“A strong inciting incident is an event that happens to the protagonist, never an action by the protagonist“, I said.
Then I asked you for exceptions, i.e. strong Inciting Incidents that are actions by the protagonist.
Now have a look at the first three responses I received: 1.) THELMA & LOUISE, 2.) PULP FICTION and 3.) KING LEAR.
Look at them again and see if you remember 1) who causes the inciting incident and 2)how does the character end in the story?
The answer is baffling.
1. Louise kills a man. The end: Louise dies.
2. Vincent kills Marvin. The end: Vincent dies.
3. King Lear excludes Cordelia. The end: King Lear dies.
“If the protagonist triggers the story, he/she dies at the end of the story”.
Story rule or rubbish?
Either way, for these three striking examples, Tom, Brett and Margaret each earned themselves three months Premium Subscription. Well done.
Recently UNK blogged about Inciting Incident (another exciting coincidence: one day earlier, someone hit my web site using the key words inciting incident definitions.) and among his favourite I.I.’s he lists COOL HAND LUKE.
Here we go:
4. Luke cracks open parking meters. The end: Luke dies.
OK. It is getting quite convincing now, if you ask me. Does it mean that EACH TIME a protagonist incites the story, we have a down ending? Probably not. Perhaps the readers of this blog just have a slight predilection for somber movies. ;)
Anyhow, I found the examples you sent to me striking.
Here are some more exceptions to the “event-not-action” rule I received later:
– Simon: “Not my kind of thing really, but what about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?”
– Simon D.: “What about any story where the protagonist activates something, like the Princess and the Frog in the pond, Pandora’s Box etc”
– Jim: “If Russell Crowe is the Protagonist in ‘Yuma’, then it happens in that.”
– Chris: “3 Movies that the protagonist is responsible for the inciting incident: Scarface, June, O Brother Where Art Thou.”
– Robert: “Chow Yun Fat’s Hitman character accidentally blinds a girl during a hit on a triad boss that he is carrying out. Therefore he himself sets in motion the “inciting incident” and for the rest of the film sets out to redeem himself and possibly help the bling girl regain her eyesight by doing more “hits” to pay for the operation!”
As to screenwriting theory, there are so many sources of conflicting advice it is difficult to know who to listen to. Each new piece of advice can be as convincing as the one that came before it. What should you do?
How do you choose who to listen to?
Do you take the word of
- the most influential,
- the most popular,
- the most convincing,
- the loudest,
- the most confident,
- or maybe what they perceive to be the safest.
As a person who dishes out daily doses of advice I am as guilty as anyone out there who tries to offer opinions of what you ‘should’ do.
The fact is, at worst people do not have any idea what will work for you, and at best they can only rely on their own experience. Certainly I give you the benefit of what I have learned through my work, but you still have to work out what will work for you.
I am still learning, things still take me by surprise. You may have read me say before, I am of the opinion you can learn something from every person you meet. Your job is to not blindly accept what you are told but collate it, cogitate on it and apply it in your own unique way.
Work out the approaches that suit you best, that fit what you are trying to achieve and how. Which stories resonate with you, and enthuse you, separate out those that leave you cold.
You can never take the same journey twice, your journey is yours and yours alone, but you can learn about possible pot holes and beauty trails from people who have traveled a similar path before you.
Here I have to confess something: all the above (except the first four words “As to screenwriting theory”) was taken literally from Chris Garrett’s blog on blogging. When I read it, I found it so completely true for pretty much any field of learning, including ours.
My own little piece of advice on where to start learning?
Just write, every day, undisturbed by what you learn or what people say. While you are doing so, go through the list below. And take your time.
1. Read McKee’s STORY, or better: listen to the audio book. You won’t learn too much about the craft, but you’ll get a feel for what you’re in for. If you have less time and you want to be fashionable, read Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT.
3. Watch movies a second time to break them down into acts, sequences and plot points. Dozens of them, until you start seeing the light.
4. Carefully choose a story consultant you can trust and you like to work with. You will continue to learn, but now specifically about your own strengths and weaknesses.
At this point, you will have found your vision and direction. You will see which of the savants out there fall within your view on storytelling. Read their books, join their seminars.
Finally, you are on your own, confidently.
CONFIDENTIALITY KILLED THE CAT
WHERE ARE YOU GOING? YOU AND YOUR HERO?
Nothing new, though, Michael Hauge has been teaching this for much longer. In the context of Michael’s visit to Australia in two months, I interviewed him and the full text will soon be available to my clients and for subscribers of The Story Dept. Here’s an excerpt:
Karel: Two problems I often find in screenplays by inexperienced writers are 1) the choice of protagonist and 2) the key qualities of the protagonist. Would you mind giving us an insight?
Michael: In almost every case where the problem seems to be choosing the wrong protagonist, the writer isn’t clear about what the story concept is, about what the hero’s visible goal is.
In other words: if the writer is operating under the belief that they just need to portray characters and show them going through a situation in their life and let’s see what happens, then that‘s the quicksand they have stepped into. Because movies are about heroes who are pursuing specific visible goals.
It is about stopping the serial killer, about escaping from the panic room or from N.Y. or from Alcatraz, about winning the love of another person or winning an athletic competition. Or it’s about getting the buried treasure. But the goal must be specific, must be visible, must have a clearly defined end point.
The first part of the full interview is now online on the Premium Ed. As usual, it will be visible for a few days only. After that you will need a subscription to see it. Part two and three will follow over the next few days, as well as a podcast (audio) version of the telephone interview.
NO POV, NO PLAY
The RATATOUILLE DVD shows has 1 (one) deleted scene. It is a long, uninterrupted travel from a wide establishing shot of the Paris skyline down to street level, through the Auguste Gusteau restaurant and ending on Remi, our hero.
The shot could have been spectacular, reminding of the opening shot of TOUCH OF EVIL and its pastiche in THE PLAYER.
Brad Bird’s commentary talks about the reason why it was cut and it is simply: Point of View.
The natural question that would occur is “Why would you cut this spectacular shot?”, because it is obviously great. “I want to see that film!” Well, I feel that way, too.
The problem, once you get passed the initial sort of rush of seeing this very elaborate shot that shows you a lot of different things in one shot and very impressively, is that it is no character’s point of view.
It is just a sort of God-like shot where you’re presented this whole world and it is spectacular and there have been many fine shots like that – Touch of Evil being one – that were great but I felt that this is Remi’s movie and it needed to be Remi’s perspective.
And I want to know the emotions that lead up to Remi looking into the kitchen. I don’t just want it laid on a platter, you know, just cut to Darth going “You’re my son, Luke.”
We should be with Remi when he has that moment. We should know how he is experiencing it and what is he feeling when he is experiencing it. And you kind of aren’t, this way.
It did lay everything out, but I don’t think that it took the audience with it.
Brad Bird’s reasoning confirms what I have written about ‘omniscient POV’: it is weak, or worse, it doesn’t work.
Movies are inherently about empathising, even identifying with characters.
When you step out of the protagonist’s POV, it should be to shift to another POV, never to take an omniscient POV.
Omniscient POV is devoid of emotion.
Read some more about Point of View here.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.