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Old January 7 2012, 07:12 PM   #83
Ryan Thomas Riddle
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Maurice Navidad wrote: View Post
Re The PROBLEM With THE Problem, I got a PM from someone here about a story treatment they are working on, and I encouraged them to take a step back and address the Problem, Complications and Decision I discussed upthread. As an example, I applied the questions I was asking to one of my short films (Stagecoach in the Sky) to illustrate how simply you can sum up the key elements of a proposed script:
  • Who is the Protagonist and what does s/he need?
Claude Green thinks he wants to become a singing cowboy
  • What is the Problem that the Protagonist faces?
Claude is cocky and loses everything: his money, his pride, and the Girl he just met. He has to get them back
  • What Are the key Complications that make this increasingly difficult?
  1. He's ejected from First Class
  2. Phoenix Phil takes his money
  3. Phil's floosies make Claude's Love Interest think he's interested in them instead of her
  4. Phil's "Muscle" bullies him into retreating
  • What Active Decision must the Protagonist come to?
That having what he wants means he has to start acting like a cowboy hero instead of talking about being one
  • What Action does the Protagonist take to resolve the Problem?
He must stand up to and face down his persecutors
And finally
  • What does the Protagonist learn or fail to learn from the experience?
That anyone can change if they have the right motivation
A little late to the game here. One of the things that I've taught my creative writing students, ranging from ages 6 to 18, is that stories are about problems that a protagonist must overcome against fierce opposition. The strife of opposing desires, worldviews and agendas are what help create drama and conflict in a story.

As Maurice has said it's easy to get this one wrong, as a great deal of fan productions have. Further, as Maurice has pointed out, most fan scripts have characters that are reactive not active (I'm looking at you "Enemy: Starfleet!" and "Blood and Fire").

And it's a mistake that I made in my own novel, which I wrote as my MFA thesis. Since the novel has been shelved, I don't mind sharing here (although I may go back to the basic idea one day). So using Maurice's above structure:

  • Who is the Protagonist and what does s/he need?
Jaxon Mercado wants to solve the mystery of his brother's disappearance and restart his acting career in the Philippines.
  • What is the Problem that the Protagonist faces?
Jaxon is arrogant and insecure about his biracial heritage, must battle his overbearing mother and a director who may or may not have had an affair with his mother.
  • What Are the key Complications that make this increasingly difficult?
  1. He insults his former co-star and lover on national television and further insults the state of Philippine politics and society.
  2. Jaxon is obsessed with a cemetery where squatters live and where his brother disappeared. He often disobeys his mother to go visit there.
  3. His mother arranges a date with his former co-star, and he must swallow his pride to get back in the limelight.
  4. The director begins "teaching" Jaxon about the plight of the Philippines by taking him on a tour of Manila's seedy side.
  5. Jaxon is beaten and left for dead on a trash heap that is home to squatters.
  6. Jaxon refuses to leave the cemetery.
  • What Active Decision must the Protagonist come to?
This is the problem with this story. Everything happens to Jaxon except for the incident on national television and his refusal to leave the cemetery. He REACTS to his problems rather than ACTIVELY solving them.
  • What Action does the Protagonist take to resolve the Problem?
He must confront his mother, but ... she dies in a bombing thus evaporating any satisfying dramatic resolution to the story.
  • What does the Protagonist learn or fail to learn from the experience?
Another problem with the novel is that Jaxon neither learns or fails to learn from the experience. As a reactive character, he exits the story very much they way he entered, while the characters around him change and grow.
Notice also that the issue about his brother's disappearance is never resolved. Now had I done a better job, I could've made that something that gets us into the story, where the story becomes something else entirely. But I admit I screwed the pooch.

From my example above, hopefully, you can see the missteps that can turn a potentially engaging protagonist into a rather tame character. In fact, there are some interesting elements in the novel (some I'm quite proud of) but those elements are not enough to make a story. They are elements, honestly, in search of a story.
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Last edited by Ryan Thomas Riddle; January 7 2012 at 07:24 PM.
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