Monday, July 26, 2010

What KIND of movie is it? and other notes about INCEPTION

Now this will be a quick post, but I saw INCEPTION last night and wanted to make a couple of comments – without discussing in-depth until more people have seen it.

The movie is a great one to see not just because anything Christopher Nolan does is worth seeing, but also because it illustrates how useful it is to watch movies and read books with story structures specific to what you’re writing yourself. There are two things especially I wanted to suggest you guys keep in mind when you see it.

First of all – the movie is about the nature of dreams, sure, but while you’re watching it, ask yourself – “What KIND of story is it? (See here if you don't know what I'm talking about). It’s a very specific sub-genre that Nolan uses to tell this story, and all the conventions of that genre are used and laid out very -conventionally. Instead of giving you the answer, though, I think I’ll let you see it and tell me.

Also, the movie is interesting structurally because it uses a convention we haven’t talked about yet – a Point Of View character. Even though DiCaprio is the protagonist, we maintain a certain distance from him because he is so unreliable. So there is also a character who carries the emotional investment of the audience – a character who observes DiCaprio, worries about his mental state, and steps in at a crucial moment with a plan of her own. Ooops, there, I gave it away, but it’s not really a spoiler – I just wanted to mention that Ellen Page is serving as the point of view character, and you can see how that works. (Actually I think the Ellen Page character is a very weak character, and it’s a weak performance, but the presence of that character as written still works to build suspense about DiCaprio as a dangerous character, unsuited to do the job he’s supposed to be doing.).

Another good example of a point of view character is the Linda Hunt character, Mel Gibson's little person guide, in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY.

This is a storytelling trick used when you want to build in a whole other layer to your protagonist, and observe her or him as a character instead of simply being inside the character as a vehicle for your experience of the story. Often this character will actually BE the protagonist, the one with the biggest emotional arc.

Also, this is a great movie to watch for the outlining of the PLAN.

And oh, all right - what class MYTHS do you see working in this one? (One too easy for words, but not ALL on the nose...)

I’ll develop this into a bigger discussion some time, but can you think of other examples of a Point Of View character?

And yes, I want to hear what KIND of story you think INCEPTION is!

- Alex

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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)

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Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
now available on Kindle and for PC and Mac.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Makes A Great Climax? (Elements of Act 3)

(Come on, admit it, one of the great things about being writers is that we get paid for them.)

One of the perks of this being the 30th anniversary of the release of JAWS is that the doc on the filming of the movie, “The Making of Jaws”, has been running on cable. But if you missed it, you can get it on the new and some old DVD editions of the film.

I swear, DVD bonus features are the best thing that EVER happened for writers and film students. No one needs film school anymore – just watch the commentaries on DVDs. (That’s something you’re not going to be able to experience the same way when everything goes to Internet downloads– could be a big problem, there…)

Peter Benchley, the author and co-screenwriter, was talking about the ending of the film. He said that from the beginning of production Spielberg had been ragging on him about the ending – he said it was too much of a downer. For one thing, the visual wasn’t right – if you’ll recall the book, once Sheriff Brody has killed the shark (NOT by blowing it up), the creature spirals slowly down to the bottom of the sea.

Spielberg found that emotionally unsatisfying. He wanted something bigger, something exciting, something that would have audiences on their feet and cheering. He proposed the oxygen tank – that Brody would first shove a tank of compressed air into the shark’s mouth, and then fire at it until he hit the tank and the shark went up in a gigantic explosion. Benchley argued that it was completely absurd – no one would ever believe that could happen. Spielberg countered that he had taken the audience on the journey all this time – we were with the characters every step of the way. The audience would trust him if he did it right.

And it is a wildly implausible scene, but you go with it. That shark has just eaten Quint, whom we have implausibly come to love (through the male bonding and then that incredible revelation of his experience being one of the crew of the wrecked submarine that were eaten one by one by sharks). And when Brody, clinging to the mast of the almost entirely submerged boat – aims one last time and hits that shark, and it explodes in water, flesh and blood – it is an AMAZING catharsis.

Topped only by the sudden surfacing of the beloved Richard Dreyfuss character, who has, after all, survived. (in the book he died – but was far less of a good guy.) The effect is pure elation.

