Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TABLES from The Moral Premise for Kindle Readers

Reader Christopher Pratt made this valuable suggestion for Kindle (and perhaps other tablet readers) who can't make out the sense of the large tables from The Moral Premise. I had nothing to do with the book's conversion to Kindle et al...nonetheless I'm sorry for the problem. So, here's a solution to those that can find this blog post. If you click on any of the images below you'll get an even larger image very readable on your screen. These images are from my original manuscript to the publisher and not the final format manuscript. So, they should be easier (even more so) to read. Let me know. Thanks for reading. I hope your writing is getting better.

















Thursday, August 4, 2016

Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr

Jason Holborn is a fan of The Moral Premise and independent filmmaker residing in Toronto, Canada. A while back he came across The Story Diamond on my writing aids page and how it demonstrates the coincidence of various story structures.

The structure that caught his fancy was Jeffrey Schechter's interpretation of Carol S. Pearson's archetypes explained in her earlier book THE HERO WITHIN. (Jeffrey's book is MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY! and I discuss Carol's latest effort in a recent blog on AWAKENING THE HEROES WITHIN.)

The structure that Jason vamped on in a blog back in 2013, but which I just came across, is Orphan, Wandered, Warrior, Martyr.

Jeffrey's take, which I have used in The Story Diamond is very simple and yet profound. The four archetypes identify the protagonist's primary mode of operation in each of the four equal acts of the movie.


  1. In Act 1: ORPHAN...lost...needing a quest.
  2. In Act 2A: WANDERER...chose the quest...but unsure how to achieve it.
  3. (stick in here a MOMENT OF GRACE (MOG) where S/He discovers what the story is really about)
  4. In Act 2B: WARRIOR...having discovered through the moral premise how to actually get what he needs.
  5. In Act 3: MARTYR for what he and his village back home needs.


Jason has contributed something very valuable, here. He's analyzed a number of films and described for us the above structure in them. Thank you, Jason, for permission to reprint this.

Immediately in the next paragraph, is Jason's post...copied verbatim...except for some formatting I've added to coincide with the numbers, as above.

(Sadly, Blogger only allows 200 characters in the labels...dumb!)

---------

This is really something; I’ve often idly thought of unifying all of the various story structure writers’ ideas (and especially, terminologies) into one. They’re mostly talking about the same things, only in different terms. Someone beat me to it! Especially if you know these writers’ ideas already, you can stare at the Story Diamond for while.

I hadn’t before heard of Jeffrey Schechter or his concept of Four Archetypes, but coming across it here, I was set on fire! Mentally, I ran thru a slew of movies; it’s very interesting:

GHOSTBUSTERS

  1. Orphan: Unloved, over-sexed, unconnected, using women.
  2. Wanderer: Trying out business/entrepreuneurship, examining paranormality he didn’t exactly believe in before (“Are you even using that thing correctly?”).
  3. Moment Of Grace: “I respect you. It’s corny but I respect you.”
  4. Warrior: Fighting EPA and Peck. Getting serious about Zuul and Gozer, finds Dana in trouble. Fighting for freedom with Mayor.
  5. Martyr: “Cross the streams…..” “I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Incredible.

HUSTLE & FLOW

  1. Orphan: disconnected, no meaningful intimacy, poverty, struggling
  2. Wanderer: he never really thought of music before….
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Must recruit believers, make peace w/noisy neighbor, get a better mic, rid himself of unhealthy hangers on, and most of all, talk Skinny Black into hearing his demo
  5. Martyr: Anger gets best of him, he shoots entourage member, shoots his way out, arrested and jailed… Only to discover that in commercial hip hop, jail time is good; he is respected and listened to


MURIEL’S WEDDING

  1. Orphan: her parents hate her, her friends hate her, her siblings don’t see her, she has nothing
  2. Wanderer: stealing cash, she goes to Hibiscus Island, connects with Rhonda, moves to Sydney, “This is my new life! I’m changing my name”
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Rhonda is paralyzed with cancer, Muriel must find new, real money and escape, sees the ad for David’s wedding
  5. Martyr: She might have saved her mother’s mental health; she sees that the marriage to David is fraudulent. She reclaims her dignity and self-respect


THE DARK KNIGHT

  1. Orphan: Omitting the obvious (dead parents): Unconnected lurker in the night, a “myth” figure. Disconnected from Rachel, and making saddened peace/acceptance with that fact, and the fact of his lonely life. Even famed ballerina doesn’t take his mind or eyes off of Rachel
  2. Wanderer: The Joker will kill until he unmasks; new territory he never anticipated.
  3. Moment of Grace: He refuses to kill the Joker and commits to his ideals.
  4. Warrior: He has to fight for his own morals and ethics, tested like he never anticipated (he expected to butt heads with the Mob, not a game-player idly screwing around with him).
  5. Martyr: “This is too much power for one man,” into, “I killed those men. That’s what I can be.”

Wow.

CASABLANCA

  1. Orphan: Ex-patriate in exile, alcoholic, left behind in Paris and unable to accept, disconnected from his virtues and virtuous causes.
  2. Wanderer: Exploring Ilsa’s secret past. Meeting Strasser, encountering Nazi takeover of French Morocco.
  3. [MOG...see my on-line StoryCraft training course for a complete analysis of Casablanca (with clips no less.) http://storycrafttraining.blogspot.com/search/label/Casablanca—sw]
  4. Warrior: Making plans to challenge destiny.
  5. Martyr: Sacrifices himself to save Ilsa’s husband; luckily saved by friend-in-high-place.

I think it fits great.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

  1. Orphan: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” (Plus, an Orphan, transported to another world)
  2. Wanderer: Wandering Oz.
  3. Moment of Grace: ‘I’ll help you… if you murder the Wicked Witch.’ She agrees. Scared Little Lost Girl takes on courage and masters Oz, as 
  4. Warrior: Trekking, fighting Monkeys, defeating Witch.
  5. Martyr: Toto discovers the Truth – there is no Wizard of Oz.

