Wednesday, September 06, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Sometimes It's Better to Humanize Than Incentivize
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones begins the story with a very standard social humiliation, losing the idol he just found to another archaeologist. He then returns home to his university empty-handed, only to find out about an intimidating opportunity to redeem himself when the government comes around and asks him to find the ark of the covenant. First, however, he hangs out with his friend and senior colleague Brody.
As James pointed out, if you were writing strictly according to how a guru told you to write, it would tempting to pile on another humiliation and escalation here. Brody could be critical of Indiana coming back empty-handed, and even tell him that he’ll be fired if the doesn’t bring back something better soon. On paper, that sounds like a good idea. The hero now has more motivation for the story going forward and bigger emotions (more humiliation) to deal with. So why not?
Because it’s more important to humanize Indy at this point. Let him be a human being for a few scenes, won’t you? Give him a nice normal friendship and some comfort. You’ve already started your story off with a bang, so your audience should be willing to put up with a few scenes of downtime before we launch back into the big conflict.
Don’t get me wrong, downtime is risky, and under-motivation is deadly, but if you’ve earned a breather, take it. We want to like Indy, and so we want to see that at least one other person likes Indy.
(After writing this, I remembered that two of my very first posts seven years ago were on the dangers of over-motivation. This is a good example of a movie that avoided that problem.)