Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?

Even when we’ve accepted that we have to solve a large problem, and even after we’ve run into unexpected conflict, we are absolutely hardwired to try the easy way first and stick to it until it ends in disaster. The easy way can take many different forms, but what they all have in common is an insistence on treating the problem as an external obstacle rather than an internal dilemma. 

Audiences quickly get bored with a story in which the hero has five tasks to complete and then dutifully knocks them out one by one until arriving at the end of the story. The hero should be trying and expecting to solve the entire problem in almost every scene. The second and third quarters will usually consist of two different attempts to solve the same problem, not two halves of one attempt.
  • Some heroes spend this section juggling different lies, assuming that the targets of their lies will never compare notes, such as in Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and How to Train Your Dragon. 
  • Some heroes spend this time escaping from the danger, without realizing that they’ll eventually have to face it head-on, such as in Witness and Die Hard. 
  • Some use this time to unsuccessfully seek allies, such as in High Noon. 
  • Others devote this time to elaborate schemes, such as in Double Indemnity, The Producers, and Body Heat.
Straying From the Party Line: The Easy Second Quarter in Iron Man
Just one real problem I see, but it was potentially disastrous...
  • Deviation: The scene we looked at (from the 2nd quarter)  didn’t really flow from the previous scene or into the next scene, indicating a lack of momentum.
  • The Potential Problem: This signals a much bigger problem. The hero takes it very easy in the 2nd quarter. He spends the whole time making the armor while his enemies move against him without his knowledge. But wait, if he’s unaware of the threat, then why is he making the armor? The implication is that he intends to use it to retrieve his errant weaponry, but he seems to think he’s already taken care of the problem, because he’s shocked at the midpoint to discover that the terrorists still have his weapons, and his bosses are still selling them. When he uses the armor, he’s reacting to new information, not a pre-established plan. (In fact, there are implications that he decides to weaponize the armor against his better judgment at this point.)
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Remarkably, yes ...more or less. I suspect most viewers don’t really spot this massive motivation hole until subsequent viewings. Why? Partially because the process scenes are so much fun. We’re focused on the step-by-step how-to of building the armor, so we never step back and ask why.
Still, this problem could have been eased if we had something like, “next time I find out that people are dying because of me, I’ll be ready”. Also, it would good to add a scene that made it clear that Tony didn’t trust the US Army to find and/or confront terrorists using his weapons. Superhero movies should always have an element of “It’s up to me now”.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES. He avoids calling Trish, takes all of the guys’ advice, even though it’s contradictory.


YES, at first they try to keep the creature alive.

An Education

YES. Almost for the entire story.

The Babadook

YES. She relies on the sedatives.

Blazing Saddles

YES. He tries to win them over through zaniness and charm.

Blue Velvet

YES. he tries to hide and spy without being seen, but he’s caught first by Dorothy, then by Frank.

The Bourne Identity

YES. he tries to go back to his old life, old apartment, tries to ditch girl.  


YES. Takes them to a cheap restaurant, insist on cheap dresses.


YES. he gets drunk, then sobers up and makes a friendly pass at Ilsa, assuming that she’s having a fling with Lazlo.


YES. He thinks he can find Hollis and clear this up.  After Hollis is dead, it’s unclear what his goal is, but he still seems confident in his abilities before he gets cut. 

Donnie Brasco

YES.  he tries to avoid hurting anybody, tries to get home enough to keep his family happy.

Do the Right Thing

YES. He assumes that he’s shut down Buggin’ Out and he can go on about his day.  He encourages Vito to stand up to Pino instead of confronting Pino directly.

The Farewell

YES. She puts on a fake smile and tries to keep quiet. 

The Fighter

YES. He keeps them apart, tries to stick with Dicky despite her advice. 


YES. she’s just trying to find her sister and ask her to stop it. 

The Fugitive

YES. he just tries to get away (but not quite throughout the 2nd quarter: he switches to proactive at around the 48 minute mark)

Get Out

YES. He tries to fit in at the party.  

Groundhog Day

YES. Yes, he tries to use this power for his advantage.

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. Uses what he learns from the captive dragon to excel in dragon-fighting class.

In a Lonely Place

YES. he blows off the murder accusation and his early relationship is idyllic.

Iron Man

YES. He lets Stane play interference with the company, waits for Pepper and Rhodey to come around. 

Lady Bird

Sort of: She applies to college amibitiously despite not attempting to better her grades.  She accepts Danny without suspicion. 

Raising Arizona

YES. They lie to the brothers.


YES. This movie’s “second quarter” is very short, and its “third quarter” is very long.  To a certain extent, Max continues to try “the easy way” until the ¾ point, but his big crash happens much at 34 minutes in.


YES. He doesn’t provoke very much at first.  He tries to keep everybody happy, including Johnson and SNCC. 

The Shining

YES. Jack: Very briefly.  Tries to write and tries to get along with family only for a very short time, then quits trying and becomes the villain. Danny: Yes, he chases them through the halls, but won’t enter the room.


YES. He gets blind-drunk for most of the date.

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. She lies to Lecter to get him to talk, doesn’t reveal much about herself.

Star Wars

YES. Hires it done, lies to Han about cargo.

Sunset Boulevard

YES. he tries to finish the script as quickly as possible. 

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