Monday, April 04, 2016

The Great Purge, Day 3: 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?

Hi guys. Once again, we’re working our way through the Checklist trying to cut out twenty questions, which is proving to be pretty hard. Today’s candidate:

On trial: 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?

Why it was added: It’s tricky. I never set out to craft an entirely new structure. At first I was just tweaking others’ models, and this is one step that appeared in others’ lists that I agreed with, so I didn’t give it much thought.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: Yes, we enjoy the gory deaths, the creeping dread and final reveal of the creature.
  • An Education: Very much so. They have delightful trips to Oxford and Paris.
  • The Babadook: We get traditional horror movie things: the book shows back up, scary phone calls. The Babadook is toying with his prey.
  • Blazing Saddles: He enjoys bamboozling them, and makes a friend in the Waco Kid.
  • Blue Velvet: Yes, he enjoys his voyeurism, and even gets to have sex with his target.
  • The Bourne Identity: Yes, he discovers what a badass fighter and driver he is.
  • Bridesmaids: Bridesmaids bond somewhat.
  • Casablanca: Not Rick, who’s miserable, but we do get a long flashback to happier times here, so the audience gets some relief from Rick’s misery.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes. Has a lot of amusing conversations, bonds with Lefty, feeds the lion.
  • Do the Right Thing: Yes, he has fun with Vito, Senor Love Daddy, etc.
  • The Fighter: They have a strong relationship.
  • The Fugitive: Just a little tiny bit, when he jokes with the cop in the first hospital “Every time I look in the mirror, pal”
  • Groundhog Day: He gets in car chases, steals money, seduces his boss.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Loves first flight with the dragon.
  • In a Lonely Place: The hero has some fun, but the concept remains vague and we get no genre thrills.
  • Iron Man: He loves flying around with the armor.
  • Raising Arizona: They love having the kid.
  • Rushmore :He has a lot of fun. His Serpico play is hilarious.
  • The Shining: In horror movies, it’s usually the villain who has fun at this point (which the audience enjoys and the heroes hate) but this is more like a standard movie: Jack seems to do well here, (but we later find out he was faking it all). Danny definitely has fun here, big wheeling around and going through maze is fun for both he and Wendy.
  • Sideways: Not at this point, but it happens in the first and third quarter, with lots of beautiful driving and drinking montages.
  • Silence of the Lambs: She flirts with moth guys, shows some people up, seems to get good value out of Lecter.
  • Star Wars: Fun lightspeed effect, actual fun and games with chess game, lightsaber practice.
  • Sunset Boulevard: Yes, as in a horror film, the villain has fun instead of the hero, and the audience enjoys that.
Deliberations: It’s tough! Those are some pretty illuminating answers, and this is definitely a big step that almost every story needs to hit, but if I keep it, the problem isn’t just that it’s too similar to others’ lists, it’s that my structure is “human nature” based: These are “the steps and missteps we all go through when solving large problems.” But this one is the only one explicitly cites market demands, so it doesn’t fit. So what do I do? Can I re-conceive it or rephrase the question to eliminate the problem? Or should I just cut it?

The verdict: I don’t know. It doesn’t fit but I’m loath to cut it. I leave it up to you! What do I do?


Steve said...

Okay so I don't want to sound like I'm in favour of keeping everything, because obviously you need to cut something. But let me tell you a quick story:

I'm currently writing a story. I'm stuck on this one part and it's been driving me insane for days. Days I tell ye. I had no clue what should happen in this particular scene.

Anyway, at first when I was reading this entry I'd forgotten about it and I thought to myself... eh, this seems like something to cut - and it still might be - but it DID give me an epiphany as to what I should fill in the blank in my story with. So there's that.

Brian Malbon said...

No, no, no. You need this one. If you have time, it might be interesting to spot the checklist to BAD movies, just to see which questions they failed. Unless it's a bad comedy that doesn't know how to be funny, I guarantee that nearly every one you try will fail this one. There are a half dozen questions hidden inside this one: does the writer use the concept creatively? Are there character moments that allow us to see the fun side of the hero? Does the villain do anything at all besides glare out his window and yell at subordinates? Are there any moments of levity at all that prevent this story from being a joyless slog?

You need those moments of fun for so many reasons. I'll sympathize worn a character when he's struggling. But I'll like him when I see him having fun. I'll believe his relationships worth other characters if I see them enjoying themselves together. So many writers think their stories can only be Important if they are deadly serious from start to finish, and so many terrible movies/novels exist add nothing but a stately progression of plot points without a pause to explore the world and enjoy the possibilities of the concept.

The Mysterious Pi said...

There are problems with the way this question is phrased, imo, which betray themselves in the respective answers for each movie. The question is phrased relative to the hero/villain, but many of the answers are about us, the viewer, and our reaction and fun.

The region of the story on which this question focuses is part one of the second act. This is generally the part of the story where the hero is doing things the way they've always done things. They're comfortable, confident--and setting themselves up for the mid-point disaster. Comfort and confidence look and feel a lot like fun, and there is definitely enjoyment in seeing someone in their element, an enjoyment which is dramatically heightened when it fails.

From the point of view of problem solving, this is the part of the story for tried-and-true techniques deployed without real cognisance of the looming disaster that those techniques may actually help to bring about. This brings irony, and sets up the conditions for the character's self-examination and dark night of the soul. (The manner in which they carry themselves through this portion will match their false statement of philosophy from earlier in the story.)

This also works for villains. In a previous post, Matt, you pointed out how a hero should escalate threat to the villain as well. In horror stories, for example, the villain persecutes its victims just as it always has--but one of its victims is like no other it's ever met.

Ultimately, I think the word 'fun' here is causing all the problems. It's not about fun, it's about familiarity and comfort in tackling the immediate problem. This restores the step to problem solving, while still allowing the character to express themselves in a manner that is true to their starting, more carefree values. It also means this part of the story serves a dramatic function, as it shows us the character's 'false' self in expert action.

For me, the question should read:

At this stage, does the hero/villain carry out a comfortable, easy plan that corresponds to his/her false statement of philosophy, and that lays the groundwork for a major reversal (often at the midpoint for heroes, at the climax for villains)?

This still exemplifies the appeal of the concept, but from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in.

Matt Bird said...

You guys make it tough on me. I'll definitely have to rephrase.

MCP said...

This question has been a vital help, at least for me. I definitely think the word 'fun' is key (because 2nd acts can be anything but fun if you let them), but I can understand the reluctance to use it based on the fun and games section of save the cat.

Sam Zucca said...

I don't know if you've seen Dan Harmon's story circle, but it's a simple structure method in eight parts. The fifth one is 'find' where the protagonist essentially finds what they were looking for in the first place. You could just phrase it as the section where in solving the problem, it appears to be solved until some consequences arise.

Jesse Baruffi said...

I think this is a definite keeper. The thing is, even in a sad or dark story, moments of happiness are realistic, because people still find ways to divert or amuse themselves in tough times, in many cases as a coping mechanism. Also, from a story perspective, without hope or fun, people just get used to the grimness and give up. The fleeting moments of positivity make tragedies hurt all the more.

To get a bit topical with it, Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman are movies that have no concept of fun in them. Snyder and company seem to portray being a superhero as a ponderous, awful thing that no one would ever want and no one should ever do. Superman never feels joy or thrills, only serious sadness. Why would anyone ever aspire to be like him? And why would we, the audience, without any sense of fun, care at all?