Every Great American Story needs a Great American Hero who the world will cheer for. So what does it take for your story to launch from an idea into a riveting tale that audiences will relate to?
It simply has to be honest, says script consultant Dara Marks who helped NYCastings learn about the Transformational Arc in Part One of this article.
In Part One, Dara Marks expressed the importance of taking a conscious look at your writing, as the author, so that you don’t make random choices. Now we take that point to a deeper level… how to get your protagonist to take a closer look at their own life – face their flaws and push through them.
When it comes to honesty, This is the most important step in the creative process, says Dara Marks. The one thing I really stress, when I work with writers, is to throw the idea of being right’ out the window. When you try and gage the material, it never has to be some high toned sophisticated philosophy. It simply has to be honest.
Let’s say that a writer is going through a terrible love affair that went wrong – that is truth. That is true to the writer and that is the avenue that needs to be explored. Even if it lacks a certain level of unsafistication, it will have a profound ability to connect with the audience at a level of truth. If you are saying, this is how I feel and until I reckon with this, I feel sour’ – a lot of people with identify with that.
By forcing the protagonist to face his or her flaws, what can also potentially happen in the creative process, and for me is the bottom line of what the creative process is for, shares Dara Marks, is that two things are possible. The writer may end up staying very stuck in that belief, and writing something that simply confirms it, because that is as far as they can go with that idea at this time. Or, processing the material honestly may lead them to a higher value in terms of the love experience – that they suddenly see their part in it. And then suddenly, the whole value system in the story opens up in a splendid way.
When this level of truth occurs, something exciting is happening on the page and hopefully to the writer themselves, says Dara. I believe that is what creativity is for. The writer is the first person that the creative process speaks to and through. This is where, to me, the complexity of writing occurs.
There is a fine line between not processing and processing but not getting to a greater truth. As long as you are in the fight, you do no have to go very far. You can just go as far as your psyche is willing to go at the moment. There is no measure by which you are now in a realm of profound. There are films that in affect only take a baby step toward some kind of enlightenment but the baby step is enough. It is the absence of it all together that causes storytelling to be rendered not just useless, but that it carries negative value.
If the material is not processed at all, often characters and situations are idealized instead of made real, says Dara Marks.
For example, this happens often in the action adventure realm (although it happens in every single genre) where you have an idealized hero who comes in and faces catastrophic events fully equipped to face the event so that by the end of the story he or she has only done what they were fully capable of doing in the beginning. The underlying information in the story then – which goes out into the world – is that heroes are born and not made.
You either have hero capabilities or you are toast, you are done. And to me that belies the very nature of story telling, shares Dara.
Story telling for me, is to express how we become human. And by human I mean that we fulfill our highest potential, that we become whole. And the wholeness comes in facing the things that we do not know how to face.
For example – In a strong film, like Lethal Weapon, it was only through the connectiveness of those two characters that they were able to solve the plot, to stop the bad guys. What they came into the story with was not enough. It was the unification of them as partners that made the goal obtainable as opposed to just being able to do in the end what they could already do in the beginning. To me, that’s not just a thin story it’s a false story.
This is true in all genres, says Dara Marks. We have way too many love stories that tell us absolutely nothing about the experience of love. They boil down to the cutest guy gets the cutest gal. They chase each other around for an hour and a half and then they get each other. What does that tell the rest of us, that if you are not the most attractive or have the funniest personality that you are not capable of making this connection to love? That’s where a writer’s failure lies. It’s fine in the first draft if everything is idealized but then you have to stand back and look at it.
This is one of the simplest questions that all writers can ask themselves – What does my protagonist achieve at the end that he or she was not fully capable of achieving in the beginning? If the answer is nothing, or not so much, then you haven’t really told much of a story.
So how do you get the protagonist to a point of enlightenment, to be able to face something they didn’t know how to before?
Let’s say for example that the story needed someone to act heroically and our protagonist is a bit of a coward in the beginning, then the ability to act heroically in the end is a big leap of internal growth for that character, Dara says. And let’s say, conversely, the character already is heroic – what else is necessary to achieve that goal besides for just they are the toughest guy on the block?’ That’s where you get more of the view of something like Lethal Weapon where something greater within them had to occur for this to be achieved. Otherwise, it’s simply just another day in the office. Even if they are stopping a nuclear bomb, they are already doing what they are capable of doing.
It’s the old consciousness giving way to new consciousness.
Dara Marks believes that it is very important for writers, if they are going to work with a process like this, to try and personalize it, to look at their own life experience as the best teacher they have.
All of us, every human being, has been through very difficult episodes’ in their lives, says Dara. So the question you look at is…Did I have a moment or a period of time where I began to see things differently?
Let’s say the alcoholic comes to realize that what everyone has been saying to them is true, that they have a drinking problem and have been in denial of it. Suddenly they see that this is not the life they wanted to live. This is a breakthrough of consciousness.
It happens in love affairs. You got together with someone and they were absolutely wonderful and for the past three years everything has gone south and you stay in the relationship thinking… If I just do this enough or that enough the person will go back to being loving me the way they did.’ And then you suddenly come to the realization – they are not capable of it. You have a real breakthrough of understanding and ask yourself, Is this the way I want to live my life?’ And most of us will change after that.
In movie time, this happens in an hour in thirty minutes. But in real life, this major transformational change can be a seven to ten year process. These are not necessarily huge mountains like sobriety; they are natural mountains like moving from childhood into adulthood.
It all goes back to being truthful about internal flaws and forcing your protagonist to face what needs changing in a very honest way, in a way that mirrors what happens in real life, to you personally.
Of course, the ultimate leap from having a story with a real hero to a real hero who truly tests the strength of their new found metal… comes with a moment of Grace – followed by a second turning point which leads us to the Great American End.
How do you successfully pull off that final third act of the story? Click here for Part Three of this article where Dara Marks helps writers move their protagonist from enlightened to fully transformed, heart moving heroes.
As a leading international script consultant, Dara Marks specializes in the analysis of the modern screenplay. In addition to having over 20 years of script consulting experience, Dara Marks authored an exciting new book on screenwriting – INSIDE STORY: The Power of the Transformational Arc. www.daramarks.com/inside.php