Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Great Purge, Day 2: Character decisions driving the plot, rather than plot

Hi guys. Once again, we’re trying to cut the 140 checklist questions down to 120. On trial today is a question from the Structure section: By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?

Why it was added: It’s good advice.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: No, there are still plot complications.
  • An Education: There’s a big plot reveal coming, but it feels like a character beat. She knew, deep down.
  • The Babadook: Yes and no. In horror the two are hard to tell apart.
  • Blazing Saddles: Yes.
  • Blue Velvet: To a certain extent, but this is one of those risky “character motivates, plot complicates” movies, so there’s more plot revealed in the second half than in the first half.
  • The Bourne Identity: Yes, there are no more plot elements introduced. The only surprise is a character surprise: why he didn’t kill Wombosi.
  • Bridesmaids: Yes.
  • Casablanca: Yes, there are no more surprises for Rick, now it’s his turn to surprise everybody else.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes. The ABSCAM screw-up is somewhat external, but it never drives the story.
  • Do the Right Thing: Yes.
  • The Fighter: Very much so.
  • The Fugitive: Yes, now he’s planning and driving the narrative, instead of just reacting.
  • Groundhog Day: Yes.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Yes.
  • In a Lonely Place: Yes. There is an outside plot development, the real killer’s confession, but it’s meaningless in light of the character complications.
  • Iron Man: Yes.
  • Raising Arizona: Somewhat. There are more character complications now, but there’s still lots of plot.
  • Rushmore: Yes.
  • The Shining: Well, that depends on whether you see the visions as real or not.
  • Sideways: Except for the bizarre but hilarious interlude with the waitress and her husband.
  • Silence of the Lambs: No new victims are taken.
  • Star Wars: Not really. This is a plot-packed movie.
  • Sunset Boulevard: Yes, but there is one remaining plot issue involving the fact that Paramount wants to rent the car.
Deliberations: I don’t find these answers to be particularly illuminating. The real problem with this question is that it’s repetitive: If you do all of the other steps in the structure (spiritual crisis, etc.) then this will pretty much automatically happen.

The verdict: I think it should go.  Feel free to speak up if any of you have found it useful, or if you would miss it.


Steve said...

Gonna have to disagree. This piece of advice was HUGE in terms of developing my writing. As you said, it's somewhat encompassed in other parts of the checklist, but I think hearing it articulated this way on the checklist really, really helps.

But that's just my own opinion/experience of course.

The Mysterious Pi said...

I think it should stay, too. It's a piece of advice that isn't obvious, but helps make sense of, and put into context, so much else. I think it would be a loss.

Fred Salmon said...

Personally, I think it should stay -- it's a great bit of advice that really keeps you focused, especially when you are developing your story. It may not end up being 100% true all of the time, but as a rule it has always kept me grounded and has always helped me when I'm stuck somewhere in the second part of the second act slump.

Matt Bird said...

You guys are making it hard on me to cut! Okay, you've convinced me, it can stay. (And thanks so much for helping me work through this!)