Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The 3rd step Crossing the line, Storyteller's log 1-10-2013

Today, for our 3rd step in mapping story structure, we're going to cross the line. We've reached a turning point. Actually the turn happened at the bottom of the first arc that we've drawn. When we changed from a descending line to an upward reaching line.

The turning point is active and literal we're starting upwards towards HOPE. (For now we're going to ignore the little bumps of hope and fear to get a clear big picture of our structure. Later, I'll explain those when we start exploring plot.)

This is hero's journey's crossing the threshold. Our character has entered a world that's new to them, as they try to solve problems and get what they want. If you want to add threshold guardians, then go right ahead. You do want to create an many obstacles for you character as you can. But knowing that there is a transition or door between worlds is common sense. I think the key insight of the hero's journey on the topic of thresholds is that the character leaves their world of safety to a new world of the unknown. But beyond that it doesn't guide me much more.

I think we could also add a choice here. Does your character commit to going? This is also related to the hero's journey in that the hero refused the "call to adventure". They have to go don't they?

I'd like to bring a new insight about choice into the mix. The character has to go on the journey. Why? If the character doesn't go on the journey, then you don't have a story. We'll learn more about what kind of journey this is as we go.

So what kind of choice is this, if the character has to go? It's known as a forced choice. The character has to make a choice between two impossible alternatives.

"Your money or your life", is an example of a forced choice. You have to give up your money because money is worthless to your without your life. Jack Benny used this in his comedy routine. His character was known for being incredibly cheap. A robber stuck him up presenting him with the forced choice, "Your money or your life." Jack stood there and the robber repeated himself and Jack said, "I'm thinking."

There's all kinds of forced choices and they really can help reveal character. A tragic example of a forced choice is from Sophie's Choice, which involves life and death. In romance, the forced choice is often presented as commitment in relationship or alone and free?

There's another one we've all faced, do you chose- Being or language? If you can answer, you chose language- at the expense of being. The consequences of this are far reaching and deeply revealing of character. It will be explored in more detail, when I talk about the psychology behind the journey.

So the character passes this milestone of choosing to commit to go on their quest. Story theories tell us that the next step is that the character meets rising or "progressive complications". Complications to what? This I never understood. The character is trying to reach their goal so conceivably you could throw everything at them to get in their way including the kitchen sink. But that's the problem, how do you know what belongs versus what doesn't belong in your story.

The answer to the question of deciding what belongs is related to thematic unity. I believe that every piece of a story should feel, not only like it belongs, but that the story would be incomplete without it. What kind of criteria that we could use to make this decision? I have been on so many story meetings where people argue about what should happen in the story and often it's based upon opinion. Who decides who's opinion is better? The director, of course. There has to be a better way that everyone agrees is the right choice.

There is. This is the piece that I learned from Peter Dunne's excellent book, Emotional Structure. He suggests that the character in going after what they want and solving problems is flawed and uses psychological defenses. This is the guide for our specific progressive complications. The character is trying in a flawed way to get what they want. So their attempts backfire. So what do they do? They keep trying harder doing the same thing. Right? That's the definition of insanity- doing the same thing and expecting different results. And the audience can have fun watching them get more and more frustrated.

So now we can really begin to see how our structure is guiding us. The character tries and we hope for them. Then reality slaps them back down and we fear for them. So they try harder and get slapped down harder. We can continue this up and down process as often as fits the type of story we're telling. Now, you could also put some unexpected twists in there to surprise your audience. You want to stay ahead of them. Don't leave them in the dust, just stay ahead. Let them keep guessing what will happen as they hope and fear for the character on they joint journey.

Let's create an obstacle course for our character. We could brainstorm ideas. But once we've brainstormed lots of ideas how do we select what's most appropriate? How do we know what to put in our character's way? Well, we know that the character is going to use their defenses. What are their defenses? Once we know what our character's defense, we design an obstacle course that will attack, challenge and provoke their defenses. For example, if the character uses lying as his or her defense, then we should force them into situations in which they have to lie, getting them into more and more trouble.

In fact, this is an EXCELLENT WAY TO CREATE VILLAINS. If the hero uses psychological defenses, the villains should be masters of psychological manipulation. This keeps our thematic unity.

This was just one of the insights from seeing the story structure that helps me to figure out what to do in the middle parts of a story. The villain uses psychological manipulation, in other words he or she, "presses the hero's buttons." You can find a whole arsenal of psychological manipulation on Wikipedia that you can use to enhance your storytelling. If you want to know how well this approach works, watch Silence of the Lambs.

How to be a villain

Boris Badenov- My all-time favorite villain

This up and down part of the journey, I call doing it the wrong way or taking the flawed path. The wrong path is selfish, egotistic, narrow-minded, ignorant or stupid. Ignorance is not knowing something. Stupid is knowing but not using that knowledge. There's hope for the ignorant.

Let's look at another example. (Later we'll examine complete films and projects created using this method.) Suppose our character is a "player". They might be overcompensating for feeling inferior. They might not be aware of their internal feelings of inferiority. So this will become part of their journey. They will to discover those latent feelings in oder to overcome being a "player". So their journey becomes a path from a "player" to someone authentic.

So far our story structure has guided us with clear sequences of causality. Everything is organically woven together and guided the emotions of our audience. I don't feel so lost about writing anymore.

Our character is battling bigger and bigger obstacles and opponents but over all they're rising up higher and higher towards hope. In the next blog we'll see what happens next... Stay tuned...

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