Spielberg paid that movie off with an emotional exhilaration rarely experienced in a story. Those characters EARNED that ending, and the audience did, too, for surviving the whole brutal experience with them. Brilliant filmmaker that he is, Spielberg understood that. The emotion had to be there, or he would have failed his audience.

This is a good lesson, I think: above all, in an ending, the reader/audience has to CARE. A good ending has an emotional payoff, and it has to be proportionate to what the character AND the reader/audience has experienced.


IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is another terrific example of emotional exhilaration in the end. Once George Bailey has seen what would have happened to his little town if he had never been born, and he decides he wants to live and realizes he IS alive again, the pleasures just keep coming and coming and coming. It is as much a relief for us as for George, to see him running through town, seeing all his old friends and familiar places restored. And then to see the whole town gathering at his house to help him, one character after another appearing to lend money, Violet deciding to stay in town, his old friend wiring him a promise of as much money as he needs – the whole thing makes the audience glad to be alive, too. They feel, as George does, that the little things you do every day DO count.

So underneath everything you’re struggling to pull together in an ending, remember to step back and identify what you want your reader or audience to FEEL.

I just finished the thriller SKIN, by my great favorite Mo Hayder, and she pulls off an emotionally devastating - AND uplifting - ending in that one, completely out of nowhere, and it's all about a decision one of the detectives makes. You want so badly for him and another detective to find love together, and then the male detective sees something that will destroy the other detective's entire life - and by implication, his (because he will never recover from what he will have to do to her). It's a very internal and spiritual decision he has to make, and a minor (but unforgettable) character comes in like the voice of God to suggest that he have faith and wait. It completely twisted me, and I was so grateful for the redemption. Wonderful way to set up the next book in the series, as well, which is something you people who are writing series need to keep in mind. We have to want to read the next book!

Another important component in an ending is a sense of inevitability – that it was always going to come down to this. Sheriff Brody does everything he can possibly do to avoid being on the water with that shark. He’s afraid of the water, he’s a city-bred cop, he’s an outsider in the town – he’s the least likely person to be able to deal with this gigantic creature of the sea. He enlists not one but two vastly different “experts from afar”, the oceanographer Hooper and the crusty sea captain Quint, to handle it for him. But deep down we know from the start, almost BECAUSE of his fear and his unsuitability for the task, that in the final battle it will be Sheriff Brody, alone, mano a mano with that shark. And he kills it with his own particular skill set – he’s a cop, and one thing he knows is guns. It’s unlikely as hell, but we buy it, because in crisis we all resort to what we know.

And it’s always a huge emotional payoff when a reluctant hero steps up to the plate.

It may seem completely obvious to say so, but no matter how many allies accompany the hero/ine into the final battle, the ultimate confrontation is almost always between the hero/ine and the main antagonist, alone. By all means let the allies have their own personal battles and resolutions within battle – that can really build the suspense and excitement of a climactic sequence. But don’t take that final victory out of the hands of your hero/ine or the story will fall flat.

Also, there is very often a moment when the hero/ine will realize that s/he and the antagonist are mirror images of each other. And/or the antagonist may provide a revelation at the moment of confrontation that nearly destroys the hero/ine… yet ultimately makes him or her stronger. (Think “I am your father” in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK)

The battle is also a chance to pay off all your setups and plants. Very often you will have set up a weakness for your hero/ine. That weakness that has caused him or her to fail repeatedly in previous tests, and in the battle he hero/ine’s great weakness will be tested.

PLACE is a hugely important element of an ending. Great stories usually, if not almost always, end in a location that has thematic and symbolic meaning. Here, once again, creating a visual and thematic image system for your story will serve you well, as will thinking in terms of SETPIECES (as we’ve talked about before) Obviously the climax should be the biggest setpiece sequence of all. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice must go down into the labyrinth to battle the monster and save the captured princess. In JAWS, the Sheriff must confront the shark on his own and at sea (and on a sinking boat!). In THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dorothy confronts the witch in her own castle. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indy must infiltrate the Nazi bunker. In PSYCHO, the hero confronts Tony Perkins in his basement – with the corpse of “Mother” looking on. (Basements are a very popular setting for thriller climaxes… that labyrinth effect, and the fact that “basement issues” are our worst fears and weaknesses).

