Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Exploring the story shape: dragons, dinosaurs, and Argo

So, stories have the shape of a dragon. Who would have thought? Maybe that's where dragons came from in the first place! Or am I just wishful thinking.

For this blog post I'd like to go over the shape in a little more detail. I've been amazed at how much insight this shape has yielded once I found it. Today we'll start by looking at the spikes.

The spikes are why it had to be a dragon. It could have been a Stegosaurus but I like the mystical and mythical quality of dragons better. And on closer inspection Stegosauruses have big sharp spikes on their tails. What does this mean in terms of story story structure? Let's look at the dragon first and well come back to the extinct stegosaurus.

Dragon spikes

If we look at the dragon's back we see a series of spikes. What are these? We're mapping the hopes and fears of the audience and our character. So the spikes represent the audience going from fear to hope and back again. A short story might have 3 of these spikes, during the doing it wrong section, which could represent scenes. A complex story might have many more. The whole dragon's spine is covered with them. Is this the infamous SPINE OF THE STORY???? Have you ever seen the spine of your story before?

The Stegosaurus has sharp spikes on it's tail- the start of the story. These spikes are sharper than the rest of the Stegosaurus's spikes. That would mean that Act 1 would have to have something really big and exciting to bring the audience up to hope and down to fear that quickly. The problem is that the story hasn't been set up for this yet, and secondly, this would make the rest of the story anticlimactic.

Where'd the hope go?

The overall shape of the Stegosaurus is wrong it starts to go up right away towards hope with obstacles along the way. But we haven't set up the problem yet. Then it gets worse as a story structure. It goes down at the right time but it never goes back up! The audience would be left hanging wishing for something better. We never give them more than they expected.

What about a Brontosaurus? What about that shape? The Brontosaurus shape takes us upward towards hope then a sight dip and then way up to hope! Great right? No. There are two problems with the Brontosaurus shape. There are not spikes so the story won't have ups and downs and twists and turns to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. Secondly, no one would sit through an Act 1 where nothing happens. The tail is flat.

Boring Act 1 won't take off.

The other problem with the Brontosaurus is that scientists now claim that Brontosaurus's are not a new species but rather a variant of the Apoatosaurus. Not only are Brontosaurs's extinct, but they never existed in the first place!

One could argue that a James Bond movie has Stegosaurus-like spikes in Act 1. The spikes at this point are pure action without too much emotional involvement. The spikes would have to start at the end of the tail (beginning of the story) but the spikes on a real Stegosaurus start a little further along the spine. However, another way to look the Bond series is that they are all part of a continuum. One Bond movie carries over to the next. (We haven't gone into what happens in the backstory or after the story is over yet.)

QUESTION: Do we have to "willingly suspend our disbelief "that James Bond is played by different people in the different films. I've always thought that the theory of "willing suspension of disbelief" was bogus. I've never gone into a movie theatre, got my snacks, waited for the lights to go down and the movie to start and willingly suspended my disbelief. I have also never heard anyone in the audience yell out, "Stop the projector! I haven't willingly suspended my disbelief."

 Pierce Brosnan

    Daniel Craig

     Roger Moore

 Timothy Dalton

 George Lazenby

      David Niven 

      Barry Nelson

      Sean Connery

List of Actors playing James Bond with films, dates and salaries

Metaphors We Live By- Lakoff & Johnson

According to George Lakoff, in Metaphors We Life By, metaphors have entailments. Some fit and some don't. We need to be careful with the metaphors we choose in our lives to make sure they don't unconsciously undermine us. The dragon shape is a metaphor which has very powerful explanatory power as well as explaining the emotional involvement of the audience. The thing about metaphors is that some aspects fix and act like a flash of illumination, and other aspects may not fit and are ignored. The dragon shape has many aspects that fit story structure and illuminate aspects of storytelling. Other aspects of the metaphor don't fit.

Getting back to our dragon, I actually like to use two colors. One color shows the spine very clearly as it goes up and down over time. The second color is used to show the interaction with the plot events of the story- all the smaller obstacles along the way. This helps you not confuse your plot and your story.

2 color story weave

I'm reminded of the ending Argo. Without spoiling the ending, the escape in Argo had many close calls of fear dips and back to hope.  There was one point where they piled on one more obstacle and I said to myself, "Enough! That was one too many." The result was that it momentarily took me out of the film. If the directors do their job, the audience gets sucked into the world of the film, like a dream. They don't have to willingly suspend their disbelief. The director only needs to guard the dream by creating a seamless illusion, so the audience doesn't wake up until the end. For that one moment in Argo, I woke up but then quickly went back to the dream.

We still need to go over what happens if we change the shape. More to come...

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