Sunday, May 14, 2017

What does your protagonist WANT? (Dear Evan Hansen)

                            Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Hey, long time no blog, right? How is everyone?

I know, I've been very, very silent here, due to all the craziness. I've had a triple deadline - Book 5 of the Huntress series (out in October), the pilot for the TV series, and a piece for a non-fiction anthology called "Hollywood Vs. the Author", also out in the fall. And, oh yeah, the so-called President of the United States just FIRED the head of the FBI who was heading the investigation into said so-called President's COLLUSION WITH THE RUSSIANS, as well as so much conflict of interest I have no idea why the entire country is not out lining the streets saying NO MORE OF THIS RAPACIOUS BULLSHIT.

Personally I've had a lot to say and it hasn't been about movies.

But I finally got all three projects in last week and I am exhausted with outrage over the not-so-slow-motion collapse of our democracy.

So here's a short blog, because this article caught my eye in between all the latest news of the Criminal-in-Chief:      How Ben Platt Became the Toast of Broadway - Dear Evan Hansen

(And if you're not subscribed to the NY Times, why not? Now more than ever…)

I am always saying that looking at musical theater is an excellent way to learn how to present Key Story Elements like Inner and Outer Desire, Into the Special World, the Hero/ine’s Plan, the Antagonist’s Plan, Character Arc, Gathering the Team – virtually any important story element you can name. Musical theater knows to give those key elements the attention and import they deserve. What musicals do to achieve that is put those story elements into song and production numbers. They become setpiece scenes to music. And you know how I’m always encouraging you all to SPELL THINGS OUT? Well, there no better way to spell things out than in song. The audience is so entertained they don’t know you’re spoon-feeding them the plot.

Yes, I know, you can’t put songs on the page. But - you can most certainly learn from the energy and exuberance of songs and production numbers, and find your own ways of getting that same energy and exuberance onto the page in a narrative version of production design, theme, emotion and chemistry between characters, tone, mood, revelation – everything that good songs do.

And one thing Broadway does very, very, VERY well is the DESIRE song.

It is critical for you, the author or screenwriter, to tell your reader/audience what your protagonist WANTS. Not just in Act One, but as early as possible in Act One. We must know what the main character wants so that we can want it for them. Or so that we can see how wrong the character is about what s/he wants so that we can root for her to get what s/he NEEDS instead.

Because the TWIST of almost any story comes from the protagonist NOT getting what s/he wants, but rather what s/he really NEEDS (or sometimes - getting what s/he wants in a totally unexpected way).

Let me just say part of that again. The reader/audience must know what the main character wants so that we can want it for them. This emotion is the basis of our engagement in the story.

And no art form is better than musical theater about spelling out what the protagonist wants in a way that doesn't just engage, but electrifies our emotions. Take a look at a few DESIRE SONGS in a row (that's what YouTube is for, people).

 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” (My Fair Lady), “Reflection” (Mulan) –) “I Hope I Get It" (A Chorus Line). “If I Were A Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof), “I’m The Greatest Star” (Funny Girl). 

Or just take a look at this one, "Waving Through a Window", from Dear Evan Hansen. 

I don't think I have to say anything else - that amazing explosion of DESIRE speaks for itself. But don't you want that kid to get what he wants? Don't you even long for it?

That's emotional engagement. Do you have it your story?

Think about it.  And please take three minutes to call/fax/email your representatives and save our democracy.

- Alex


A few announcements:

- Tomorrow,  May 15, is the deadline for submitting feedback for me and my producers on the Huntress TV series. Everyon who answers the questionnaire will be entered in a drawing to win a Kindle Fire or $100 Amazon gift card. The questionnaire is here.

- I have a few Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops coming next month.

     - Washington DC Romance Writers - full weekend workshop:  Washington DC Romance Writers

     - West Texas AMU Writers Academy (Plot Your Novel in a Week) -   West Texas AMU Writers Academy


                                        STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

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