And yes, there’s a pattern, here - the hero/ine very often has to battle the villain/opponent on the villain's own turf.

A great, emotionally effective technique within battle is to have the hero/ine lose the battle to win the war. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN did this beautifully in the final obstacle course scene, where the arrogant trainee Zack Mayo, who has always been out only for himself, sacrifices his own chance to graduate first in his class to help a classmate over the wall and complete the course, thus overcoming his own flaw of selfishness and demonstrating himself to be true officer material.

Another technique to build a bigger, more satisfying climax is is to have the allies get THEIR desires, too – as in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

And a particularly effective emotional technique is to have the antagonist ma have a character change in the end of the story. KRAMER VS. KRAMER did this exceptionally well, with the mother seeing that her husband has become a great father and deciding to allow him custody of their son, even though the courts have granted custody to her. It’s a far greater win than if the father had simply beaten her. Everyone has changed for the better.

Because CHANGE may just be the most effective and emotionally satisfying ending of all. Nothing beats having both Rick and Captain Renault rise above their cynical and selfish instincts and go off together to fight for a greater good. So bringing it back to the beginning – one of the most important things you can design in setting up your protagonist is where s/he starts in the beginning, and how much s/he has changed in the end.

I bet you all can guess the question for today! What are your favorite endings of screen and page, and what makes them great?

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-----------------------------------------------

Online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop:

I am teaching an online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop from July 15-30. These online workshops are a fantastic deal, just $20 for two weeks, and here's where you can get one-on-one feedback on these techniques as they apply to your own story. All genres welcome!

Register here.

----------------------------------------------------------

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)

----------------------------------------------------------

Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
now available on Kindle and for PC and Mac.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Elements of Act Three (Part 1)



So why is this so hard?

The third act so often falls apart or disappoints, don’t you think? We all seem to be somewhat afraid of it – that is, unless it’s all there in our heads to begin with and we can just – “speed we to our climax”, as Shakespeare said.

But even then, a third act is a lot of pressure. So maybe I’ll just make it easier on myself and say that this is going to be just the start of a SERIES of discussions on the third act. (There, I feel better already.)

As a reminder – the third act is generally the final twenty to thirty minutes in a film, or the last seventy to 100 pages in a four-hundred page novel. The final quarter.

To study how to craft a great third act, you have to look specifically at the endings that work for YOU. (Back to “The Master List”. Have you made yours yet?).

But let me be entirely general for a second, and give you the bottom line:

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist.



Sometimes that’s all there is to it – one final battle between the protagonist and antagonist. In which case some good revelatory twists are probably required to break up all that fighting.

By the end of the second act, pretty much everything has been set up that we need to know – particularly WHO the antagonist is, which sometimes we haven’t known, or have been wrong about, until that is revealed at the second act climax. Of course, sometimes, or maybe often, there is one final reveal about the antagonist that is saved till the very end or nearly the end – as in THE USUAL SUSPECTS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and PSYCHO, and a great book I just finished, Sarah Waters' THE LITTLE STRANGER.

We also very often have gotten a sobering or terrifying glimpse of the ultimate nature of that antagonist – a great example of that kind of “nature of the opponent” scene is in CHINATOWN, in that scene in which Jake is slapping Evelyn around and he learns about her father.

There’s a location aspect to the third act – the final battle will often take place in a completely different setting than the rest of the film or novel. In fact half of the third act can be, and often is, just GETTING to the site of the final showdown. One of the most memorable examples of this in movie history is the “storming the castle” scene in THE WIZARD OF OZ, where, led by an escaped Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion scale the cliff, scope out the vast armies of the witch (“Yo Eee O”) and tussle with three stragglers to steal their uniforms and march in through the drawbridge of the castle with the rest of the army. A sequence like this, and the similar ones in STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, can have a lot of the elements we discussed about the first half of the second act: a Plan, Assembling the Team, Assembling Tools and disguises, Training or Rehearsal.

And of course speed is often a factor – there’s a Ticking Clock, so our hero/ine has to race to get there in time to – save the innocent victim from the killer, save his or her kidnapped child from the kidnapper, stop the loved one from getting on that plane to Bermuda…

NO. DO NOT WRITE THAT LAST ONE.