Total fit  (I may not have nailed Martyr)

JAWS

  1. Orphan: Transplanted New Yorker. “When do I get to be an Islander?” “Never. You’re not born here, you’re an islander.”
  2. Wanderer: Unfamiliar with ocean deaths; unfamiliar with sharks and learning about them for the first time. Venturing into ocean for first time.
  3. Moment of Grace: Fear of ocean/water melts after son nearly dies; mans up to face the water.
  4. Warrior: Hiring Quint, chumming, barrels and harpoons.
  5. Martyr: Going down fighting with the ship for a community which rejects him.

Good stuff.

Curious about something smaller, ie.
BREATHLESS, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE

  1. Orphan: Kills cop; on the lam. Hungry for connection w/Patricia.
  2. Wanderer: Exploring connection with Patricia (philosophical discussions, making emotional and physical contact). Wandering Paris for his owed money.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: On the run from police; new plan to hideout in Montmartre.
  5. Martyr: Accepts Patricia’s disinterest in running away to Italy; he should have talked about her, not himself. Gives up the chase when alerted to Patricia’s betrayal; alerts friend in street to police’s knowledge, shot dead by cops.

And PATRICIA:

  1. Orphan: Unsuccessful writer ex-patriate in Paris; slight English mistakes in French, evidently not local.
  2. Wanderer: Maybe Michel is alright for her…? Even if he goes against her goals and plans.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Fights for place in Parvelesco press conference; defies police, feigns barely knowing Michel, sides with Michel and concocts hideaway plan in Montmartre.
  5. Martyr: Gives up Michel to prove she doesn’t love him (but she does).

NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

  1. Orphan: Something’s up with Jack/The same old thing.
  2. Wanderer: What’s this!? What’s this?!
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Kidnap the Sandy Claws.
  5. Martyr: Shot down for his love of Christmas; Resurrection as King of Halloween.


The LION KING

  1. Orphan: “Simba, it’s all your fault.”
  2. Wanderer: Run away, and never come back –> Hakuna Matata.
  3. Moment of Grace: Rafiki and Nala find him, and Mufasa’s spirit visits: Runaway becomes Prodigal Son.
  4. Warrior: We’re going to fight your uncle for this??
  5. Martyr: You never told them your little secret — Simba is responsible for Mufasa’s death.


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

  1. Orphan: Mankind, subject to elements and predation, unable to fend for self, unable to cooperate, ruled by tribalism.
  2. Wanderer: Bestowed with intelligence, Man invents tools, predates, and murders, and unites beyond nations (tribes) to explore space, having bestowed intelligence to his tools.
  3. [MOG...my favorite movie of all time and I have to admit I've never analyzed it. —sw]
  4. Warrior: Man battles the SmartTool, and against all odds, Dave defeats and murders HAL.
  5. Martyr: Determined to find the promised answers, Man enters Gate – and dies, to be resurrected as a new creation.


SUPERMAN

  1. Orphan: Bye-bye home planet; he doesn’t fit in in Smallville or on Earth; all those powers and he couldn’t save his dad
  2. Wanderer: Arctic, 12 year space-time trip with Jor-El to discover himself, moves to Metropolis
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Tested by Luthor, he saves Hackensack and rebuilds San Andreas Fault
  5. Martyr: His dad only had one real rule… and now, he chooses to break it, to have Lois back


Wow.

Wow.
Great stuff.

Out of curiosity:

GOLDFISH:

  1. Orphan: Disconnected lonely with mental impairment.
  2. Wanderer: Exits into neighborhood on quest to find dog.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Defeats seductress; confronts unknown “mystery” dog. Draws blood in chase.
  5. Martyr: Discovers and comprehends that he is mentally impaired.

– It fits perfectly.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Carol Pearson's 12 Archetypes and their Moral Premise Statements

 Carol S Pearson, Ph.D. continues her contribution to human psychology and story telling structure in her 2015 book "Awakening the Heroes Within: 12 Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World."  Somewhere in my library I have her earlier work, "TheHero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By."  The 12 Archetypes project... is a further development of the 6 Archetypes effort. Both valuable...for storytellers.

While she gives credit to the seminal work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung for her understanding of the human condition, it's interesting that her suggested 7 uses for her 12 Archetypes book includes clinical psychological diagnostic interventions (et al) but does not include those of us in the story telling industry. But then, as we writers know, we are very much a part of the psychological diagnostic intervention business...not just for our characters, but for the audiences that identify with our characters.

Light and Shadows
Pearson does a great job of articulating each of the 12 Archetypes as both positive and negative forces in a character's life. Here's a quick summary. You will see the clear connection to the moral premise statement's virtue and vice (strength/weakness) dipoles that control motivations and drive action.

Archetype Strength [Archetype Shadow]

  1. INNOCENT [Denial of reality]
  2. ORPHAN [Irresponsibility]
  3. WARRIOR [Compromised Principles]
  4. CAREGIVER [Guilt Manipulation]
  5. SEEKER [Commitment Avoidance]
  6. DESTROYER [Addictive compulsions]
  7. LOVER [Seductive sirens]
  8. CREATOR [Obsessive distraction]
  9. RULER [Tyrant]
  10. MAGICIAN [Evil Sorcerer]
  11. SAGE [Heartless judge]
  12. FOOL [Without dignity or self-control]

Heroic Myth Index
The depth of her research into her understanding of the personal human journeys is an extrapolation of Campbell and Jung, of course, but also of the Myers-Briggs Type theory...from which she's developed her Heroic Myth Index (HMI)...which is included in the Appendix of the 12 Archetypes.
While Pearson intends the HMI as an exercise to helping the reader in self-evaluation, we fiction writers and story creators will also see its immediate value in fiction character development.

Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr
As in her earlier work (The Hero Within), much of her system is directly applicable to story creation such as how four of her archetypes (Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr) directly correspond to the four equal divisions of a traditional screenplay: Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3.   Jeffrey Alan Schechter brought this to my attention in MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY and I incorporated it into the Story Diamond...which is discussed in my Storycraft Training Series and accessible on The Moral Premise's main Writing Aids page. 

