Needs Must and All That

Danny Stack‘s latest Story Vault about dramatic need, along with Jane Espenson‘s post on the need for story/character stakes, got me thinking.

My path to film analysis was as follows:

    • blind acceptance –

Okay. She has to go back into the house for the cat because she loves widdle Ferdie.

    • followed by a curious questioning –

But why would the previously right-thinking Bindy go back into the house she’s just escaped from? Shaka the left-handed half-blind machete surgeon IS STILL IN THERE!

    • until I realised that there was a correlation between the VCR counter and such out-of-character behaviour –

[With 0:62:25 elapsed and 0:28:42 remaining] Bindy has yet to run Shaka through the bandsaw, detonate the C4 in the basement, and have a topless clinch with Chad the newspaper boy*.

It was likely after a three-hour-long (subjective) ninety-minute film that I had my I could’ve done better’n that moment and, still in that bubble of complete and utter naivete, started plotting my ideal action film:

    • Draft one:

The Hero’s dog is killed. Vengeance is sought. A helpful dog joins our Hero as the Sidekick on his journey. The Baddies are vanquished. The Sidekick is adopted.

    • Hm. Draft three:

The Hero’s family is massacred. Vengeance is sought. A helpful Waif joins our Hero in his quest. The Waif is kidnapped by the Baddies but not killed. The Baddies are pulped. One. By. One. The Hero rescues the Waif and they kiss.

    • Meh. Draft fifteen:

The Hero’s family is threatened – there’s a close call involving the Baby. The Hero and his Plucky Family hit the road but the Baddies are always a step behind. The Hero’s Dog is revealed to be a mole. The Hero is conflicted but is interrupted by an extended Woo-drenched firefight, at the end of which the Hero sacrifices himself for his Plucky Family – but is saved by a last-minute, redemptive and fatal act by his Dog.

I learnt an important lesson during those rewrites**: if I don’t make the reader care it’s just another exciting-but-quickly-forgotten carnival ride (or an excruciatingly interminable cuppa with your parents’ friends).


* How do I know all this? Because these scenes are in the trailer I’ve seen a dozen times already and they haven’t happened yet (although in this instance I’m going to be short-changed by Chad and Bindy sharing a chaste kiss before an abrupt end-credit-roll).

** I also learnt that reusing elements from earlier, discarded drafts is Writing Smarter.

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