Most clichéd story ending EVER. Throw in the hero/ine getting stuck in a cab in Manhattan rush hour traffic and you really are risking audiences vomiting in the aisles, or readers, beside their chairs. It almost destroyed my pleasure in one of the best movies of the last few years, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE - totally took me out of what had been up until that moment a perfect film. Luckily the filmmakers got back control, but we less brilliant can't afford to take that kind of risk. If you ask me.

Now, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY does that race to get to the final scene, but makes it meaningful. Harry is out wandering the streets of Manhattan by himself on New Year's Eve, after Sally has Made Her Stand and refused to be his "friend with benefits" date. Harry is talking to himself, trying to convince himself that alone on New Year's Eve is just fine with him, when he is suddenly hit by the revelation that he is utterly in love with Sally. And he starts to run through Manhattan to get to the party by the stroke of midnight - he has to run, you see, because there's not a cab to be had in Manhattan on New Year's Eve - so he can kiss Sally in the first moment of the New Year.

Now that's romantic, and we buy it. We know the relationship won't end if the doesn't get there, but it's symbolic, and we feel why it's important. New Year's Eve only comes once a year, it's a mythically powerful time, and - going out on a limb, here - even the most cynical of us would like to believe in the magic of that New Year's Eve kiss.

Plus the stroke of midnight kiss has been cleverly PLANTED in an earlier scene, at last year's New Year's Eve party, when Harry and Sally are dancing and have their first moment of overwhelming chemistry and are too freaked out by it to do anything more than peck each other on the cheek.

AND - the whole set up and race allows Harry to have that wonderful Declaration line: "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right now."

(For future reference, guys, a line like that makes up for a LOT of bullshit. Just saying. Use your words.)

The whole sequence is a great example of how to elevate a cliche.

But since we're talking about cliches, when you think about it, the first two examples I gave:

Our hero/ine has to race to get someplace in time to –

1 - save the innocent victim from the killer
2 - save his or her kidnapped child from the kidnapper

- are equally clichéd. Sometimes there’s a fine line between clichéd and archetypal. You have to find how to elevate – or deepen – the clichéd to something archetypal.

For example, one of the most common third act structural patterns involves infiltrating the antagonist’s hideout, or castle, or lair, and confronting the antagonist on his or her own turf. Think of THE WIZARD OF OZ, STAR WARS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – the witch’s castle, the Imperial Starship, Buffalo Bill’s house.

Notice that this pattern naturally divides itself into two separate and self-contained sequences:

1. Getting in

and

2. The confrontation itself.

Also putting the final showdown on the villain’s turf means the villain has home-court advantage. The hero/ine has the extra burden of being a fish out of water on unfamiliar ground (mixing a metaphor to make it painfully clear).

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a perfect example of elevating the cliché into archetype. It takes place in the basement, as in PSYCHO, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Therapists talk about “basement issues” – which are your worst fears and traumas from childhood – the stuff no one wants to look at, but which we have to look at, and clean out, to be whole.

But Thomas Harris, in the book, and the filmmakers, bringing it to life in the movie, create a basement that is so rich in horrific and revelatory and mythic (really fairy tale) imagery that we never feel that we’ve seen that scene before. In fact I see new resonances in the set design every time I watch that film… like Gumb having a wall of news clippings just exactly like the one in Crawford’s office. That’s a technique that Harris uses that can elevate the clichéd to the archetypal: LAYERING meaning.

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET takes that clichéd spooky basement scene and gives it a whole new level, literally: the heroine is dreaming that she is following a sound down into the basement and then there’s a door that leads to ANOTHER basement under the basement. And if you think bad things happen in the basement, what’s going to happen in a sub-basement?

To switch genres completely for a moment, an archetypal final setting for a romantic comedy is an actual wedding. We’ve seen this scene so often you’d think there’s nothing new you can do with it. But of course a story about love and relationships is likely to end at a wedding.

So again, make your list and look at what great romantic comedies have done to elevate the cliché.



One of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, uses a classic technique to keep that wedding sequence sparkling: every single one of that large ensemble of characters has her or his own wickedly delightful resolution. Everyone has their moment to shine, and insanely precocious little sister Dinah pretty nearly steals the show (even from Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant!!) with her last line: “I did it. I did it ALL.”

