On and off since I moved to Cairns, I’ve been in the odd effort to get a tabletop roleplaying game scene moving. Most recently, I set a Facebook group up and helped the newly-opened KerSplatt! Comics and Collectables choose which products to stock its RPG and card gaming shelf with.
Yet for all my enthusiasm about tabletop roleplaying games and investment in the hobby, I’ve done very little actual gaming. It took me ages (and quite a bit of money) to realise that I wasn’t really enjoying the hobby.
It took two separate events to realise where my interest really lies – board games.
Episode 12 of the BWI Podcast is up!
In this episode, Marcus and I chat about Search Engine Marketing, the practice of paying for a sponsored search engine result spot.
As I explained in my post before last, I’m practicing the writing of an outline using the Hollywood Formula as a template. In order to get a feel for how the Hollywood Formula plays out, I decided to divide one of my favourite movies into its individual scenes and organise them into the Hollywood Formula’s acts.
While that exercise has given me a better idea of story structure, I’m still having trouble actually creating an outline. I’ve been making notes and scribbling bullet points but it just doesn’t seem to be hanging together. So I’m trying something different: I’m going to blog about the process, see how it all comes together.
As practice, I’m working on a short story. I have no real idea how long it’s going to go for, but I’ll shoot for 20,000-30,000 words, something I can knock over the first draft of in a couple of weeks at the most. If I take the average, 25,000 words, and break it down in Hollywood Formula terms, I’m looking at 6,250 words per quarter of the story – Act 1, Act 2 pre-Twist, Act 2 pre-Low Point and Act 3.
I’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of weeks dissecting the plot of the movie Aliens by seeing whether the three-character, three-act Hollywood Formula holds true within it. We’ve seen an Opening Act that introduces our Protagonist but also a character who could be either her Antagonist or her Relationship Character, then has her make her Fateful Decision some ten minutes early. Next was a pre-Mid-Point-Twist Second Act that gave us an extra candidate for each of the other two core characters, then made us doubt one of them whilst making us think better of the original.
After the Twist, we finally figure out who the Antagonist is, only to see the villain kill him before the Protagonist can have her final confrontation with him. While the Second Act seems to end on a Low Point right on time, we get treated to what looks like two more Low Points in the Third Act before the Protagonist finally resolves her issue with the Relationship Character and confronts an Antagonist we’ve only just met – but who’s been there all along.
Aside from curiosity, there’s a reason behind this endeavour that relates back to writing. In the recent past I’ve been trying a couple of different ways to create an outline before I get stuck into creating a draft. My last two attempts at creating a draft of Slamdance have petered out when I got to a point where I wasn’t sure what should happen next.
Now, I’m sure the writers among you may well say, “Who cares? Just write something! Pull a Chandler! Send a man with a gun in! You can make it make sense when you start revising!” I get that way too; after all, I was able to crank out The Second War of the Worlds for last year’s NaNo with only a week’s worth of notes. Yet my gut keeps telling me that I need a little more backbone for Slamdance; 2WotW had a clear concept and some pretty hefty themes behind it that I think I’d internalised so well that it pretty much wrote itself, while SD is more of a straight-up action adventure novel with stuff going on that I haven’t really got as good a grip on yet (yes, even after ten years). You’d think that ought to make it easier to write, but instead I’m finding it to be the opposite.
That’s why I’m going back to one of my inspirations, possibly the best SF action adventure film ever, and trying to figure out how it did what it did so that I can come up with a solid structure for Slamdance and… the other side-project I’m working on right now.
And so we come to the final act of the movie Aliens, where, according to the Hollywood Formula, we’ll see our Protagonist resolve her issues with her Relationship Character and, in doing so, address the movie’s theme, then rise from the ashes of her Low Point to defeat her Antagonist. In previous postings, we’ve identified our Protagonist (Ripley) and seen her make her Fateful Decision, then watched as she began to work toward her goal, encountered the Mid-Point Twist and lost almost all hope of success.
But the writers of Aliens has already shown themselves to be tricksy bastards thus far; it’s been hard to tell just who the Antagonist (Burke? The Aliens? Bishop?) and the Relationship Character (Burke? Bishop? Hicks?) are. Heck, one of our candidates – Carter Burke – was slain before Ripley could resolve her issues with or defeat him – before she even hit her Low Point.