Moral Premise Statements
But what I want to focus on in this blog post is the reworking of a table that appears early in her 12 Archetypes and give the table a moral premise practicality. This can be done easily with the above  table of Archetypes and their Shadows. But Pearson goes further, although it's a bit uneven, which forces me to attempt a leveling. (I'll not reference her book, forcing you to buy it. It's well worth the read.)

DISCLAIMER:
In constructing the following moral premise statements 
I have NOT carefully considered their universal truth. 
A proper and effective moral premise statement must be universally true. 

Imagine each of these archetypes as a best descriptor for your protagonist. As Pearson explains,     each archetype is tempted by virtues and vices (i.e. strengths and weaknesses) to motivate their actions. Her book, of course, goes into more detail.

INNOCENT
Denying danger leads to abandonment, but
Discerning danger leads to safety.
or
False Optimism (misplaced trust) leads to abandonment, but
Fidelity to reality leads to safety
ORPHAN
Ignoring reality and embracing victimization and pain leads to exploitation; but
Facing reality and taking responsibility for pain leads to safety.
WARRIOR
Battling everything in our path leads to loss and weakness; but
Having discipline to battle what matters leads to winning and strength.
CAREGIVER
Coarse selfishness leads to puts one's self in harms way, but
Generous compassion leads to care for others in harms way. 
SEEKER
Reckless conformity to the status quo leads to a false self-respect and unhappiness, but
Autonomous initiative leads to a deeper self actualization and a better life. 
LOVER
Fear of commitment leads to loss of love, but
Pursuit of your passion leads to bliss. 
DESTROYER
Draconian arrogance leads to annihilation; but
Humility leads to metamorphosis.
CREATOR
Stifling our natural creativity leads to inauthenticity, but
Cultivating our natural creativity leads to vocation.
RULER
Autocratic recklessness leads to chaos and disorder, but
Autocratic consideration leads to order and structure.
MAGICIAN
Ignoring the cosmos* leads to evil sorcery, but
Alignment with the cosmos* leads to righteous transformation.
(* natural law)
SAGE
Material attachment leads to dark deception, but
Transcendence leads to enlightened truth.

FOOL
Playing tricks on reality leads to walking deadness (non-aliveness), but
Letting reality playing tricks on us leads enjoyment, joy and freedom. 









Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Story Break by FaceTime

Nothing new here, just a fun time breaking a story with Brian Shield's LUMEN ENTERTAINMENT FILM CAMP via FaceTime. I'm in Novi, MI, they're in Jacksonville, FL. It felt they were right across the table from me and the story cards spread between us. I used Post-It stickies on my 26" Mac display screen to write their names. Now that they have a good story, let's see if the can execute it. I guess my image was displayed on a iPad hung above the table with with a C-stand. Waiting on a picture of that.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Man, Nature & God

Humanity lives on
Stories
   backstories 
       plots 
          subplots
Imperfectly human
Striving for 
    perfection
        happiness
            peace
Our condition confounds
Tragedies and horrors lay waste
    Terrorist acts
        all intended, all unjust
   War acts
         some intended, some not
         some just, some not
   Accident acts
       all unintended, all just
Afterwards only
    Forgiveness
        from God—always
        from Man—sometimes
        from Nature—never.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Characterization and The Moral Premise

As with everything in a script/story The arc described in the moral premise needs to be present especially in each character's characterization. Not every element of characterization needs to arc, but arc'ing a few would strengthen the story. My online Storycraft Training Series (click on the link to access the training) teaches you how to do this in many ways. As an extension to that valuable training, here is a description of characterization and how it adds to the elegancy of the moral premise method of storytelling.

You can categorize characterization in the following ways:

Appearance. This refers to wardrobe, mannerisms, and hygiene. Do your characters look like, act, and dress like who they really are? Is this correlation obvious, obscured, and ironic? Do they dress down because of their humility or are they hiding something? Do they dress up out of arrogance or to compensate for a sense of inferiority? Do they refuse to care for their health because they hate who they are? How does their appearance change or not during the course of the story? A good writer will plan this arc, and it's clarity (or it's obscurity), to subliminally reinforce the moral premise of the story.

Action: This refers to their decisions to choose one course of action vs. another normally associated with the turning points of a plot (or subplot). What does the character do? What don't they do? What do they consider doing...or not doing? Is there an indication that they would like to do something but they turn from it, or that they don't want to do something but they do it anyway? While this is easy to describe in a novel with internal monologue, it's a bit more of an art in a screenplay where you only have physical actions to describe in the action paragraph or in the nonverbal of dialogue.  (Yes, you can explain it in dialogue, but don't.) A good writer will plan this arc (as they plot the action), to explicitly reinforce the moral premise of the story.

Appearances in a movie are an important
part of characterization. Above, Chris Hemsworth
prepares for his role in HEART OF THE SEA.
Dialogue: How does the character speak in use of grammar, confidence, dialect? How do these elements contrast and compare to other characters? Can we distinguish who is talking if there are no character tags above each dialogue line? While you may think these characteristics may stay constant throughout a story, the best stories find a way to arc this element. In real life, once, during a flight from Michigan to California, I sat next to man who felt obliged to communicate a particular persona to me through a distinct pattern of speech. As we talked during the four hour trip his speech slowly changed to that of normal midwesterner. As we said our goodbyes in the LAX terminal, he had morphed into an entirely different character than the one I sat next to leaving DTW. I thought, if this can happen that quickly in real life, then such a change in a 120 minute motion picture is not unrealistic. And, if those speech patterns are logically connected to the moral premise' weakness and strength, you have a reinforced arc that will connect emotionally with audiences. A good writer will imbue this into their characterizations. 