(This is a good lesson for any ensemble story, no matter what genre – all the characters should constantly be competing for the spotlight, just in any good theater troupe. Make your characters divas and scene stealers and let them top each other.)

Now, you see a completely different kind of final battle in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This is not the classic, “hero confronts villain on villain’s home turf” third act. In fact, Potter is nowhere around in the final confrontation, is he? There’s no showdown, even though we desperately want one.

But the point of that story is that George Bailey has been fighting Potter all along. There is no big glorious heroic showdown to be had, here – because it’s all the little grueling day to day, crazymaking battles that George has had with Potter all his life that have made the difference. And the genius of that film is that it shows in vivid and disturbing detail what would have happened if George had NOT had that whole lifetime of battles, against Potter and for the town. So in the end George makes the choice to live to fight another day, and is rewarded with the joy of seeing his town restored.

This is the best example I know of, ever, of a final battle that is thematic – and yet the impact is emotional and visceral – it’s not an intellectual treatise – you LIVE that ending along with George, but also come away with the sense of what true heroism is.

And so again – in case you haven’t gotten the message yet! – when you sit down to craft your own third act, try looking at the great third acts of movies and books that are similar to your own story, and see what those authors and filmmakers did to bring out the thematic depth AND emotional impact of their stories.

If there's anyone out there who's not on vacation - what are some of your favorite third acts? What makes it real for you - the location, the thematic elements, the battle itself?

More throughout the week.

- Alex

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-----------------------------------------------

Online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop:

I am teaching an online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop from July 15-30. These online workshops are a fantastic deal, just $20 for two weeks, and here's where you can get one-on-one feedback on these techniques as they apply to your own story. All genres welcome!

Register here.

----------------------------------------------------------

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


----------------------------------------------------------

Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
now available on Kindle and for PC and Mac.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Lover Makes A Stand (romantic comedy structure)

For some reason it never occurs to me to write short posts on a specific topic or story example, but I don’t know why not. There’s always stuff I leave out of the long ones that comes to me later and I never get around to because I don’t know where to put it.

But it’s my blog, isn’t it? There’s no post length police. That I know of.

So let’s try it.

In the last post, we were talking about common elements in Act II:2, and there’s something I forgot to mention.

I have been watching more romantic comedies for examples to use here, since I know a lot of you people write in the romance genre. And I’ve noticed that there’s a very typical scene, usually in the very last part of Act II:2, but sometimes in Act III, that I’ll call “The Lover Makes a Stand” (Takes a stand? Makes a stand? Looking it up. Okay, it’s “makes a stand.”).

Well, but before I talk about that scene, I guess I’m going to have to backtrack and explain what I mean by “the Lover”. Maybe this isn’t going to be such a short post.

There’s a saying I’m sure you’ve heard that in a relationship there is always a lover and a loved one. Whether that’s actually true in life, I’m not sure I want to know; one would hope these things would be somewhat equal. But I know this Lover/Loved One dymanic tends to be the case in romantic comedy (the romance readers/writers will have to tell me if it’s the case in romance fiction, I’d love to know your thoughts.). Either way, it’s a useful model for writing romance.

In most stories, for most of the story, there’s an imbalance between the hero and heroine, or hero/hero, or heroine/heroine… the two lovers, whatever gender and orientation they may be. (I’m not going to get into the subgenre of ménages today, sorry.)

At first what this looks like is that there’s a Pursuer and a Pursued - but the pursuer might not be the one who loves most deeply. The pursuit might be ego-based, or to win a bet, or obviously, just sexual conquest - any number of things.

Now, the two characters might equally hate each other at first: as in WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

But pretty quickly in most romantic comedies, one of the characters becomes more interested in the other, and becomes the pursuer.

Note that the protagonist can be either the pursuer or the pursued. In NOTTING HILL, Hugh Grant is the pursuer (in that diffident English way, of course...). In IT’S COMPLICATED, Meryl Streep is the pursued.

In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, Harry is the pursuer. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, Tom Hanks is the pursuer. In PHILADEPHIA STORY, Katharine Hepburn is the pursued. (arguably in these three films there is no true protagonist; the hero/heroine characters are about as equal as characters ever get in a story)

Hmm, do we see a pattern here? Male pursues, female is pursued. Maybe biology really IS destiny. No, wait - in BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, Bridget is the pursuer. In BRINGING UP BABY, Katharine Hepburn is the pursuer (but not the protagonist). And I’m sure you can think of a lot of other examples.)