So all we have left for Act 3 is Bishop and Hicks… or do we? Maybe our Antagonist is something we haven’t seen yet…
Welcome back (or welcome, if you’ve just stumbled across this series) to my analysis of how the Hollywood Formula plays out in the plotting and action of the movie Aliens! As of part four, I’m halfway through the movie. How do I know (aside from the time count)? Because we’ve identified our Protagonist (Ripley) and seen her make her Fateful Decision, then watched as she began to work toward her goal and encountered the Mid-Point Twist.
In theory, we should have met our Antagonist and Relationship Character by now, and wile we’ve been introduced to every character who’ll appear in the film, our supposed Antagonist, Burke, has taken clear action in Ripley’s aid twice, while our seeming Relationship Character, Bishop, has acted a bit squirrelly (there’s also some question as to whether Hicks, introduced with Bishop after the Fateful Decision but before the theoretical half-hour-mark end of Act One, is the real Relationship Character). At the movie’s halfway mark, a dropship crash changed the movie from a military action flick to a survival story. (Noteworthy point: So far we’ve only had the one action scene.)
So now, I’m tackling the rest of Act 2. Per the formula I’m looking for our Antagonist taking more direct action against Ripley and the event that signals the end of Act 2: The Low Point. This sees the Protagonist at her lowest ebb, when everything has turned against her, her resources have been stripped from her and the chances of coming out alive, let alone successful, seem infinitesimal.
Okay, okay. Unlike the last time I tried to analyse Act 2, Part 1, I’m actually writing this during the day, so I won’t get the urge to nod off before I finish.
When I left off my analysis of how the Hollywood Formula plays out in the plotting and action of the movie Aliens, we finally had solid candidates for the roles of Antagonist (Burke) and Relationship Character (Bishop) by the half-hour mark, if not by the end of Act One. As we progress through Act Two, we’re looking for signs of the Antagonist getting in the way of the Protagonist’s goal (Ripley’s desire to wipe the aliens out) and the Relationship Character aiding the Protagonist’s mission and / or discussing the Protagonist’s motivations. We’re also waiting for the mid-point twist, a plot event that shakes the story so far up, changing its direction.
If you treat the Hollywood Formula as gospel, then James Cameron must be a sinner.
By the end of Act One in the movie Aliens, he’s only identified one of the Formula’s three key characters – the protagonist, Ripley – leaving the antagonist and the relationship character unidentified. Still, he has introduced two more characters, Burke and Gorman, who look as if they’re going to be joining Ripley in her quest to get her flight licence back – okay, okay, fine, she’s off to confront the cause of her nightmares, but we all know it’s really all about that shiny ticket back to space in this crummy, what’s-in-it-for-me future.
Thankfully, he’s cut ten minutes off Act One in order to give us more time to figure out who’s who in Act Two. According to Nathan Russell’s summary of the Hollywood Formula, Act Two is the meat of the film; now that the protagonist has made the Fateful Decision to go and get what she wants, she works toward that goal while the antagonist works against her (the relationship character optionally assisting).
Still, that’s at least an hour and ten minutes of screen time until the resolution of Act Three and although Act One presented us with candidates in the form of Burke and Gorman, we’re still not quite sure who the antagonist and relationship character are. Okay, yes, there are the aliens – but given that they’re not “human” in a story sense, do they count?
But while Nathan doesn’t make mention of it, Lou Anders mentions in his Hollywood Formula episode on Writing Excuses that movies typically include a big twist at around the halfway mark, an event or (more commonly) revelation which shakes everything up and puts even more pressure on the protagonist. So I’m going to break Act Two’s analysis into two parts; I’ll stop at the mid-point twist and finish Act Two in the post following.
Grab some popcorn, folks. We’re covering around an hour of screen time tonight.
A few weeks ago, I caught an episode of the brilliant Writing Excuses podcast in which the hosts invited Lou Anders to talk about what he (and Dan Decker, whom Lou gratefully swiped the idea from) calls “The Hollywood Formula.” It’s a pattern which successful films tend to either follow or quite successfully play with, and Lou posits that it can be used to craft the plot of a novel just as well as that of a movie.
I highly recommend downloading and listening to the episode, as well as its sequel on endings, but if you’re pressed for time, Nathan Russell has whipped a handy summary up here. At its most basic, the formula is a plot formula; it posits that every movie has three key characters and plays out in a structure of three acts.
One point that Nathan misses and I think is very important relates to the Relationship Character, and that point is that the relationship character not only has a relationship with the protagonist, but he or she also has a relationship with the movie’s broader theme, which itself is manifest in the protagonist’s desires.