Thursday, December 22, 2016

Story - Robert Mckee

This is a classic. It took me several months to read and make detailed notes. I have to read it again and again to make sense of it as a whole. Until then - the stuff that made me sit up - extracts from the book are presented here. This book not only teaches the craft of writing stories for films but life itself to be lived in its best state - on the razor's edge. I used it as much as a self-help book as a lesson in story telling for the screen.

Story, says McKee, is about archetypes, not stereotypes. The archetypal story unearths a universally human experience, and wraps itself inside a unique, culture specific expression. An archetypal story creates settings and characters so rare that our eyes feast on every detail, while its telling illuminates conflicts so true to humankind that it journeys from culture to culture.

It is the discovery of a world we do not know. Inside this alien world, we find ourselves. Deep within these characters and their conflicts we discover our own humanity.

Story is about realities.
Story is a vehicle that carries us in our search for reality, our effort to make sense of the anarchy of existence. It is of vivid image, sharp dialogue. More often than not, the better the story telling, the more vivid the images, the sharper the dialogue. There is progression, motivation and sub text.

A good story is something worth telling that the world wants to hearSelf knowledge is the key - life plus deep reflection on our reactions to life. The material of literary talent is words; the material of story talent is life itself.

Of the total creative effort, 75 percent or more of a writer's labor goes into designing story. 
Who are these characters? 
What do they want? 
Why do they want it? 
How do they go about getting it? 
What stops them? 
What are the consequences?

Craft - a concert of techniques by which we create a conspiracy of interest between ourselves and the audience.
Story is a metaphor for life.

Good story has structure, setting, character, genre and idea. Need 20-60 story events, scenes.
Change must happen to a character. Values are the soul of storytelling.

Action through conflict.
It turns value charged condition of a character's life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible difference. In every scene ask yourself - what value is at stake in my character's life? Love? Truth? How has the value changed from now to the end? If the value charged condition doesn’t change – it’s a non event.
Scene is exposition. If a scene is not an active event - cut it.

Inside the scene there is the beat - the smallest element of structure. A beat is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by beat then changing behavior, shape the turning of a scene. Beat - Scene – Sequence.

Sequence - delivers a more powerful, determinant change
"A sequence is a series of scenes - generally two to five - that culminates with greater impact than any previous scene'. Each scene turns on its own value or values.

Act - a series of sequences builds the next largest structure, the Act, a movement that turns as a major reversal in the value charged condition. An act is a series of sequences that peaks in a climactic scene which causes a major reversal of values, more powerful in its impact than any previous sequence or scene.
A series of Acts builds the largest structure of all, the story. One story is one huge master event.
The value charged structure in the life of character beginning to end is the arc of the story.
The final condition is absolute, irreversible.

Story climax
A series of acts that build to the last act. Climax is that which brings about absolute and irreversible change. Make your beats build your scenes, scenes build sequences, sequences build acts, acts build story to its climax.

It is an internally consistent, inter related pattern of events that move through time to shape a story. Plot navigates through the dangerous turns of a story when confronted by many possibilities to choose the correct path
Movies are about making mental things physical.

Classical design of a story
Active protagonist struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.

Humans believe in closed endings, absolute and irreversible changes, Their great source of conflict is external, that they are single and active protagonists

Arch plot
All question raised by the story are answered, all emotions evoked are satisfied. Well rounded.
Mini plot
Open ended. External vs internal conflict. single vs multiple protagonists
Linear vs non linear Causal vs coincidence

The writer must earn his living writing. Must master classical form, believe in what he writes. For writers who can tell a quality story, it's a seller's market.  What’s your vision? Each time you create you say to the audience 'I believe life is like this.' Write only what you believe in.

Cliches come because the writer does not know the world of his story
A story setting is 4 dimensional. Period. Duration. Location. Level of conflict.
Period is a story's place through time
Duration is a story's length through time
Location is a story's place in time
Level of conflict is the story's position as the hierarchy of human struggle

The setting defines and confines the story's possibilities. The story must obey its own internal laws of probability. The event choices of the writer are limited to the possibilities. From its first glimpse of the first image, the audience inspects your fictional universe, sorting the possible from the impossible. It wants to know your laws.