Arc: This refers primarily to the main turning points of the main plot and multiple subplots. How does the character moral decision making change throughout the story and how does that change relate to whether they are a good guy or a bad guy? The assumption is that a good guy will always get better and a bad guy will get his comeuppance. This reflects audience expectations of characterization in a broad overall sense. But irony plays an important role in keeping an audience's attention. Can you make a character more interesting my plotting their action in a way that "stings" the audience? Does your protagonist fake her own death, but not let the audience in on the trick? Do they appear to tell the truth, but are in fact lying? Do they take actions that seem malevolent, but turn out to be merciful? Keep your audience guessing by thus enriching your character's characterization. But never, EVER, be irrational about the character's arc. Natural Law is your friend, because the turning points of a story, while perhaps manipulated by the character's values, will always arc back to nature in the end. To do otherwise will cheat and irritate your audience. 

Internal motivation/values: This refers to what drives all the action of every story. It's what the character's believe above all else will bring them happiness. While this element is mostly hidden in a screenplay, it's important that the writer have this firmly in their mind so the subtleties of writing and the choice of words and the length of sentences and dialogue and everything else subtly reflect who the character is and what he/she hope to be. Characterization originates from the character's most intimately held values....those articulated in the moral premise statement. Those values control everything they are, think and do. For characterization to ring true to your audience/reader, you must never violate the natural law connection between a value, and when acted upon the physical consequence. The consequence may be delayed, thus encouraging a vice/weakness the character has, but ultimately their internal motivation will reward them—good or bad. It is in this manner that the physical consequences (what we "see" in the story) become metaphors for the character's true self. Characterization is how we see that trueness, oftentimes before the consequence hits. A good writer will have this figured out ahead of time, or (if you're a pantser) do it by instinct. 

Introduction: In a screenplay, the introduction of a significant character is that one sentence allowed the screenwriter to tell us who the character really is...or at least at that moment who the screenwriter wants the reader to think the character is. The introduction is explicit, omniscient characterization. The writer is allowed to describe the internal motivations and values of the character hopefully by connecting it to some physical and visible element. Example: "A debonair young man whose mind was always in the gutter."  "A mindless beauty who was totally innocent of her affect on the opposite sex." "A woman whose intentions were always good but who's affect was always unwelcome." "Jacob was the syndicate boss who ordered the death of hundreds but secretly he wanted to be a weekend preacher and save souls  especially his own." Novelists have much more leeway to use a whole scene, of every chapter, to flesh out such characterization. The good writer will carefully manipulate this description to set up the character's values, arc, and appearance to entrap the reader's emotions as the story unfolds. 


Hopefully evident in those last examples (and should be evident in all the other characterization elements) is the concept of irony. "It was the best of days it was the worst of days, they were the best of people but they were entirely flawed." I think more than anything else the natural, organic incorporation of such irony in characterization is what makes people and characters interesting to an audience.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD? TELL STORIES

This article appeared in Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2016). Weblink



by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.

You can change the world any number of ways. Revolution works if you have a large disgruntled populace. But revelation only works if you're related to God. Art had its place a few hundred years back, until pigment fell out of vogue. Scientific discoveries, industrial inventions and information technology are possibilities if your world is large and clumsy. If you're void of talent but like to talk, you might try reality television or politics. Or, if you have a large uninformed voting block at your command, you can try tyranny.

Yes, there are many ways to change the world. But my favorite is STORYTELLING. Yes, that's right—capitalized and italicized. Telling stories does not require political credentials, large outlays of cash, or a standing army. It does, however, require imagination, perseverance, and a good editor. You can learn to tell stories...and tell them well...by spending just ten minutes a night tucking-in your children, nieces, nephews or charges you may be babysitting. Amazingly, while you sit there in the semi-darkness comfortably in your pajama's, you can conjure up earth shattering revolts, epiphanies of revelation, splattering paint, quantum quarks, and other worldly places where fish walk about on their tail-fins and men and women levitate by flapping their ears lobes. Think of the possibilities.   

Granted, if you can't think of the possibilities storytelling is probably not for you. (See the options in paragraph 1.) But if, when thinking of the possibilities, your mind starts to snort adrenalin what comes next will interest you. I'm going to give you a preview on how to tell successful stories that can change the world. But first, here are a few examples of storytellers and stories that actually did it.[1]

·       Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), is credited with inflaming passions that brought on the most terrible war in our history.

·       In response to Stowe's Cabin, Tomas Dixon wrote The Clansman (1905), which was adapted by D.W. Griffith in the motion picture epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). Together the two are infamously credited with the revival of the KKK and the Jim Crow south.

·       The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1843), is perhaps best known for influencing Western Civilization's celebration of Christmas.

·       The Bible, by a host of men inspired by God and canonized in Carthage (396 AD), is the best selling story book of all time, with its "history-bending" tales that continually challenge society to change, vanquish fear, and embrace hope.

·       And television sitcoms like Will & Grace are credited with advancing liberal views toward homosexuality and non-traditional families.

Such stories have the capacity to change attitudes and values because of a few storytelling secrets that you too can apply. The purpose of these is to entice your reader (or audience) to emotionally identify with, and intellectually engage, the story's main characters. The result is a simulation of reality where the audience participates and learns with the characters about how to live happily and peaceable within the natural laws of the universe. Here's an abbreviated list of the natural laws of successful storytelling.

1.     Your hero (or protagonist) must be imperfect. Audiences like characters that are like them—with flaws.  
2.     Your hero must have a goal that is noble, visible, and requires sacrifice to achieve. Perilous stakes heighten suspense and intrigue.
3.     Your hero must passionately and proactively pursue the goal. Audiences find passive, indolent heroes boring.
4.     The villain (or antagonist) who obstructs the hero, in the goal's pursuit, must appear to be ubiquitous, more powerful, and more resourceful than your hero. The audience will root for the underdog.
5.     Undergirding the story must be a conflict of values that drive the hero and villain to make decisions that lead to actions, which create the drama. Moral values drive all decisions that, in turn, motivate action. When the values of characters conflict, the visible action is explosive.
6.     The consequences of the characters' actions must always follow natural law. While values, decisions and actions are under the control of your character, the consequences of the action are dictated by natural law. As soon as you discard natural law the audience will discard your story.
7.     You are, however, allowed to disregard natural law one time—in formulating the story's impossible hook. Aristotle tells playwrights to devise a story's physical premise on an impossible probability rather than a possible improbability. David beheading Goliath works better than Goliath inviting David to dinner.
8.     The hero's dogged pursuit of the goal must be thwarted until story's mid-point (the Moment of Grace) when the hero recognizes the need to fix his or her inner flaw. After the hero pays attention to redeeming his flaw, progress toward the goal accelerates...along with the obstacles thrown in the path by the antagonist. Thus, the hero's outer journey, which we see on screen, becomes a metaphor for the real story—the hero's inner transformation.

