Thursday, October 25, 2018

Not Your Ordinary Death in the Middle

First of all, what is the Death in the Middle (DM) and why is it so important? The DM holds up the middle of the story. It's something that happens to keep the story moving forward. But it's so much more than that. 
  • It happens smack in the middle of the second act. In my research, most movies have a DM at the exact middle. (I.e., 90 mins divided by 2 = 45.) Some happen a few minutes before or after, but often it's right at that mid-point.
  • The DM should also signal a paradigm shift. It doesn't always, but it's so cool when it does. 
    • In The Beauty and the Beast, the beast sacrifices himself while protecting Belle from the wolves. Her opinion of him shifts as she sees he's not the monster she had thought he was. (Death of a belief.) 
    • In Hidden Figures, Katherine has a much needed outburst as she explains why she takes long breaks. The Colored Only bathroom is across the complex. This prompts her boss to tear down the sign and declare that everyone pees the same color at NASA. (Death of segregation, at least at NASA.)
  • It should speak to the theme. 
    • The basic theme in The Beauty and the Beast is Things Aren't What They Seem.
    • The basic theme of Hidden Figures is Racism.
  • It signals a death of some kind. The death of segregation; the death of a perceived notion; a literal promise of death as in Avengers: Infinity War. Read on...
To determine the DM, it's best to know whose character arc we're following. There are a plethora of characters in Avengers: Infinity War. So we must look closer. Who has the most to lose in this story? Is it the Avengers, both collectively and personally? Maybe. I mean it's pretty devastating when all you've worked for dissolves before your eyes--literally. But who do we see going through the most struggle internally?

Thanos. The thick jawed villain with a serious stone-collecting obsession.

Yes, hard to admit, but this is his story. Or should I say, a continuation of his story? This movie is #4 out of five showing the Titan war lord's character. He's featured in the infamous credit scenes in The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He is also a principle character in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Infinity War.

What does Thanos have to lose? The ability to restore order (albeit his order) through the full collection of infinity stones. How does he do this? By using their full power to annihilate half the universe's population.

The scene in the middle of the movie is that of Thor, Rocket, and Groot on the planet Nidavellir where Thor's original hammer (now disintegrated thanks to his sister with ridiculous anger issues) was formed by the giant dwarf Eitri. At first, I thought the death had to do with the complications of forming another hammer. These complications are: Devastation of the planet by Thanos; machinery destroyed; no way to reactivate the forge except through extreme sacrifice on Thor's part...all deaths in one way or another. But they didn't meet all the criteria. This movie isn't just about Thor. There's a whole ensemble here laying their lives on the line. So I looked closer, and at the exact middle, the camera pans to a mold of Thanos's gauntlet.

Let that sink in. The middle of Act II pans to the mold in which the metal glove--that will ultimately destroy the universe--was forged by Eitri. If we're following Thanos's arc, we are learning at this point how he attained this weapon of mass destruction. Even though this scene is not an immediate threat of death, as we're learning of the backstory, it still helps us see what lengths Thanos will go to achieve his end. The Death in the Middle is seeing the mold of the gauntlet that will cause the worse destruction ever in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's what these movies have been leading up to.

But, if this is movie #4 out of five, how is this a death in the middle? Shouldn't the middle movie #3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, show Thanos's paradigm shift? It does, in a mid-credits scene. Thanos has the gauntlet and is very dissatisfied with his minions who have failed to retrieve the stones. In his shift of thought, he decides to go after them himself.

You can't make this stuff up. Okay, someone made this stuff up, but they did it brilliantly!

So, does the DM in Avengers: Infinity Wars meet the criteria?
  • If Thanos is our main character, we see here the beginning of his evil plan in the gauntlet mold and Eitri's telling of it's origin. Thus, the DM is the promise of the death of the universe as we know it.
  • Does it reflect the theme? As I see it, the theme is Order Out of Chaos. This is what Thanos believes. His inner desire is to bring order to the universe. And the gauntlet is the means to that end.
It's at this point that I ask "Why?" Yes, Thanos wants to balance the universe, but where did that desire come from? After researching, I found that the Marvel creators cut 30 minutes of Thanos's backstory from this film. True to everything Marvel, they must drag the whole thing out, so speculation is that we'll learn more in the fifth movie, Avengers 4. I did learn, however, that in the comic, something happened on his planet of Titan that became the catalyst for his beliefs.