Creative limitation
Not a sparrow should fall in the world of a writer that he wouldn't know. Creativity means creative choices of inclusion and exclusion
True inspiration comes from a deeper source, so let loose your imagination and experiment
Which scene is truest to my character? Never been seen on screen quite this way before.

Genuine consists not only the power to create expressive beats and scenes but to trash judgment and weed out and destroy banalities, conceits, false notes and lies.

GENRE  - We're all genre writers
The choices that characters make from behind their outer masks simultaneously shape their inner nature and propel the story.

Where life separates meaning from emotion, art unites them
When an idea wraps itself around an emotional charge, it becomes all the more powerful, profound.
A story well told gives you a meaningful experience.
Story is non-intellectual. A well told story neither expresses reasonings of a thesis nor vents raging inchoate emotions. It marries rational with irrational.

Two ideas bracket the creative process.
Premise - The idea that inspires the writer to create
Open end...what happens if...

Controlling idea - The ultimate meaning expressed through action and aesthetic emotion of the last act's climax
Writing is discovery.

The audience must understand and believe. Story is living proof of an idea, conversion of an idea into action. A story's event structure is the means by which you express, and then prove your idea without explanation. Master storyteller's never explain...they dramatize (zen masters)

Controlling idea
A true theme is a not a word but a clear, coherent sentence that expresses a story's irreducible meaning.
The controlling idea shapes the writer's choices. It identifies the positive or negative charge of the story’s critical charge at the climax and identifies the chief reason it has changed to its final state.
A sentence composed of these elements expresses the core meaning of the story.

Look at the ending and ask –
1)      As a result of this climactic action, what value, positive or negative, is brought into the world of the protagonist?
2)      Trace back from climax. Ask what chief cause, force or means by this value is brought into this world?
The sentence you compose from the answer to these 2 questions is the controlling idea

The story tells its meaning. It does not dictate. Draw idea from action. Idea from self recognition. When the event speaks the meaning, it's a powerful moment in your writerly life.

Idea versus counter idea
Progressions build by moving dynamically between the positive and negative changes of the value at stake in the story. Positive and negative clash until they collide head on in the story climax.
The rhythm of idea vs counter idea is fundamental to art. Enhance the counter idea.
Don’t use or abuse it to preach.

Entertain opposites, eve repugnant ideas
Colliding idea vs enormously powerful forces you array against it
  • ·         Idealistic controlling idea
  • ·         Pessimistic
  • ·         Ironic controlling idea
The pursuit of contemporary values will destroy you, but if you throw away this obsession you can redeem yourself. That’s the depth of joy you are willing to experience is in proportion to the pain you are willing to bear.

Stories that end in irony last the longest. Irony is the most difficult to write.
All coherent tales express an idea veiled inside an emotional spell. (What is the idea? What is the emotion?)

In a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility

When forced to work within a short framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce rich ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” -  T.S. Eliot

Source (story energy) - How stories work?
See the story from the inside. From the character’s eyes. The protagonist embodies all aspects (the characters in absolute terms)
-         All individuals have the same desire (if more than one protagonist)
-         All suffer and benefit – motivation, action and consequence are communal
-        The protagonist is a willful character, the quality of his will power is as important as the quantity
-         Protagonist has a continuous desire, an object of desire
-         He knows what he wants
-         Also has a self contradictory unconscious desire

Fascinating characters have these – they don’t know but the audience senses it. These conscious and unconscious desires contradict each other. What he believes he wants is the antithesis of what he actually but unwittingly wants.

The protagonist has the capacities to pursue the object of desire convincingly. He must have a chance to attain his desire.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation – Henry David Thoreua ( But in films we carry hope to the end.)
-         Protagonist will pursue his object of desire till the human limit is established by setting and genre. Story is about life lived in its most intense of states.
-         The final action must be Final. The audience cannot imagine another.
-   Protagonist must be empathetic. May not be (likeable) sympathetic. The protagonist is like me. I’d want him to have it. I’d want it."
      The audience identifies with deep characters with innate qualities revealed through choice under pressure. Audiences disassociate with hypocrites.

