Thursday, January 7, 2010

BOOK CLUB: I.I./1st Cause of Action (Ch.1)

[Today we're reading Ch. 1 - Let's Start at the Beginning, Middle and End, from Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno (2002).]

On p. 9, I like how the author makes two important points re: the inciting incident (a.k.a. catalyst, or 1st Cause of Action):

1. “In Dead Poets’ Society, Mr. Keating shows his students old photos of now deceased students & tells them ‘seize the day…’ Nothing in the plot has caused Keating to challenge his students in this way.”

In other words, something INSIDE the protagonist MADE the decision. He didn’t fall into the decision, or limp noodley went through the motions.

2. “This action was only necessary from his point of view.”

No one else could do it. Only the protagonist.

I do see scripts that fail these basic principles. I made up the examples below, but they're based on problematic scripts I’ve seen:

Ex. The supporting cast makes the decision to rob the bank. (external people)

Ex. LA smog chokes the protagonist, so then he reacts. (external situation)

Ex. The tsunami’s aftermath causes the protagonist to loot the village. (rather than an internal flaw in the character)

I get irritated when the writer thinks it’s ok to pass the buck & let the protagonist off easy.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Since there must be an I.I. early in the script, this failure affects the entire script. It's like building your house on sand.

[DISCLAIMER: I have not been asked, nor paid, to read or comment on this book.]

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