Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Back to the Future- Complete story weave part1

I'd now like to show you several analyses of movies to show how the dragon theory applies. From there, we can see how there are interesting structural variations to fit different types of movies. And it also gives us a new taxonomy of movies in addition to genres. A taxonomy is a type of science concerned with classification. This was an unexpected insight after looking at many films through the dragon lens.

Today we're going to start with, one of my favorite films, Back to the Future. I already analyzed this film, in terms of how it was edited, for my book, Directing the Story. Here I want to attempt a full analysis of the story weave of the the film's dragon. This is the first time I've tried analyzing a complete story-weave. Previously, I've only looked at the broad strokes of films, for example the School of Rock example.

Why do a complete story weave? I hope to show that by analyzing the complete story-weave it will reveal how the film is literally woven together. In this way, you can, by virtue of the visual dragon structure see how all the pieces literally fit together to make a tapestry. If this works the implications are very powerful as an analysis tool to help you make sure you film is completely woven together in a way that can satisfy your audience.

But first a digression. All story theory's are by nature an abstraction of the essence of a story. I believe that the trick is to find the right degree of abstraction that fulfills two criteria. First, it must be abstract enough to allow for it to encompass many types of films. In other words, there must be some degree of open ended-ness. Secondly, it must be specific enough to guide you through the maze of screenwriting or novel writing. In my experience most film theories err on the side of being too abstract. In other words, they leave me lost in the maze. It is my hope that the dragon approach will allow you to follow the path of the dragon through the maze without being lost. When you see the tapestry, it's like a revelation.

Now many writers have written stories that fit the dragon gestalt without knowing anything about the dragon. They've used their own methods or compilations of other theories. However, I think that any theory that says it fits "every story ever told", as does the hero's journey, must by nature be too abstract to be useful or just not true. As Kurt Vonnegut showed in his mapping the ups and downs of the character's fortune. Kafka's story the Metamorphosis does not follow the hero's journey. However, Kafka shows a way to map it, nonetheless. So, according to Vonnegut, it appears Campbell was wrong.

What I propose with the dragon approach is that the dragon is an emergent shape that emerged when I analyzed movies based upon mapping the audience's hopes and fears in a way that provides an emotionally satisfying experience and a learning experience. This just also happens to be the shape of many successful stories and movies. I don't care if it fits "every story ever told". Those aren't stories I wish to tell. I believe and hope to show that the dragon gestalt has just the right degree of abstraction to be useful as a guide, and yet still opened ended enough to allow for a wide range of stories to be told that all feel unique.

So let's go back to the future. What do I mean by story-weave? I literally mean how the story is woven together. We're going to track the theme and sub-themes, actions, discoveries, setups, payoffs, conflicts, dramatic ironies, expectancies, twists, surprises, hierarchy of narrative questions, lessons, problems, wrong solutions, consequences, right solutions, choices, plans, ticking clocks (Yes, multiple clocks), symbolic deaths, rebirths and opposites traveled to reach new worlds never imagined. And we're going to do it visually.

We'll start with the basic four components.
1. Introduce a world of problems.
2. Attempt wrong solutions.
3. Suffer the consequences.
4. Do the right thing.

Here is the 4 part chart again for reference. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

One reviewer of Iggy's Incredibly Easy Way to Write a Story described this very eloquently in his review.

"Glebas' method reminds me of a fine gesture drawing. Like a gesture it articulates the feeling, structure and story of the pose in a quick, clear way without the artifice of a bunch of extra squiggly lines. In fact, the "Visual" portion of the book that depicts the structure is conveyed literally like a gesture drawing."

I wish to express my appreciation for everyone who has written reviews of my books. Thank you.


Back to the Future

1. The problem is introduced in the opening Rube Goldberg-type montage opening of the film. A TV radio announcer reports news of the theft of Plutonium. We meet Marty, Doc's friend. We also learn that Doc has created a time machine.

2. Already actions have consequences, Doc's theft of Plutonium in exchange for giving a bomb to terrorists has backfired when they realize he gave them a fake bomb. This triggers the story into motion. During the demonstration of the time machine, Delorean car, the terrorists return attempting to kill Doc. Doc is shot and Marty escapes in the Delorean and into the past! He "crosses the threshold" to the past. (Who was guarding the threshold?)

Marty now does things the wrong way. He immediately gets involved with his future mother and in-laws potentially changing the course of history.

3. Marty must now suffer the consequences. He's already facing symbolic death as his siblings start disappearing from existence. This is signified in a beautifully visual way by them literally dissolving out of the photo of Marty and his siblings. He's next if he doesn't make things right.

4. Marty must now make everything right. He has to get his future father on track with his future mother so they'll kiss and history will be righted, and he must face further obstacles to warn Doc and return to the future.