We can tell children not to touch the hot stove, but they may not change their behavior until their fingers are singed. Experience may be the best teacher, but who needs the pain? Storytelling, on the other hand, can emotionally engage an audience through a simulation of reality. That's how stories can change behavior and the world.

###

You can request a free bookmark that lists 18 Secrets of Successful Storytelling and read more about how to do it at Dr. Williams' website, blog, and on-line training, accessible at http://www.moralpreise.com.

Copyright © 2016, Stanley D. Williams. All Rights Reserved.




[1] My thanks to Jonathan Gottschall who saved me the research in his The Story Telling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Friday, February 26, 2016

Does "Catholic" get in the way of "catholic" Storytelling

The Four Cardinal Virtues and their Contrary Elements
(copied from http://csermelyblog.tehetsegpont.hu/node/25)

Today a story client asked a good question that I've never breached on this blog. She asked if my deeply held Roman Catholic values would get in the way of helping her with a screenplay that had some elements that were contrary to Roman Catholic teaching.

While this possible conundrum may be on the minds of some that have not worked with me (yet), the question offers me an opportunity to expound, again, on a universal truth: All successful stories connect with audiences BECAUSE they are universal, or "catholic" -- notice the lower case "c."

Here's how I responded, which I've edited for clarity.
Dear C: 
I’m not bothered by story elements that run counter to Roman Catholic teaching (or counter to perceived Roman Catholic teaching, which is more often the case). 
Here’s my standard on such matters: 
In order to connect with mainstream audiences you’ll face something called Natural Law. What you must realize is that audiences subliminally recognize what is natural to the universe (and their lives) and what is not. That your story resonate with such natural elements is what helps your audience connect or "get" your story. When you try to legislate a reality that is not natural to your audience, you will distance yourself from them. One of my tasks in consulting is to help you connect with a target audience, and thus be aware of Natural Law and how you represent it in your story. 
Drama stems from the conflict between what is universally natural and what is not.  The “universe” of which I write is both physical and psychological, but I focus on the psychological because that is what motivates the physical.   
Long before there was a Roman Catholic Church (or any other religion's set of propositional statements), there was nature, and the rules of such are written on all human hearts and consciences. Now, it is true that many people (or story characters) can and do harden their consciences to those natural truths....but again that's one of the sources of drama. But generally and universally human conscience is very stable…and that’s the realm in which I work.  
In my work I refer to these natural forces as "virtues (or strengthens)."  And the rejection of those truths I refer to as "vices (or weaknesses)."  
Yes, there is an alignment between Roman Catholic teaching and "catholic" universal vices and virtues.  The Roman Church claims that it's teachings are not arbitrary but are a careful articulation of how the universe and nature work, and that the development of correct theology is the consequence of thousands of years of human observation about both the physical and the psychological universe in which the human condition lives
Thus, for proper dramatic conflict that general audiences will recognize there must be catholic vices/weaknesses and catholic virtues/strengths (contrary elements), or you will not have conflict and thus you will not have drama that anyone will connect with.



Monday, February 22, 2016

Visual Storytelling

Here's a good example of visual storytelling with intersecting arcs from a filmmaker I've admired from the past. Good job, Chuck.

Word of Mouth from Charles Kinnane on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hail! .... HAIL CEASAR. Brilliant!

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016)

Writers/Directors: ETHAN COEN, JOEL COEN
Eddie Mannix: JOSH BROLIN
Baird Whitlock: GEORGE CLOONEY
Hobie Doyle: ALDEN EHRENREICH
Laurence Laurentz: RALPH FIENNES
DeeAnna Moran: SCARLETT JOHANSSON
Thora & Thessaly Thacker: TILDA SWINTON

I went for a lark.

I thought I'd go to the movies just this once for fun. No analysis, no timings in the back of the theater with my iPhone taking notes and risking getting kicked out. Pam was gone for the night, so I ate a Wendy's Apple Pecan Salad in the Emagine Theater parking lot as it started to snow. Went in, bought my Senior Discount ticket, got some chocolate covered almonds (Hey, Lent starts tomorrow), and sitting in my seat put in my new hearing aid so I could understand the dialogue.

I was expecting a brainless, escapism, night at the movies.

WELL!

Here's a hint.

Hail, Caesar! is (at the same time) all about the fragility and splendor of being human. It is about the inability of humans to do what is right and their perseverance in trying to be better. It's about the darkness of life and the candles we can ignite to bring light into that darkness.  And, it's about how incompetent Hollywood can be and how, at the same time, utterly brilliant and talented the people there are. It's about the difficult of doing what is right and not what is easy.  And all of that under the mercy of our creator. It is a pure movie about the human condition and how we help each other in this dark valley of tears.

HAIL, CAESAR! was entertaining (after a while). I cringed at first...it took a while to figure out what was going on. Hey, it's the Coen brothers and they are two smart directors, but you have to stick with them—they will make you work. There were moments of profound seriousness and scenes that seemed obscure at best. And yet, there were scenes I could not stop laughing (although many of the jokes for me were filmmaking inside jokes. I've directed actors enough and been in editing rooms enough (even with upright Moviolas), that the moments were gut busters...with many homages to the greats of the industry.   There were repeated sends-up of Hollywood and it's ridiculous attempts to get things right but didn't. (When you see the rear view of Jesus on the Cross is not satire of Christianity, it's satire at Hollywood trying to tell the
story of Christ....big difference....don't be confused). There is a dance number that puts Gene Kelly to shame, and Esther Williams's grand water choreography makes an appearance. Enjoy the respites of talent, they're there to remind you of humanity's goodness and how the struggle is worth it.

