, but exceptionally well done.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 She wants an education, but doesn’t realize which kind she’ll get. The glamorous sophisticates are lowly crooks.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 Wanting to get away from parents with dangerous older boy, but in this case much older, and a career criminal. (That said, the stakes aren’t really that big, just the usual: losing out on the chance to go to college.)
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Very much so. It’s 90% character.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Is the story about the hero’s problem, not the hero’s life? 
Is it about a unique relationship?
 Not really…maybe with Jenny and the other moll.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
 Her family at first, then her teachers once her family has been co-opted.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 All three, the question being “Is it really worth it to get an education?”
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 David clearly kindles a spark of rebellion that was already in her.
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 feels she must betray her family and mentor in order to seek love.
Is the hero the person working the hardest to solve the problem?
 She’s not working that hard, but once she finds out accidentally, she does take the lead in dealing with it.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Her family checks out and her school washes their hands of it.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation?
 No. We sense that he’ll keep doing it. Everything sets back to zero for both of them.
Does the situation permanently transform the hero?
 Very much so, though she almost convinces herself it never happened.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 Not really. Just a lot of great clothes. Maybe him driving alongside her with the cello, a little bit.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 Not really. Somewhat, where he wants to deflower her with fruit.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
 We know it’s coming, but we haven’t guessed how bad it’ll be.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
 Somewhat. It’s heavily implied.
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
 Not really, but that’s fine. Nobody wants to see her knuckle down and study, so the story wraps up very quickly after the reveal.
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?)
 Funny: her sarcastic put-downs of her father.
Is the hero defined by actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
 No backstory, except “years of studying”
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 The good girl.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 She’s fed up with her life, ready to experiment.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Drawn from her ambition: she tosses in bits of French and pseudo-intellectual words.
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Coolly watchful and quietly sarcastic.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Faux na├»ve, but with a withering use of evidence of the other’s hypocrisy or ignorance.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, not-selfless, and revealed early on?
 She’s bored out of her mind, as established by the opening montage.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a false philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 False advice: her father would say there’s no point to going to concerts. He also says that Oxford doesn’t want people who think for themselves.
Does the hero have a false or short-sighted goal when we first meet him or her?
 Get into Oxford. Seems like a false goal, then turns out to be true after all.
Does the hero have an open anxiety about his or her future?
 That she won’t get into University.
Does the hero also have a hidden, private fear?
 That she’ll be as dull and unsophisticated as her mother and father.
Is the hero vulnerable, both physically and emotionally?
Does the hero have an untenable great flaw that we empathize with? (but…)
 Duplicity, contempt, gullibility
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw the natural flip-side of a great strength that we admire?
 Intellectual ambition, biting wit, tolerance
Is the hero curious?
 Yes about life in general, but only occasionally about her own situation. She refuses to investigate big clues. Why isn’t this more frustrating for the audience? I don’t know.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 She can always finagle what she wants.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Study hard, be smarter than others, get ahead, but she rejects #1 early on.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 At first. All of her friends, family, and teachers seem dull. Then she subsumes herself to the crooks, unwilling to outshine them, though she could if she tried.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 In muttered sarcastic asides, yes.
Is the hero actively pursuing an early goal when we first meet him or her?
 Yes, she’s studying hard, lugging her cello around, etc.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 She manages to be quite free-living despite her restrictive surroundings.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Sort of. She uses her knowledge of classical music and art to get into a tonier world, but that creates more problems than it solves.
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)?
 She’s massively bored.
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 Nice boy Graham bores the heck out of her on their date, disappoints her father.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 She gets hit on by a rich guy who can make Elgar jokes.
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 She won’t get in the car, at first.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
 Beforehand really. This movie has a very long 2nd act: she’s committed by ten minutes in.
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?
 No. Her parents put up feeble, half-hearted resistance. The true antagonist in this movie is the general notion of propriety, which nobody really stands up for (except her teacher when it’s too late) but which turns out to be well worth heeding.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Almost for the entire story.
Does the hero (and/or villain) get to have a little fun at this point, in a way that exemplifies the appeal of the concept?
 Very much so. They have delightful trips to Oxford and Paris.
Does the hero get excited about the possibility of success?
 She’s always looking forward to more fun.
Does this culminate in a midpoint disaster?
 Sort of. When she realizes they’re crooks, she tries briefly to flee.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero lose a safe space and/or sheltering relationship at this point?
 Not permanently, she quickly gets re-seduced.
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 No. She ignores evidence of further criminality and becomes more delusional throughout the 3rd quarter.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 There’s a big plot reveal coming, but it feels like a character beat. She knew, deep down.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 Eventually, yes. All relationships are turned on their heads, except with the headmistress.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 He proposes marriage.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 After the reveal, very much so.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 She finds out that he’s married.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 Reacting to teacher’s place, “I’d love to live someplace like this…That’s all you need, isn’t it?”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 She becomes determined to get into Oxford without a high school degree.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 No. She switches very late. The ‘third act” is only ten minutes, as was the first act.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 Essentially. The timelines doesn’t move, but she has a big setback, when she is denied the chance to return to school, forcing her to do it on her own.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 No. A final confrontation with David was in the script but was wisely cut out.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 It is only after she’s been at Oxford for a while that forgives herself and put the affair in the proper context.
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’s happy at Oxford, with a new boy, pretending that she’s never been to Paris.
PART #4: SCENEWORK (Jenny is amazed as David gets permission from her parents to take her on a weekend trip to Oxford by claiming to know C.S. Lewis) 19/23
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?