Back to the Future fits the dragon shape. But it's interesting, first, because the problem of the story is also because of a character taking a wrong path. The Doc steals Plutonium. This has dangerous consequences. It also sets the story in motion once all the introductions are made. Secondly, Marty's taking the wrong path seems to happen accidentally. He just happens to be there with the Doc when the terrorists come. He just happens to try to escape by driving away in a Delorean, which also happens to be a time machine. He just happens to time travel to 1955. It's not until Marty follows his future father, George, and tries to save his life does he do the wrong thing and change the fabric of time. It is now Marty rather than George who gets hit by the father of  Marty's future mother, Lorraine. She now falls for him instead of George. But we all know what Freud say about accidents.

Another thing I don't care for in certain film theories is when they say something must happen on page x. Once again, if the theory is abstract enough, then yes, something exciting can happen on page x. Once these four parts are mapped unto the dragon we can see that the dragon guide has some flexibility in it's elastic use of time. When I demonstrate the dragon for 127 hours you'll see something very interesting about the elasticity of time. Here is the chart again showing the elasticity of time and the parts.

P.S. While researching the map, I came across some interesting charts mapping the time jumping from Back to the Futures 1, 2, and 3.

To see original page: Back to the Future charts.

Next time we'll start weaving. Till then, tell each other good stories...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Storytelling Mad Libs style

CONGRATS TO THE CONTEST WINNERS! Thank you to all who participated. The signed books are going out this weekend.

It was really great hearing from my readers. One told me he had just graduated and was going through a hard time looking for work. He told me reading my blog kept him excited about his passion for storytelling. This made my day.

I realized that he was in the chaos phase. You go to school, study hard and then you graduate. You're on top of the world. But then the structure, that school provided for your entire life, is gone. No job yet and the goal proves to be empty. I painted houses the year I graduated.

It feels like symbolic death. Remember, this key point, it's a symbolic death. You're not dying and new opportunities will emerge in your life that you could have never dreamed of. But you can't sit around waiting for them. Continue to hone your craft. Continue to look for work and take any work that will help you towards your goal. (Even if it doesn't see related at the time.) In the future, I may post some blogs about the job seeking process. 

I'm writing this blog to talk about a number of things, but also to write my book on my Dragon theory of story. I still don't have a great name for it yet. Maybe another contest could be in the works. 

So far I've presented the writing theories that don't work for me. I think Aristotle led everyone astray by mapping the audience's involvement during the time of the story. That would be great if he told you how to get them that involved, but unfortunately he did not. However, everyone still follows this old greek pied piper.

After that I wrote and drew my new approach of mapping the ups and downs of the character and the hopes and fears of the audience. This is where I differed from Kurt Vonnegut who also mapped the ups and downs of the character's fortunes. This is an important distinction between the character and the audience, which we'll see when I show structural variations of the dragon. This culminated with the School of Rock example.
I'm now preparing a new thrust for this next chapter where I'll examine more examples so I can start showing structural variations. I have to watch and analyze some films for this.

In the meantime for your reading pleasure...

I thought it would be fun to combine a Mad Lib with the cliches of storytelling to make Mad lib to make a story the dragon way. (Mad Lib structure with no dragon chart.)

In the 1950s, Roger Price and Leonard Stern created the Mad Libs book series which is still going strong today. They're played with two people. Basically, a mad lib is a short story. Words are cut out of the story. One then asks the other to fill in the blank word with a word with the same part of speech as the word in the original story. So if it was a noun, you ask for a noun. An adjective you replace with an adjective. Now the person answering has no idea of what the story it. The fun comes when you read  the new story with the random additions. They're lots of fun and I have great memories of using them on long car trips.

It's an example. It was a dark (adjective) and stormy night (noun).
The result might be- It was a green and stormy breakfast.

Story cliches are those expressions you're all familiar with such as, Once upon a time, meanwhile, or little did he know.

Let's mix the two up and see what we get. Try it out with a friend and if you write a blockbuster, let me know. NOTE: Letters and numbers refer to parts that repeat unchanged or modified during the story. For example the goal A1 is replaced later by A2.

The tale of the Dragon in Mad Libs style.

Once upon a time, in _________ (place) there lived ________ ( main character).

One day their world turned upside down when _________( problem X1).

They wanted to fix this and gain ___________(goal A1).

But they didn’t know how to fix it and they were scared, so they tried    _________(wrong approach Z).

Along the way they found a message in a bottle which read __________ (Lesson C). But they didn’t bother to read it.

But meanwhile, the evil ___________ (Bad guy K) planned an obstacle course for (main character).

Our character faced terrible ____________(Obstacles) along their journey.