Thus, I identified easily with the protagonist and his arc....Eddie Mannix, the CAPITAL studio head played by Josh Brolin. Watch him carefully. The movie is NOT about George Clooney's character Baird Whitlock, although Baird's predicament is what drives Eddie's primary, physical goal.

I'll watch it again and do a little amendment on the Moral Premise later. Let me know what you think.

March 20, 2016 (1 AM) in response to James Shiels in the comments below:

James, I wish more people would push back like you did. I've been involved in pre-prep on one shoot while supporting the production of another and so haven't had time to write more about HAIL, CEASAR, although I did see it a second time and took good notes which are now opened before me.

It's late at night...I've got 10 hours of production tomorrow...but I'll hack this out and clean it up later. Sorry for the typos. Hope they're not too bad.

Thank you for taking note of one of my "rules" that if a movie is popular it probably has a valid moral premise. But what I have also claimed is that a valid moral premise is no guarantee of success... because so much else is involved...like marketing, and...in the case of HAIL, CEASER (HC) not telling a story that is hard to understand at a moral level because the surface artifacts are so thick.

I promise to write about this when I have time, but for now here's a brief explanation of what I saw...even more the second time.

First, I did not know much about the real Eddie Mannix, upon which Josh Brolin's character is based-- I guess loosely. Supposedly, from the little I've read about him, he was an interesting but not a very redeemable person...and for a comedy or a redemptive ending film you need a protagonist likable in a very broad sense. You have to make him both flawed and have him seek the higher human good.  So, my evaluation if of the HAIL, CEASER Mannix, not the real one.

Second, while the HC Mannix is clearly the main character, and my some definitions the protagonist, he plays more of the antagonist character in relationship to his studio charges. Did you ever see any television episodes of the series TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. In that series, at first glance, one would think the protagonist(s) are the angels. If you have not seen it here's the premise. Some person on Earth has got their life all screwed up and God sends three angels to help him or her get straightened out. The protagonist is the "guest star" with the problem. And in that way the guest star arcs from living a life that is messed up, to getting it fixed...BECAUSE of the angel's interventions in his or her life. The angels do not have control over the protagonist's free will, but they try to find a way to manipulate situations and provide counseling to the  person so they choose to do better and fix their own life.

In that way, Mannix (in HC) is the antagonist, but he's also the main character and the POV character. But the protagonists are  the various studio characters for which he has some responsibility. Now, Mannix does have an arc, and he is clearly better off at the end of the movie than at the beginning, but the deeper arcs are played by the protagonists of the various sub plots.

Third, here are some of the obvious arcs.

Baird Whitlock (Clooney) changes from taking his job for granted to taking it seriously. He plays the vacuous, Hollywood star who lets others do his thinking for him and gets dragged into the foolery of the  writers who really are Communist Sympathizers. His last soliloquy at the foot of the cross is the opposite of his attitude earlier. He's still flawed (and can't remember the more important word of the speech ("faith") but by his forgetting it, the writers of HC get to emphasize it.  Baird moves from skepticism to faith (in multiple areas). And yet, skepticism and faith are the two key values of the moral premise.

Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenrich) also moves through this same arc. He's skeptical of his ability to be in a talkie. But he  get's his talkie legs. And the same time  he's able to translate his "on-screen hero skills" to the real world and rescue Whitlock and bring him back to the studio.

This is also reinforced by the Lockheed recruiter who is stuck on the negative side of the moral premise (skepticism) and refers to Hollywood as make believe and a useless vocation for Mannix to be involved with. The recruiter stays permanently on the skeptical side of the moral premise.

DeeAnna Moran (Scarlette Johansson) arcs from skepticism about marriage (because of her failed marriages and relationships in the past) to marrying the studio attorney who adopts her kid.

The Thacker sisters arc likewise from skepticism about anything Mannix or the studio does to realizing they were wrong about a great many things, and that perhaps gossip isn't always the best for their readers. Thus they move from skepticism about Mannix to faith in him.

Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), on the other hand at his Moment of Grace turns to the dark side, rather than embracing the truth, and hops on a Russian sub and leaves his recruited writers to fend for themselves. You can say that in a Nicomachen way, Gurney arcs from skepticism to treason.

And finally, Mannix moves from skepticism about the difficulty of running production at the studio to realizing it's what he's really good and doing and so his career calling is reinforced. The subplot with the Lockheed recruiter reveals that Mannix is skeptical about his job in several ways. But by the end he has rejected that skepticism in favor of faith in his calling.  Mannix's goal, in the life of every one of his charges is to help them achieve human dignity. His "stars" are very talented...and in that talent they each have a lot of faith to do their work good. But they are not faithful to that dignity when confronted with things off camera. Their lives are a mess, and they are unsure and lost, often times giving The Thacker sisters something to write about. Yes, on the surface you might understand that Mannix is just trying to make a buck for the studio. But that goal is questioned when he so quickly tries to pay off Gurney with a $100,000 ransom for Whitlock. From the very beginning to the end, Mannix's goal with EVERY character Mannix interfaces with is to save their dignity from their own stupid decisions. He is their agent of mercy. He takes on himself their grief, and tries to cover it up by getting them to do what is good.

The most obvious motif that Mannix plays are the movie's bookends....his sessions in the confessional with his priest. The smoking is both a red herring for the audience....and also a metaphor for everything he does. Notice he's skeptical about his ability to please and provide for his wife and family. That is why he's trying to stop  smoking, and get a more stable job that would provide for retirement for his missus.  In the confessional at the end, what the movie is really about is talked about explicitly. He says to his priest, "If there's something that's easy is that wrong?"  He's not sure if the job is what he should be doing, but it seems that protecting the dignity and trying to straighten out his charge's lives ..."it's hard...but it seems right." And the priest says, "God wants us to do what is right."