But the pursuer is not the same as the Lover, necessarily. In NOTTING HILL, Hugh is both the pursuer and the lover (he is definitely the one who feels most deeply in the tentative dance going on between him and Julia Roberts). In IT’S COMPLICATED, Alec Baldwin is very much the pursuer, Meryl Streep is the pursued, and Steve Martin is the lover (also a pursuer, but overwhelmed by Alec Baldwin’s intense pursuit. But clearly in this trio, Steve Martin is most clear about who and what he wants.).

In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, Harry is the pursuer, but not the lover. At a certain point, it’s Sally who realizes that she wants more than friendship. She becomes the lover.

In PHILADELPHIA STORY, Cary Grant is the pursuer and also the lover, but interestingly, he’s coming from much more of a position of strength than the lover usually comes from; from the beginning, he has no intention of compromising.

All right, I’m realizing I could do about three posts in a row on these dynamics, and I haven’t even gotten to the short observation I started out wanting to make. But is what I’m saying above making sense? Pursued and pursuer, lover and loved one, different combinations of and variations on those dynamics?

Now we come to the Lover Makes a Stand scene. As I said, this seems almost always to come in the very last part of Act II:2, but sometimes in Act III. Basically, it’s the crux of Sequence Six or Sequence Seven.

And in this scene the Lover, or whoever has become the Lover by this point, the one who loves most deeply, basically says to the Loved One - “I’m not going to take your bullshit any more. Make up your mind. Either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.”

Steve Martin tells Meryl Streep that she’s not done with Alec yet, and he doesn’t want to see her while she’s still emotionally involved with him. Hugh Grant tells Julia Roberts in the bookstore that between her “vicious temper” and his far more inexperienced heart, he doesn’t think he would recover from being discarded again, and turns down her offer to date. Sally refuses Harry’s offer to go to the New Year’s party as a friendly date because “I’m not your consolation prize, Harry.”

Cary Grant – well, in PHILADELPHIA STORY Cary makes his stand at the very beginning, in action, not words. The whole movie is about him creating a situation that will force Katharine Hepburn to look at herself clearly and choose what and whom she really wants. Cary never begs. He manipulates, then stands back and watches until she falls, and in falling becomes the whole woman he always knew she could be, but he will not accept less than.

(And that is the sort of thing that makes a person Cary Grant, btw...)

In Eat Pray Love, Javier Bardem (who is the Lover and the Pursuer in the "Love" portion of the movie) Makes A Stand on the beach, with boat packed. And of course, Julia doesn't get on the boat. Yet.

In all of the above scenes, the Lover’s Stand forces the Loved One to step up and commit just as deeply as the Lover is committed. But it seems that very, very, very often, it’s one character, the Lover, who has to force the issue.

It’s such a common scene, I’m going to have to stick it in my Story Elements Checklist, right around Sequence 6 or Sequence 7.

Now, sometimes there’s a different scene at this juncture, which I will call The Declaration. A very good example is in BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, when Bridget races to the party to tell Colin Firth she loves him, only to find that his parents have thrown the party to announce his engagement and departure for America. Then she makes her Declaration – a mangled sort of toast that Colin understands is her desperate confession of love. It’s not the same as a Make a Stand scene because it’s not saying, “I’ve had it, I’m walking.” But it does put the cards on the table so the Loved One will have to make a decision, one way or another.

(Okay, so maybe I don’t write short posts because as they say - the less time I have, the longer I write. )

Anyway, what do you think, all you romance writers out there who are far more qualified to write this post than I am? Am I on to something, here?

Any examples of Pursuer/Pursued, Lover/Loved One? Or examples of The Lover Makes A Stand scenes or Declaration scenes for us?

- Alex

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Online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop:

I am teaching an online Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshop from July 15-30. These online workshops are a fantastic deal, just $20 for two weeks, and here's where you can get one-on-one feedback on these techniques as they apply to your own story. All genres welcome!

Register here.


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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.



Amazon US

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Amaxon DE

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If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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