Excellent and informative CWG meeting on Monday evening, where member S conducted a character workshop. N, A, S, K, P, L and myself were in attendance, J and D having passed on their apologies.
There was a discussion about the merits of Scrivener before the workshop began and then S set up his netbook with the film As Good As It Gets (which every member had watched prior to the meeting) to use during the workshop. We started with the first act and how the character drives structure. S believes it is general to plot the way through the book/script, but the character driving the narrative is more interesting.
Hero in status quo, inciting incident and point of no return/threshold is the 1st act purpose, usually of 30 minutes for a 3 act film (1 hour 2nd act, then another 30 minutes for the 3rd act) and 120 pages with key beats to hit within in. The 1st act answers the question 'why they can't do it?' (the quest, win the girl etc.) because of a fault within the character they want to write about. Most writers then try and plot in a few awkward moments for said character.
The film is about the journey and whether you the viewer are prepared to go on that journey with them as they become a better person. A good story has 2 elements: 1 objective and 1 subjective.
1 Hero has to get at the end e.g. he is going to save the world by putting the ring in the fire in Lord of The Rings (LOTR),
2 Hidden reason why s/he can't do it, e.g. what it is about them that means s/he can't do it, too small and from The Shire in LOTR, that will generate empathy. This is the hook to engage the viewer/reader, why the hero is unsuitable and how is that going to trip them up and this should be used for plotting.
In the 1st act of As Good As It Gets (AGAIG), we get to know the person we are about to see is not liked (not even the first page of the script in this film). Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) versus his nice neighbour. Udall is a racist, homophobic, bully who does not love anything. Then we see his mental illness (OCD) and this weakness in character is a reason why he is the way he is. The theme is 'real world' and how the characters create the world for themselves, how they hide their weaknesses to the world, e.g. in LOTR The Shire is idyllic so Frodo is least prepared for War. In AGAIG, Udall's apartment, how he feels about human contact etc. is showing you his special world that he has to protect. The 1st act has only shown us his world so far (no inciting incident yet), but it has shown you that Udall does not object to Carol the waitress (Helen Hunt) touching him.
There are two elements to story, the antagonist and the protagonist and the antagonist raises a question that the hero has to answer. The better the antagonist, the better the hero. Should strengthen the antagonist as the story will be better (asking more of the hero). In AGAIG the antagonist is the protagonists mental illness (that side of his personality). The hero was the OCD part (the clicks, the soap etc.) and the world of the story is Carol's life compared to his (still in the first act), e.g. his sanctity and the fact that she has curtains not doors, soap versus throw up.
How does every other character hand off your hero's story? In AGAIG they are the complete opposite to the central character. She is going to break into his real world/routine and just her talking about her son makes him want to back off and the nice guys inciting incident causes the hero's. The dog is running around his special world and this is the best punishment. The refusal in stories, why the hero can't take up the call, is very quick in this movie. The refusal is straight after he has pushed everyone away and the result is that he ends up with the dog. Need to have enough time for the refusal in the 1st act.
S then showed the members a graph of the 3 Act Structure with a red line for the antagonist and a black line for the protagonist. At the start both are oblivious to each other, then they converge slightly and need to show the impact on him.
Main character = hero/protagonist (journey)
Central character = yardstick main character is measured by (mentor figure)
The central character in AGAIG is Helen Hunt.
In a screenplay the point of view is the information being fed, telling the director how to make the film. In a speculative script, you are writing to entertain the reader as well. The speculative script is better, prose can drift off.
If the protagonist has not confronted their subjective need, the story needs to show that they have got on well without it (mentor, allies etc.) then the character goes down again (crashing point), this shows his/her inadequacies.
S suggested watching a film you really like and map it out yourself. Then watch the film and scribble down what you feel is the right bit. S has a copy of the screenplay for AGAIG and he agreed to find it and send to the CWG members, as well as an updated or the draft version of the Antagonist/Protagonist graph.
He feels the writer tells the director things about the character without giving the reasons why and the plot points push the character further from his/her goal, but they have to tie in with the character or there is no point doing it. He believes Game of Thrones is plot driven, not character driven and that AGAIG's theme is isolation as all three characters are in isolation. The mid-point of AGAIG is when he gets the dog back. He feels you have to be clear how they all link, the link that spans all of the characters.
Build tension and at the end of the 2nd act, give the reader/viewer something to cheer and then a last push before the 3rd act begins. Secondary characters should never make decisions for the hero, the hero has to be the one to say charge.
The workshop finished with a Goldman quote, when it comes to story 'come in late and leave early.'
The next meeting of Cleckheaton Writers Group is Monday the 30th September, 6-8pm at Cleckheaton Library.