And with that Mannix, through his secretary tells the Lockheed recruiter "Thanks, but no thanks."

Now, there is a pretty heavy dose of religious overtones in the whole movie that is consistent with a theme in Christianity, especially in this particular year for Catholics. It's the "Year of Mercy." Mannix's job is one of showing mercy to those under the studio's employ...and avoiding scandal. But the Cohen brother's Mannix really cares more for the lives of his charges than he does money. He is also deeply concerned about what he's doing in everything he does. He goes to confession every day...and he takes it seriously. Notice, he's very Skeptical about his ability to be the man he was called to be. Notice also toward the end he goes to the set of HAIL, CEASER and prays at the foot of the cross. We don't hear his prayer. But we know he struggles with every subplot thrown at him. And while he's at the cross (much the way Brad Whitlock is at the end of the movie delivering his soliloquy, he finds his faith...and things work out...and he realizes he's where he should be at the studio. Brad says "faith" (or forgets it) but it's Mannix that finds it.

In the same way that Jesus Christ was skeptical in the garden as to whether or not he should allow himself to be crucified, he comes out of the garden prayer with faith and goes through the very hard time of submitting to his death. And why does Christ give of himself and the security of a life on earth?  To be merciful to those in his charge. So, that, also is what Mannix goes through. He realizes that his very hard life is noble value, and he willing moves forward out of skepticism into faith that he was called to bring mercy (like Christ) to those under his care.

The moral premise:
Skepticism about one's life leads to trial, disillusionment and treason; but
Faith about one's life leads to purpose, vision, and fidelity. 

I don't think there's a character in the movie with at least a three beat subplot that doesn't reinforce that moral premise.

James, thanks for asking.

Stan

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why LITTLE BOY Was a Bomb

LITTLE BOY (2015) PG-13

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Monteverde
PRODUCER: Leo Severino (Metanoia Films)
EX PRODUCER: Eduardo Verastegui, Sean Wolfington, Mark Burnett, Roma Downey

STARRING
Tom Wilkinson (Fr. Oliver)
Cary-Hioyuki Tagawa (Hashimoto)
Emily Watson (Emma Busbee)
David Henrie (London Busbee)
Kevin James (Dr. Fox)
Jakob Salvati (Pepper Busbee / Little Boy)

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

I am asked now and then to talk more about movies that fail because of a false or misguided moral premise.

So, a couple years back, I girded up my loins and analyzed and blogged about some big MOVIES THAT FAILED. It was hard work, looking at all that money and talent being wasted. Terrible storytelling. Clear, obvious, universal, common sense story rules were just thrown out the window by filmmakers and studios alike... because, it seems, they come up with an ironic hook. But irony has to support the story, not just be ironic for entertainment's sake. Ionic stories (with good hooks) yet without the proper story foundation will always fail.

Tonight, in order to test out a new hearing aid...I've lost a lot of my high frequencies...I turned on our Apple TV, Netflix, and New Releases (for Netflix, not in the theaters). The first movie on the list was Metanoia Films' LITTLE BOY. Metanoia is run by some talented devout, Catholic filmmakers that I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to a few times.  But I had not seen LITTLE BOY, so, Pam and I settled down to watch and listen (as long my new hearing aid worked...and it did.)

As a period piece, the production values on LITTLE BOY are fantastic. The art direction, prop department and carpenters all deserve some sort of award. The photography and editing are eye-popping good.  The supporting actors are wonderful, and the overall direction is tight and purposeful, and who can deny that watching Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, David Henrie, and Kevin James is anything but a joy. And Jakob Salvati, as Pepper, the  Little Boy, held his own as the protagonist.
There are scenes that will make you cry...my wife was taken numerous times with heavy tears. The movie is just plain captivating.

But at the end, I was left with this awful empty, contradictory feeling. Why, I wondered? I couldn't put my finger on it for a while. I ran to the computer and checked what I had remembered about the box office being mediocre. BAM!!!  Yes, something was seriously wrong.

With an estimated budget of $20M-$30M (in Mexico no less where things are a lot cheaper to shoot), the U.S. Domestic Box office was a trifle $6.5M (rounding it up) with apparently no International distribution.

Folks, this is horrible. For a movie that has so much going for it in terms of production value, and scene value—there are wonderful sequences with deft parallel editing, scene-after-scene are just fabulously made—why would this film not connect?  First weekend it opened in 1,000 plus theaters and does a modest $3.3M. Not great, but if the movie was really as good as it looks, it would have dropped only 30% by the next week. But it dropped 62.3%. Fatal. Word of mouth was tepid at best. In later weeks it dropped three successive weeks by 50% and in 8-weeks it was history.

ANALYSIS

The reason this movie about Christian faith did not connect, even with it's Christian/Catholic target audience, has everything to do with the Moral Premise and common sense storytelling's black and white rules.

THE STORY, on the surface is about a little boy who is learning about how faith as small as a mustard seed, can movie mountains. In the movie, he tries and sort of succeeds to move a mountain. It's also about the hateful prejudice some Americans showed American Japanese during WWII. The little boy's father is called off to war and Pepper, with the astute help of Fr. Oliver (Wilkinson), passionately and actively pursues an increase in his faith (through good works) so that his father will return from the war safe and sound. THAT IS, THE PHYSICAL GOAL OF THE PROTAGONIST (Pepper / Little Boy)....is TO GET DADDY HOME ALIVE. Making that goal tangible and visible is well executed in the film. Pepper's family lives in a town on the West Coast of California and there are scenes where Pepper holds up his arms toward the setting sun over Japan (which at that moment may be the Rising Sun of Japan), grunting and shaking in a Star Wars'esque effort to morph "Christian faith" into "The Force." The atheistic Mr. Hashimoto challenges Fr. Oliver to stop the charade and protect the boy psychologically. But Fr. Oliver...is having his own crisis of faith, and doesn't know what to tell the kid...because to Fr. Oliver it seems like the kid does have faith (alas, the kid is demonstrating faith in his own selfishness not in God's power to save...so what we have here is really poor understanding of fundamental theology.) Admittedly, the movie makes no attempt to suggest that what Pepper is doing is Christian faith. But neither does the movie define Christian faith, otherwise. So the audience is left to believe what is shown. And what is shown is logically invalid and subliminally the audience figures that out. (BTW: The Coen Brother's HAIL, CAESAR! does a better job of presenting the Gospel.)