   1st step
  • Character will take the minimum, conservative action from his POV. Humanity is conservative. No organism expends more energy than necessary, risks anything it does not have to, takes action unless it must.
  • Must be forced into action.
  • Minimal, conservative.
  • But all the above - never in a story. In story we concentrate on the moment, only the moment, when a character takes an action, expecting a useful reaction from his world, but triggers forces of antagonism.
     Act - expect
     But get a contrary powerful reaction. 

    The Gap - The story is born in that place where the subjective and objective realities touch.
  • Protagonist seeks an object of desire beyond his reach.
  • Takes action thinking the world will react favorably.
  • It appears minimal to him but the reaction of inner/personal. external are powerful and different from what he expected.
  • When objective reality contradicts a characters sense of probability, a gap cracks open the fictional reality. This  gap is when the objective and subjective collide, the difference between anticipation and result, between perception and truth.
On Risk
    In jeopardy we must risk something we want, to gain something or protect something we have.

   What is risk?
   What does the protagonist lose if he does not get what he wants?
    Stories - as metaphors for meaningful life. To be meaningful is to be at perpetual risk.   The gap is where human spirit and reality meet.
  Inside out
  Emotional truth. By creating work that moves us, we move them.

  The spirit to creation is the spirit of contradiction - the breakthrough of appearances towards an unknown reality. - Jean Cocteau

    Doubt appearances. Seek the opposite of the obvious.
1.      Create one honest moment
2.      Look for another POV to invade that
3.      Create unexpected reality
4.      Splinter cleft between expectation and circumstance
5.      Good story - reactions / insights gained

 A pointless pace killer is any scene in which reactions lack insight and imagination, forcing expectation to equal result.  The substance of story is a gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happen when he takes an action and what really does happen.
Risk between expectation and result, probability and necessity
The gap is the source of energy

Story is of 5 parts
·         Inciting incident
·         Progressive complications
·         Crisis
·         Climax
·         Resolution
What you must know: 
How do my characters make a living?
What are the politics in my world?
What are the rituals in my world?
What are the values in my world?
What are the genre or combinations of genres in my world? 
What is the back story? 
What is my cast design?
   Two principles that control the audiences
- Emotional involvement
Empathy - identification with the protagonist that draws us into the story vicariously rooting for our own desires in life
- Authenticity - we must willingly suspend our disbelief
   Authenticity in an internally consistent world
   For the audience to feel emotion, it must believe. Authenticity depends on the telling details.

 The inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life
  Needs a set up - pay off
  The protagonist must react to the incident
  •  Inciting incident - throws life out of balance - he desires to restore balance
  •  Protagonist needs object of desire (physical, situational, attitudinal) to put stop on even keel
Conscious + unconscious desire-creates complex characters
Opposite of each other

The spine of the story
The energy of the protagonist’s desire forms the critical element of design - spine of the story. It’s the deep desire in and effort by the protagonist to restore balance of life. It holds all story angles together.

The Quest
All stories take the form of a quest.
For better or for worse an event throws a character's life out of balance arousing in him the conscious or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a quest for his object of desire (desire against forces of antagonism, inner, personal, extra personal). He may or may not achieve it. This is story in a nutshell.

Design of the Inciting Incident
Inciting incident - random / decision
  • The inciting incident of the central plot must happen on screen. Each subplot has its own inciting incident which may or may not be seen on screen.
  •  An inciting incident must hook the audience - a deep and complete response.
  • Bring in the central plot's inciting incident as soon as possible..but not until the moment is ripe.
  • The climax is the most difficult to create
  • What’s the next best thing that could happen to the protagonist? What’s the worst?
Life isn’t about subtle adjustments to stress or conflicts with master criminals.
Life is about ultimate questions
·         of finding love and self worth
·         of bringing serenity to inner chaos
·         of social iniquities
·         of time running out
The writer must decide when to schedule the struggles

Conflict at one level
  • Inner conflict -stream of consciousness
  • Personal conflict - soap opera
  • Extra personal conflict - action/ adventure
Complexity - conflict at all 3 levels

Repetitiousness is the enemy of rhythm. The dynamics of story depends on the alteration of its value change.

Progressive complications = start – climax. Generate more conflict till point of no return.
A story must not retreat its actions of lesser qualities of magnitude but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.

The only way to keep a film’s current flowing and rising is research - imagination, memory, feel, generate more and more conflict as they face greater forces creating a succession of points that pass a point of no return.

