Okay, more examples to drive this “Make a List” concept home.
I saw Inception not too long ago and rewatched Die Hard this week. (Love that sweaty wifebeater look that Sly and Bruce made iconic, but wattage-wise neither of them holds a candle to Alan Rickman oozing his way around Fox Towers.)
And then I also rewatched Dreamscape. With a lot of wattage from a very young Dennis Quaid.
And I also – well, I wouldn’t call it reading, but I navigated my way around The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – the book.
Seeing those three action/suspense films and looking at the book all in proximity made me take note of an element that often comes in the first or usually second sequence, about the same time as the Inciting Incident, or Call To Adventure: “The Offer S/he Can’t Refuse.”
This would be a proposition – or often a threat - that “locks the hero/ine into the story” as they like to say in Hollywood.
In the first act of a story, as Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, translating him, have pointed out, we often encounter a Reluctant Hero/ine – not all that keen to go on the adventure of the story – and somewhere in the first act there will be a “Hero/ine Refuses the Call” scene.
So if the Hero/ine has Refused The Call, the villain, or mentor, or the person who hires or recruits her or him must make an Offer S/he Can’t Refuse.
Okay, so what was it for Inception? What was the offer Saito made Leo that made him take the job? It is completely obvious and on the nose, not to mention typical, so I’m not even going to tell you – I expect anyone who’s seen the movie to be able to answer instantly.
I don’t expect all of you to have seen Dreamscape recently, so I’ll tell you that one: Dennis Quaid initially Refuses The Call To Adventure offered by his old mentor, Max Von Sydow: to participate in the dream research experiment. But Dennis has been living off gambling earnings for the last few years and Max threatens him with a 5-year IRS audit unless he joins the research team. Cut to Dennis fuming in a lab chair with electrodes strapped to his head.
Those of you who have read Dragon Tattoo should be able to answer this one as well… unless of course you were skimming as liberally as I was, in which case you might have missed it. But I don’t know if this element was in the movie, so I’ll just tell you.
In the book, Blomkvist does initially refuse Henrick Vanger’s job offer/Call To Adventure (to write a history of the Vanger family and solve the murder of Harriet Vanger along the way), but then Vanger not only offers Blomkvist 5 million kroner, but virtually guarantees that Blomkvist can avoid prison and clear his name by promising him damning information about the industrialist who has sued him (IF Blomkvist does the job.) It’s a clear “Offer He Can’t Refuse”.
Now, there’s not always an Offer S/he Can’t Refuse – and you might get the idea from all of these examples in a row that it’s a somewhat tricky thing to do - because it can just seem corny or over the top. But even if there is not an OSCR – there will definitely be a Statement Of the Stakes (or a visual representation of the stakes that speaks louder than words, but it’s always best to spell these things out.).
In Die Hard – there’s not an Offer He Can’t Refuse, but the Stakes are made very clear - Bruce is going to do whatever it takes to save his wife from the terrorists. (This is staple of action movies – it’s the hero’s family in jeopardy. I think that’s cheap, not to mention a low form of morality on the Kohlberg scale (every writer should know the Kohlberg Stages Of Moral Development, btw) - but then I’m not an action story fan, either.
The family in jeopardy as the stakes is not always just cheap emotion, though - it can make a fascinating moral story, as we see in The Godfather. Michael is locked into the story when his father, Don Corleone, is nearly killed by a rival family and the family – and the family empire - is in jeopardy. The twist and terrible irony is – Michael is the least likely member of the family to risk himself to save his father and the family business, but he’s the one who steps up to the plate with a brilliant ruthlessness that proves him to be every bit his father’s son - “Famiglia” through and through.
So if you’re feeling like – or getting comments that – there’s not enough reason for your hero/ine to be involved in the actions of your story, take a look at some of your favorite films/books and see how those storytellers locked their hero/ines into the action. There will definitely be stakes – but there might also be an “Offer They Can’t Refuse.”
And my real point here is, this is just ONE example of how looking at a series of films and books in your genre all in a row will almost inevitably help you get unstuck on your own story problems.
You know the question of the day – any examples of Offers S/he Can’t Refuse for me? How about interesting Statements of Stakes? Can you identify exactly how your hero/ine is locked into your story? Is it believable, or could that element maybe use some work?
How To Write A Novel From Start To Finish: previous posts
How to write a novel from start to finish (part one)
What is genre?
What's your premise?
The Price (more on premise)
What is High Concept?
The Dream Journal
Three-Act Structure Review and Assignments
The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
The Index Card Method and Story Structure Grid
Elements of Act One
Story Elements Checklist for brainstorming Index Cards
What KIND Of Story Is It?
Elements of Act Two, Part 1
Plants and Payoffs
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (part 1)
What's the PLAN?
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (Part 3)
Elements of Act II, Part 2
The Lover Makes A Stand (romantic comedy structure
Elements of Act Three (part 1)
What Makes A Great Climax? (Elements of Act III, part 2)
Elements of Act III, part 2: Elevate Your Ending
What KIND of story is it? (and other notes about Inception)
More Rewriting: The Subplot Pass
Rewriting: Pay Attention To Sequences!
“Rewriting: Stuck? Make a List” concept home.
Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
now available on Kindle and for PC and Mac.