But they persevered and won ____________( part of the goal A 1/2.) 

They were on top of the world. But slowly things turned as they realized ________ (Who did they hurt along the way?) 

Suddenly, their world started to fall apart because of them doing it the wrong way. They had to face ____________ (Consequence of their own actions Z).

They felt like they died. All was black and ___  _______ (adjective + new problem X2).

But then unbelievably ____________ ( message) the message in the bottle returned.

This time, because they took the journey, the journey had changed them by ________ (change). They were now ready for the lesson  ____________ ( Lesson C.) 

As if the sun rose filling them with light, this lesson changed everything and they could see _____________( new better goal) with perfect clarity. They now knew what they had to do.

They faced bigger more frightening ____________(More obstacles from K).

Finally they were faced with an impossible choice ___________(Double bind choice)

Sacrificing __________ ( Something about themself ), they chose correctly proving they learned ____________ (The Lesson C.)

There was no stopping them now. They won ___________ ( new goal, revised A2) for everyone.

They made the world a better place by ______________(Accomplishment)

The End.

See you next ______ (noun).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

100th Post Contest Celebration and big news!

Today's post is number 100! One hundred!

If you've been following the storyteller's log you may want to start at the beginning back in November 2012.
Start of the storyteller's log

For today's blog there's lots of exciting news. But first, by way of celebration...

Go to my portfolio website at: http://francisglebas.weebly.com/

Click on the button that says "contact me".


Make sure your email is listed. Write a note, a comment, or a poem, be creative or tell me you posted a review of one of my books on Amazon. Whatever... Check out some of what I've been up to for the last several decades...

I will take the first to respond,  several at random and one's that move me in some way or other, and then I will email the winner's and request their addresses. All winner's names will be anonymous unless you give permission.

I will then send the winners out a signed copy of IGGY'S INCREDIBLY EASY WAT TO WRITE A STORY and maybe include a drawing here and there. 

Iggy just got it's sixth review on Amazon! *****

The other news is about the CTN Animation Block Party in Downtown Burbank! It's like an outdoor summer animation expo! April 13th and 14th.

(Click to Enlarge)

And for my first time, I'm going to have a booth to display my books and meet all you guys. Stop by and say hi and pick up a signed Dragon Template.


Friday, March 8, 2013

A quick post on pacing: storyteller's log

A quick post today on the shape of the dragon related to pacing. As we commented earlier, Aristotle's mountain graph works well to help shape the pace of a movie. It doesn't help to discover what to put in your movie.

The dragon spine has ups and downs.

The pace is suggested by the steepness of the slope. Act one starts out with fairly slow pace. This is because we're introducing the audience into the world of the story and the problem. They need time to get oriented and get familiar with the characters and decide who we like and don't.

Act two starts to have a steep slope so it moves quicker. But its also traveling more ground because the obstacles are big and push the story back and forth between hope and fear. 

At the top it levels off and slows down. They're on top of the world. Just when the character believes that, they suffer the consequences and come crashing down fairly quickly. They try some things to slow their descent but it's like a cartoon character seeing that they've walked off the edge of a cliff and now gravity kicks in. 

This image by Chuck Jones and Warner Brothers says it perfectly. The character must suffer the consequences of their actions. It's already too late by the time they recognize that they've walked off the cliff and have to face the law of gravity. (There is one exception, it doesn't happen to Bugs Bunny because he never studied "law".) I'm a big fan of the Warner Brothers Looney tunes. Is it Looney tunes or toons? At one job, I had to animate some Coyote actions for a demo. Chuck Jones saw it and commented he liked my animation. I was high for weeks after that.

The symbolic death also must move quickly during a story because externally it's boring. How long do you want to look at someone depressed. In real live this psychological event feels like it will last forever. The realization that you're not dying, but just your limited views of reality are inadequate, helps you become willing to change and grow and move into the next phase.

Finally, doing the right thing, and conquering evil, takes place fairly quickly because it's often where most of the action is in the movie so it feels fast and exciting. There are two moments of slowness: first is the calm before the storm, anticipating what's to come, and second, the final decision needs to be a moment that is suspended in time to allow the audience so soak in the full impact.

I do not believe that things in a screenplay need to happen on specific pages. These can be very useful guides and there are a few that seem invariant. Something significant has to happen at the beginning on page 1 and the story quest has to begin at about the first third, and the character's lowest moment should happen at then end of act two. Looking at it this way, as percentages rather than page numbers, also allows for variations in script length from 80 for animation to 120 pages for live action. I've been using the dragon to write 32 page children's books. I can't wait to page thirty to start the journey.

I just realized the pun in the first sentence. Just a "quick" post on analysis of pacing. More to come... (Story analysis not puns.)

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...