Nothing moves forward in story except through conflict.
Story and music, temporal arts - have to hold all with uninterrupted concentration, and carry us through time without an awareness of the passage of time. When our eyes leave the screen they take thought and action with them.

Essence of reality is scarcity / time is the basic. Something is always lacking.
Boredom is the inner conflict we suffer when we lose desire, when we lose lacking.

Sub plot
Life’s a troubled screenplay.
A subplot may be needed to contradict the controlling idea of the central plot and thus enrich the film with irony.
Subplots may be used to resonate the controlling idea of the central plot and enrich the film with variations of a theme.
Subplot may be needed to complicate the central plot.

Screenwriting is the art of making the mental into physical.
Create visual corelatives for inner conflict character choice and action.
Break convention only to put something more important in it.

Turning points
A scene is a story in a miniature - an action through conflict in an unity or continuity of time and space that time turns the value charged conditions of a character’s life.
No matter locations of length – a scene is unified around desires, actions, conflict and change.

Create a story design in which every scene is a minor moderate or major turning point
Effects of turning point - surprises, increased curiosity, insight, new direction.
Surprise - audience wonder why, to understand, the audience rushes back through what its seen so far seeking answers

A storyteller puts a friendly arm around the audience - let me show you something. The story teller leads us into expectations, makes us think we understand, then cracks open realities creating surprise and curiosity.
Telling a story is making a promise.

The effect of a beautifully turned moment is the audience feels that they did it for themselves. (The greatest teachers, leaders do the same. They know the art of story telling.)
Self-expression occurs in the flood of insight that pours out of turning point.
Our most powerful means of self expression is the unique way we turn the story.

Set up- layering in the knowledge
Pay off - closing the gap by delivering the information to the audience

Set up - turning point
Adjust set up for movie genres
Think the unthinkable. In storytelling logic is retroactive.
In story you can set up in a way that may seem absurd and make it rational. Reasoning is secondary and post creativity.
Imagine - be willing to think any crazy idea. Let images that may or may not make sense find their way to you. 9-10 ideas will be useless. But one will work.

Logic is child's play. Imagination takes you to the screen. Imagination is mischief.

Emotional transition
There are only two emotions - pleasure and pain

As audience
1 - Empathise with the character
2 - Know what the character wants and want the character to have it
3 - Understand the values at work
An emotion is a short term, energetic experience that peaks and burns and is over. The more we experience the same thing, the less effect it has.
Laughter is not an emotion. Joy is.
Laughter is a criticism we hurl at ourselves we find ridiculous or outrageous.
Joke = set up + punch

Once a transition of value creates an emotion, feeling comes into play. Feeling is not emotion. Emotion is short term, peaks and burns rapidly. Feeling is long term, pervasive, it colors days and years. Feeling makes emotions specific.
Feeling is mood. Mood will not substitute emotion.

The choice between good or bad, right or wrong is no choice at all. True choice is dilemma.
Eg. a choice between irreconcilable goods.
Eg. Choice between the lesser of two evils.

Genuine choice - 3 sided situation
Possibilities increase. a triangular design brings closure.
Choice - not in doubt but dilemmas between desires of equal weight and values.

Ordering and linking of scenes.
·         Unity and variety.
·         Pacing.
·         Rhythm.
·         Tempo.
·         Social and personal progression
·         Symbols and Ironic Ascension
·         Principles of Transition

Unity and Variety
Unity is critical but not sufficient. Without this unity, we must induce as much variety as possible. We seek the tragic in the comic, political in personal, trivial in the exalted
Story should have the rhythm of life. Rhythm beats between contradictory desires - Serenity, harmony, peace vs tension, danger vs fear
Use act structure to start at base of tension, then rise scene by scene, sequence by sequence to the climax of Act One. Act Two reduce the tension, switch to comedy and romance, so audience can catch its breath. Act by act we tighten and release tension until the final climax empties the audience, leaving it exhausted but fulfilled.
The gracious story teller makes love to us.

Rhythm and tempo
Rhythm is set by the length of the scene. 40-60 scenes, each 2 and half minutes long. When shots repeat expressivity drains away.
Tempo is the level of activity within a scene via dialogue, action or a combination.
Progression of scenes should accelerate pace. If we lengthen and slow scenes prior to a major reversal.