Thus, when the first atomic bomb lands on Japan (shortly after one of Pepper's arm shaking episodes aimed at Japan) the town wildly celebrates because they believe that is was Pepper who was responsible. Why? Because his nick name around town is "Little Boy" and the nickname of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was "Little Boy."  Immediately thereafter and for solid minute there is great rejoicing. The film suddenly shifts to the somber destruction and the celebration stops. To make things worse, the family hears that Dad is taken as a POW, and then that he is killed. But through mistaken identity, the soldier that is killed is not Dad. And Dad returns home at war's end shell shocked but reunited with family.

IT'S A HORRIBLE MISTAKE for a movie that tries to battle prejudice to turn to celebration the killing of hundreds of thousands of Japanese in the shadow of what the little, smiling and celebrating Pepper believe is "Christian Faith." Even when, moments later, the movie puts on the appropriate somber moral mood for the bomb, a bitter taste is left in the mouth. A scene like that in any film, least of all a purported Christian film, is like a moral sin. It's nearly unforgivable. It's abhorrent. As one commenter on IMBD wrote "Christian Faith Nukes Hiroshima"  Of course the filmmakers don't say that...but (Damn It!) they SHOW it.

As bad as that scene was conceived, it is not what kills the movie...although the movie deserves to die because of it.

What kills the movie is something more subtle and at once obvious. To explain that I have to take a stab at the moral premise....that sentence that should be controlling everything about the story and it's presence on screen.

[NOTE TO FILMMAKERS OF ALL STRIPES: If you understand an apply the moral premise, your films won't go bust, assuming everything else is well done But when you screw this up, money will never save your investment.]

MORAL PREMISES

There are two possible moral premise statements for LITTLE BOY based on the explicit issues portrayed:

Moral Premise A
Racial hatred and lack of faith leads to hatred, separation and death; but
Brotherly love and faith leads to friendship, family and life.

Moral Premise B
Racial hatred and lack of faith leads to Daddy not coming home; but
Brotherly love and faith leads to Daddy coming home.

Moral Premise A would be a good statement if the movie had a protagonist with some goal that related to life and friendship within the community and physical efforts were put to that end.

But LITTLE BOY is about a little boy who wants his father to come back from war. The kid is not motivated to make the town better. 

Having made that clear (I hope)...

All successful stories MUST follow a few simple rules. Let me mention one of the most important:

  1. The inner transformation of values that the protagonist experiences, logically motivates the action that causes the physical transformation.  Psychological Motivation ALWAYS leads Physical Action...and the connection better be logical. 
  2. The protagonist's physical action toward the goal, logically causes the goal to be achieved. The goal cannot be achieved by any other action than that of the protagonist. 
If you need to understand this, take my Storycraft Training Online. There's not the room here.

A story cannot succeed if at the end of the plot, the protagonist steps aside and someone else saves the day. The protagonist must do the hand-to-hand combat, not another less important character. Thus LITTLE BOY fails due to three violations of these Natural Laws of Story Structure.

1. THERE IS NO LOGICAL PHYSICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN PEPPER'S ACTIONS AND GETTING HIS DAD HOME.

There is no direct acton that Pepper takes that remotely effects the return of his dad.  It's as if all though the movie Pepper pursues his goal with various actions, but at the end, a superhero swoops in and rescues Dad. The superhero being the guys on the Manhattan Project...some would say, far from innocent lads. Audiences subliminal are left dissatisfied. The catharsis is cut short and quick, if there's any at all. (Bad word of mouth #1.)

2. PEPPER'S LEARNED VIRTUE IS ACTUALLY A VICE

There is a hidden theme in the story that "innocence trumps reality." In other words, as the audience, we want the kid's wishes to come true BECAUSE and only because he's an innocent kid. If an adult acted like Pepper we'd call the character selfish, narcissistic and self-absorbed. Pepper's not wanting his Dad to come home for a selfless noble purpose. This is not A WONDERFUL LIFE where George Bailey's presence in the community benefits the good of all. Yes, we can see that Mom (Emily Watson) is sad and that she's being stalked by the friendly doctor in town (Kevin James). And we recognize that Pepper's older brother is getting in trouble because Dad is gone. BUT NONE OF THOSE have anything to do with Pepper's motivation for wanting his Dad back. That is, Pepper doesn't want Dad back because the Savings and Loan has to be saved for the sake of the town's livelihood. He wants Dad back for himself, alone. And we buy it because the kid is young, and sweet and  innocent. But the kid's motivations are not pure, they are filled with vice.  Subliminally, audiences see that. (Bad word of mouth #2.)

3. THERE'S NO LOGICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN PEPPER'S INNER TRANSFORMATION AND THE OUTER PROGRESS OF RETURNING DAD.

The moral premise also demands that it's the vice or weakness in the protagonist that creates the bad consequences, and that a transformation of that inner value to a virtue or strength will bring about the good consequence. But what does this movie do? Pepper achieves his goal, and we're led to believe in some way that it was his Christian faith that brought his Daddy home. But that's not true and Christians and non-Christians subconsciously know such an idea is fable and heresy. (Bad word of mouth #3.)

And ironically, I'll bet almost no one leaving the theater could explain any of this. It's a feeling, a sense, that something isn't quite right, and quite right they are.

Consequently, Little Boy was a Bomb.

Come on guys and gals out there making movies. READ MY BOOK at least, and try to understand this stuff. I'm not making money off these books, but you could.