 She was dubious that he could pull it off, worried when she heard his voice downstairs.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 She walks in halfway through.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Somewhat. The liquor is out, which it never is. He’s in his enemy’s lair.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Jenny wants to study her homework.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 The Goon Show, etc.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 No, they have all night to convince the dad.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
 Jenny is disquieted. Parents are flattered and overwhelmed.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 We’re on Jenny’s side as she hopes David succeeds, but feels a little scared of David’s ability to lie so well.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 David wants to screw her, dad wants to protect her.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Surface: can Jenny go to Oxford? Suppressed: can I sleep with her? Do you want to live vicariously through our liberation?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 David and Jenny are lying, and dad doesn’t want to admit how scared he is of leaving home.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Very much so. David traps the parents using their own insecurities, traps Jenny into lying to them.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Not really. They’re British. The dad touches his wife’s hand once at the very end, signaling he’s made his decision.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Not really, though he may have brought them the alcohol.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
 It’s a pretty simple scene.
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?
 Parents agree to the trip.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 David gets them to insist on it, and he “reluctantly” agrees.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
 How will convince her parents?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 What does he expect from her on the trip?
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 anticipating a thrilling time for our heroine but dreading the downfall even more now that we know her parents can’t protect her.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 “It wouldn’t be a bother, would it, David”
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Very much so. We feel a different type of empathy for each of the three crooks, for instance.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Very much so. The amazing thing is that we come to share her limited perspective, to a certain extent, despite the fact that this story and its outcome are so familiar.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Very much so. All except the teacher, but even she wants to live vicariously through Jenny’s academic success (as opposed to everyone else, who all live vicariously through her transgression.)
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 The final apology from her father is heartbreakingly delivered through a closed door.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Very much so. All of the descriptions of crime are very oblique.
Do the characters listen poorly?
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
 Not really. They’re British—a little more civilized.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Crime is always “a bit of business.”
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 The “stats” scam, for instance.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 David: Childhood: “You’re my Minnie-Mouse and I’m your Bubbalub.” About her breasts: “May I have a look? Just a peek?”
Are there additional characters with default personality traits?
 The dad: embarrassed, obsequious, indignant. David: blithe, blank, seductive.
Are there additional characters with default argument strategies?
 The dad: focusing on tiny potential obstacles. David: self-deprecating flattery.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
 “I suppose you think I’m a fallen woman.” “Oh, you’re not a woman.”
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
 Somewhat. It’s a very formal time, and the conversations are somewhat formal.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Mostly. As with all screenplays written by novelists, there are a few.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 All characters are 3-dimensional.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 A sequence of them: Her teacher finally lays into her, she finally lays into her parents, headmistress devastates her.
PART #6: TONE 14/16
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, without introducing a new genre after the first quarter?)
 The romantic melodrama.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 The period coming-of-age story.
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre and sub-genre?
 Sort of. It substitutes aesthetic pleasures for sexual, romantic, or crime pleasure. It’s entirely execution-dependent.
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)? 
 The crime element (though muted) is the “bad-boy” theme write large.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Satisfies almost all. She doesn’t realize the boring boy is right for her, but that’s not universal in these movies.
Mood: Does the story create a certain feeling?
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 The opening montage establishes the threat of boredom, and music establishes the potential joy of liberation.
Are the physics of the world (realistic or stylized?) established early and maintained throughout?
 Entirely realistic.
Is the nature of the stakes (lethal, social, psychological and/or spiritual?) established early and maintained throughout?
 Entirely social. We get early on that it’s her future we should worry about, not her life, or her “virtue”, or her “reputation” She feels like a heel at the end, but never feels her soul is in jeopardy.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are open questions posed in the first half, which will keep the audience from asking the wrong questions later on?
 What’s David’s business scam? We get lots of hints.
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 she get into Oxford?
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 No. Narration doesn’t kick in until the very end.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 Very much so. She’s terrified of becoming her teachers, her parents, and Helen the moll.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Lots of hints of disaster.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
 A random girl from a lower class wants to give her money to buy something in Paris, which makes it clear how the headmistress would also know and care about the trip, which is a bit of a contrivance.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 She fails a Latin test. Poorly preps dull boy Graham for a meeting with parents. She’ll do better with David, and finally pass that Latin test at the end.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 She gets into Oxford.
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?
 Glamour vs. responsibility
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Is an academic or illicit life more fulfilling?
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 The condemnations of David are tinged with anti-Semitism, forcing her to choose between tolerance and self-protection.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
 Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Very much so. It’s very low key.
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)?
 Very much so. It’s a true story.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 It’s a true story about the birth of the modern feminism, the prison of suburbia, anti-Semitism, etc.
Are these issues addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
 She can’t get back into her school.
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?
 They’re reading Jane Eyre (in which Rochester is secretly married), playing Elgar music (who’s anti-Semitic), etc.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 The C.S. Lewis book, the map, the engagement ring, the letters, etc. The cello represents the burden of her education, David’s able to admire it and offer his car to it when he meets Jenny, making him seem less lecherous, etc.)
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimate irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards on one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 Responsibility is ultimately better than the glamour. (But given that everything turned out okay, you suspect that she doesn’t really have any regrets)
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 The education she tried to reject actually leads her back to the life of sophistication she wanted, but she has to pretend she hasn’t already had it.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 What was his plan? Bigamy? A phony marriage? Leave his wife? We never know.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 The original script contained much more recriminations in the third act, but in the finished film, most of those questions land in the viewer’s lap, which is better.

Final Score: 117 out of 140