Expressing Progressions
A genuinely progressing story calls upon greater and greater human capacity, demands greater and greater will power, generates greater change and places them in jeopardy.
How can we express this?
4 ways
Social progressions - widen impact of characters actions into society. Start intimately then widen.
Personal progression - drive actions deeply into the intimate relationships and inner lives of characters. Start with personal or inner conflict that demands balancing. Then go down to dark secrets, the unspoken truths that hide behind a public mask.
Symbolic ascension - Build the symbolic change of the story's imagery from the particular to the universal, the specific to the archetypal. Start with actions, locations and roles that represent themselves. As story progresses images should stand for universal ideas
Ironic ascension - Turn progression in irony. Life is a duality. Our paradoxical existence. Irony is slippery.

Principle of transition
Link - third element
The hinge for a transition - something held in common by two scenes or counter pointer between them.
Find the link.

Crisis is 3rd of the 5 parts. It means the ultimate decision. Danger / Opportunity
It’s the obligatory scene. Audience anticipates this from the inciting incident. It is the dragon that guards the object of desire. A true dilemma.
How the protagonist chooses to give us a view of his deep character. The ultimate expression of his humanity.
Decisions take will power.

Crisis within the climax
If we can split the probability from necessity just one more time, we may create a majestic ending the audiences will treasure for a lifetime. A climax built around the turning point is the most satisfying of all. The protagonist may or may not get what he wants, but it won’t be the way he expects it.

Placement of Crisis
Location of crisis is determined by the length of the climactic action. Generally happens in the last five minutes of the same scene.

Design of crisis
The crisis decision must be a deliberately static moment. The audience wants to suffer with the protagonist through the pain of the dilemma. An emotional momentum has built to this point but the crisis dams the flow.

The 4th part of the 5 part structure
"Meaning produces emotion"
Meaning, a revolution in values from the positive to the negative to positive with or without irony - value swing at maximum charge that's absolute and irreversible. The meaning uses the heart of the audience.
The action must be pure, clear and self evident.

The climax of the last act is your great imaginary leap. Without it there is no story. Once the climax is in hand, stories are in a significant way rewritten backward.

The flow of life moves from cause to effect, but the flow of creativity flows from effect to cause.
Best effect - one final action by the protagonist settle everything. If the multiplying effect is impossible, the least important sub plots are best climaxed earliest, followed by the next most important, building overall climax for central plot.
Key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants but not the way it expects.
What the audience wants is emotional satisfaction, a climax that fulfils anticipation.
The writer pledges a certain emotion and must deliver it.
  • ·         Upending
  • ·         Downending
  • ·         Irony
An ending must be inevitable and unexpected.
Key to a great film ending - a combination of spectacle and truth. Spectacle for the eye, truth - controlling idea
A key image that runs up and concentrates. A single image that is so tuned to the story telling that when its remembered, the whole film comes back with a jolt.

5th part of the 5 part structure
Any material left after the climax
3 uses
1) logic may not permit an opportunity to climax a subject before  or during the climax of the central plot
2) Show the spread of climactic effects widen into society, supporting roles whose lives have changed
3) a courtesy to the audience
A film needs a slow curtain. Allow the audience to catch its breath, gather thoughts and leave the cinema with dignity.

Most important and least understood precept in story design.
Principle - a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.

Human nature is fundamentally conservative. Why do anything the hard way when we can do it the easy way? The more powerful and complex the forces of antagonism, opposing the character, the more completely realised character and story must be.
Underdogs - a chance - forces of antagonism

End of the line - Story and character
1) Identify the primary value at stake in story
Justice / injustice Fairness / unfairness
Unfairness - unjust - negation of negation (double negative)
A story that progresses t the limit of human expression in depth and breadth of conflict must move through a pattern that includes the contrary, contradictory and the negation of the negation.
Just - unfair (contrary) - unjust (contradictory) - tyranny (negation of negation)
Love - indifference - hate - hatred masquerading as love
Truth - white lies / half truths - lies - self deception
Consciousness - unconscious - death - damnation
Rich - middle class - poor suffering - rich but suffering he pain of poverty
Communication - alienation - isolation - insanity
Success - compromise - failure - selling out
Intelligence - ignorance - stupidity - stupidity perceived as intelligence
Freedom - restraint - slavery - slavery perceived as freedom
Courage - fear - cowardice - cowardice perceived as bravery
Loyalty - split allegiance - betrayal - self betrayal maturity - childishness - immaturity - immaturity perceived as maturity
Sanctioned sex - unsanctioned sex - unnatural, unsanctioned - grotesque, abhorrent

All other factors of talent, craft and knowledge being equal, greatness is found in the writer's treatment of the negative side. When story is weak, the inevitable cause is that the forces of antagonism are weak.
Instead of a building positive, build the negative side to create a chain reaction. Question the values at stake and their progression

What are the positive values? What’s preeminent and turns the climax? Do forces of antagonism explore all shades of negativity? Do they react negation to negation?
End of the line must be reached.

Show, Don’t Tell 

Exposition means facts the audience needs to know to follow the story. Skill in exposition makes it (exposition) invisible. Don’t force words in a character's mouth. Show in natural scenes.
Dramatic exposition furthers immediate conflict and conveys information.
The writer must create a motivation for the dialogue that’s greater than the facts.
Convert exposition to ammunition. Let the characters use what they know as ammunition to get what they want.
Show don’t tell means the characters and camera behave truthfully. Confident writers parse out exposition bit by bit.

- Never include anything the audience can reasonably and easily assume has happened
- Never pass an exposition where the missing fact would cause confusion
You don’t keep audiences interest by giving information, but by withholding information.

Exposition progression
·         Important facts - Most important facts - Critical facts (secrets)
·         Save the best for the last
·         Reveal only that exposition the audience absolutely needs and wants to know and more.
·         To tell a story that spans a lifetime a spine of enormous power and perseverance must be created. Begin stories in the midst of things - when lifelong spines are rare.
·         Tell stories about people who have something to lose. Put them in jeopardy.
·         When stories are thick with conflict, characters need all the ammunition they can get.
·         Challenge the story teller.

How to turn the scene.
Back story
We can turn a story only one of two ways
- an action
- a revelation.
There are no other means
Powerful revelations come from the backstory, previous significant events in the lives of the characters that the writer can reveal at critical moments to create a turning point.

First dramatise flashbacks
Interpolate a mini drama in the flashback with its own inciting incident, progressions and timing.
Second, do not bring in a flashback until you have created in the audience the need and desire to know.

The camera is an x ray machine for all things fake

Dream sequences
Voiceover narration
Counter point narration
Voice over to add non narrative counterpoint can be delightful
Express without explanation

8 problems
Problem of interest
Design should attract both sides of human nature - intellect and emotion.
Story - pose questions and open situations. Each turning point must hook curiosity.
Make the audience wait.
Concern - for justice, strength, survival, love, truth , courage.
Human nature is drawn towards positive.

The audience inspects the world , separates good from evil, and seeks the center of good.
We believe we're good but deep inside we know we're flawed. The worst people believe they are good.
Each seeks the center of good. - the positive focus for empathy and emotional interest. It must be located in the protagonist. Audience must empathise with the protagonist.

Mystery, Suspense, Dramatic irony
In a Mystery story the audience knows less than the character. There's grim interest through curiosity alone. Red herrings are introduced to mislead.

In a Murder mystery - closed ended (who did it) and open (how was it done)
One fatal flow of logic must be found.

In a Suspense story the audience and the characters know the same information
Curiosity + concern
In dramatic irony the audience knows more than the character

Concern - alone
Problem of surprise
Must surprise the audience
Cheap surprise - true surprise (sudden revelation - gap)
True surprise is always followed by an insight

Problem of coincidence
First, bring coincidence in early to allow time to build meaning out of it. (As a rule of thumb do not use the coincidence beyond midpoint of the telling. Rather put the story in the hands of the characters)
Second, never use coincidences to turn an ending. This is the writer’s greatest sin.
Each of us knows we must choose and act for better or worse to determine the meaning of our lives. Our lives are in our hands.

Problem of comedy
Comedy is simply another form of story telling.
Dramatist - under the worst of circumstances, human spirit is magnificent.
Comedy - in best of circumstances, humans find a way to screw up.

Behind the grinning face of cynicism is a frustrated idealist.
If audience laughs, it works.
Dramatist - fascinated by life
Comedy - social life, idiocy, arrogance, brutality

Comic design - comedy allows the writer to hold narrative drive
If you pitch your story and people don’t laugh, it’s not a comedy. Concentrate on turning points.
'What’s the opposite of that?'
Spring gaps for comic surprise.

Problem of POV
What POV is the story/ each scene written? POV within scene / story
POV of the protagonist is best/needs creative discipline.
'The more time we spend with the character the more opportunity to witness his choices. The result is more empathy and emotional involvement between audiences and characters.'

Problem of adaptation
There are three media for a story
- Prose (novel, novella, short story), theatre (legit, musical opera. mime, ballet), screen (film, TV)
1st principle - The purer the novel, the worse the film
(Know the events. reduce events to 1-2 sentences)
2nd principle - be willing to reinvent

Problem of melodrama
Melodrama is a result of under motivation, written with too little desire. Motivation must match action.
Problem of Holes
A hole is a way to lose credibility.  Lacks logic, missing links

The Mind worm - burrow into the Protagonist’s mind. Human nature is the only subject that does not date.
Characters are not human beings - they are a work of art; a metaphor for human nature. Characters are superior to reality.

Character design 
Character state (sum of all observable qualities)
Appearance, style, true character, loyal/ disloyal, honest/liar, loving/cruel, courage/cowardice, generous/selfish, 
Qualities - appearance, mannerisms. style of speech, sexuality, IQ, occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where and how he lives
True characters can only be expressed through choice in dilemma
How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is. The greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to the character.
The key to true character is desire - what do I want?
What does the character want? Now? Soon? Overall? Knowingly? Unknowingly?
Behind desire is motivation. Why? Think through to a solid understanding of motive but leave some mystery around the whys.

Character dimension
Contradiction between his ambition, and guilt on another
Dimension means contradiction (eg. A charming thief)
Contradictions must be consistent.

Cast design
The protagonist creates the rest of the cast. They are in relationship to the protagonist.
Placing a conventional personality against an exotic background or a strange mysterious individual within an ordinary, down to earth society immediately generates interest.

3 steps to character writing
1.      Leave room for the actor to ponder over the following questions
What do I want? Why do I want it? How do I get it? What stops me?
2. Fall in love with all of your characters.
Embrace all your characters. Especially the bad people.
(If I were in this situation what would I do?)
If you can’t love them, don’t write them. Love them all in that using your clear headedness.
3. Character is self knowledge
Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me -Anton Chekov
We're essentially and forever alone. We're all far more alike than we are different. If I were this person what would I do? The honest answer is always correct. You would do the human thing. The more you penetrate the mysteries of your own humanity, the more you understand yourself and others.

Dialogue is not conversation. Screen dialogue must have the swing of everyday talk, but content well above normal.
- requires compression and economy, must say the maximum in a few words
- requires direction, should have a purpose

Speak as common people do but think as wise men do.  Film is 80% visual, 20% auditory. Cut anything fine and literary

Short speeches
When the eye is bored it leaves the screen, when it leaves the screen you lose the audience. Remember, life is dialogue, action/ reaction. Excellent film dialogue shapes itself into the periodic sentence..
The silent screenplay
The best advise for writing film dialogue is don’t. Never write dialogue where you can create a visual expression
- How can I write it in a purely visual way
- Lean dialogue
When the screenplay has been written and the dialogue has been added, we are ready to shoot - Hitchcock
Image is first choice. Dialogue is the last layer we add to the screenplay.

Putting a film in the reader's head. 
1st recognise what it is the sensation of looking at the screen.
What do I see on the screen?
Describe only what is photographed
(metaphor, simile, assonance, alliteration, rhythm, rhyme, synecdoche, metonymy, hyperbole, meiosis, tropes, onology)

Vivid action in the Now
An absolute present tense in constant vivid movement. Film is the knife edge of now.
-          To write vividly, avoid generic words. Verbs with adjectives and adverbs attached seek the name of the thing. Use precise words.
Walk slowly (ambles, strolls, moseys, saunters, drags himself, staggers, waltzes. glides, tumbles, tiptoes,...)
-          Eliminate 'Is' and 'Are'
-          Use most specific, active words and nouns possible
-          Eliminate 'we see' and 'we hear'. We doesn’t exist.
-          Eliminate all camera and editing notations.

Image systems
Poetic means enhanced expressivity
Audience senses that each object has been selected to mean more than itself and so we add a conversation to every denotation.
To turn a well-told story into a poetic work, exclude 90% of reality.
'An image system is a strategy of motifs, a category of imagery embedded in the film that repeats in light and sound from beginning to end with patience and great variation, but with equally great subtlety, as a subliminal communication to visualise the depth and complexity of aesthetic emotion.'
The power of an organised return to images is immense as variety and repetition drive the image system to the seat of the audiences subconscious.
Most important, a film's poetic must be handled with visual invisibility and do consciously unrecognised. 

Image system
-          External (tear drop, flag, etc) student film
-       Internal imagery (takes a category that outside the film may not have a symbolic meaning attached but in the film has an entirely new meaning)
Symbolism is powerful as long as it bypasses the conscious mind and slips into the unconscious. Symbols touch us and move us as long as we don’t recognise them as symbols.

Must prepare the audience for the experience ahead. To title means to name. An effective title points to something solid that is actually in the story - characters, setting, theme. The best titles often have two or all elements at once.

The difference between those who succeed and those who struggle is their opposed methods of work - Inside out Vs Outside in.
A professional writer must make a living from it.
Writing for the outside in
Process –Get Idea. Noodle. Go to Key board, Reviews from friends. Rewrite few favorite scenes.
Writing from Inside out
Successful writers use the reverse process. Spend 4 months of the 6 months writing out stacks of 3/5 cards, a stack for each act. 3-4 more. On these cards they create the story's step outline.

Step outline
Story told in steps
-1-2 sentence statements. Writer clearly describes what happens in each scene, how it builds and turns
- On the back of each card he indicates what step in the design of the story he sees the scene fulfilling, which set up, inciting incident, first cut climax, 
- Confines himself to a few stacks of cards for months on end
- He wants to destroy his work
- He must create far more material than he can use. Trashes everything less than the best.
- After weeks or months, discovers story climax. Rewrites backward from it. 
- Pitches his story
- Watches it unfold, studies reactions
- Must grab attention, hold interest for 10 minutes, pay off by moving to a meaningful, emotional experience
- Wow, full silence
- a fine work of art has the power to silence that chatter in the mind and lift us to another place

-Each scene from the step outline 1-2 sentences must now be written as a para, in present tense, with moment by moment description of all action, underlined with a full subtext of the conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings of all characters
- 40-60 such scenes, 60-90 pages, 1930 – 200-300 page treatments more material to work with

-Writing a screenplay from a thorough treatment is a joy and often runs at a  clip of 5-10 pages per day
- Treatment description to screen description and add dialogue
- When characters speaks, they alter direction
The wise writer puts off the writing of dialogue for as long as possible because the premature writing of dialogue checks creativity
Dialogue in search of a scene, scene in search of a story. Not the right way!


Study thoughtfully, write boldly.

What I understood from Story is the art of life itself. In real life, ideally what you expect should happen - that is success. In drama, life is in the reverse. It gets interesting because the protagonist knowingly or unknowingly, in the pursuit of an object of desire, caused by an inciting incident that throws his life out of balance, increases his stakes and discovers more and more about himself, his best sides and worst, until he wagers everything against the forces of antagonism to get what he wants. If he does its a happy ending, if not, a tragedy. But both ways he moves from a space of lack, to want more, in a particular way and comes up against forces that prevent him from getting it. He increases his stakes, discovering more about himself and the object of his desire until he discovers the truth.

But then that's a life lived. In passionate pursuit of what he wants and what he believes in, making tough choices in his path to get what he wants, understanding that the game is bigger than what he has but he is willing to stake all for it. In his decisions and his desire he shows himself, a character of great energy, who will not give up. To know this character and to understand his world and why he does what he does, the writer must understand human nature, life itself. Story is about reality, about life. All our choices reflect in the choices made by the characters - good and bad.

Story is about authenticity, of knowing the world we are writing about well. It's about research, of gradual building up of momentum. It's about action in the moment - every thing must happen in the vivid now, lived at the extreme, the knife edge. It's about decisions that must be taken, about loss, about risk and the courage to lose it all.

Understanding story is a good way to live a life. 

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