➤Bonus lesson: The villain/antagonist should always have a good reason, at least to him, why he does what he does. Old school Disney villains are out, now they must have "the feels" for something. For further reading on this subject, please check out my list of articles on villains.

This one was complex. It doesn't help to know that we haven't gotten all of Thanos's backstory. This is why I struggled with finding the DM. But, I think I've got it now, and I hope I've broken it down sufficiently. It will be interesting to fill in all of the blanks on Thanos and see what really makes him tick.

Here's a breakdown of Thanos's character arc thus far:
  • Outer Goal/Inner Need (Using GMC – Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) 
    • Character wants Infinity Stones, because they will restore balance, but the Avengers get in the way.
    • Character needs balance, because of something that happened on his home planet (?).
  • Inciting Incident
    • Not sure yet, thanks to the missing 30 minutes in the film. ERK!
    • Whatever it is, pushed him through a door of no return to wreak havoc on the universe.
  • Tent Pole
    • He decides to have a gauntlet made to bring the Infinity Stones to their full power.
    • This signals the death of half the universe.
    • Not knowing his backstory, we might conclude that his paradigm shift is that upon realizing this weapon is at his disposal through Eitri, the giant dwarf, he now knows his desire can be fulfilled. (Again, the DM is the promise of the death of the universe as we know it. 
  • Bleakest Moment
    • He learns he must sacrifice something he loves the most in order for the stones to work.
    • After briefly struggling with this, knowing all will be lost if he's not strong enough to go through with it, he pushes Gamora, the step-daughter he loves, to her death.
  • Lesson/Decision
    • He decides to snap his fingers, which will activate the stones and wipe out half of the universe's population.
    • He's apparently at peace with this decision as the final scene shows him looking out over a serene countryside with a hint of a smile on his stony face.
BUT, we have one more movie to fully round out Thanos's character. Wish I could snap my fingers and make it happen sooner! Then again...maybe not.

Here are the movies that tell Thanos's story:
  1. The Avengers
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  4. Avengers: Infinity War
  5. Avengers 4 (Untitled, coming out 2019.)

    Tuesday, August 21, 2018

    LION – The Door of No Return, Literally

    I admit, I usually avoid any movie the Oscars or Golden Globes deem as worthy to watch. They are usually artsy films that go over my head or platforms that go against my beliefs. Most of the time they simply aren’t my cup of tea. Lion (2016) won accolades from these organizations as well as many other awards. But somehow, I was intrigued enough to put it on my Netflix list. When it made it to the top, I decided to let it ride. It came into my home via the little red envelope and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Yes, I’m going to buy it for my library because it’s just that good. (Don’t tell Oscar. I wouldn’t want him snickering at me.)
    One of the elements of the Hero’s Journey is the Door of No Return (DoNR). This comes after the Ordinary World where the main character is introduced, and we see them in their natural environment. That happens in Act I. The DoNR is the catalyst that propels the character into Act II.
    Often in stories, the DoNR is hard and fast. For Dorothy (Wizard of Oz, 1939) it was a literal door that she stepped through, never to return to Kansas in the same manner. The characters in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2018) were sucked into a video game and had to figure out how to get back home…and to themselves. In the Mountain Between Us (2017), the two main characters, Alex and Ben, were involved in a plane crash on a remote mountain range. In each case, the road back is impossible by the same means of which they came.
    Lion, is this type of story. Five-year-old Saroo, is separated from his older brother at a train station in India. He tries to look for him and boards a vacant train through, go figure, a door. This train takes him far from home to Calcutta, where they speak a different language than Saroo. He can’t tell them he’s not an orphan street child as they suspect.
    From the time he is little, Saroo’s journey home follows the Hero’s Journey thus:
    ACT I
    • We see five-year-old Saroo in his Ordinary World with his mother and siblings, happy and loved, despite their poverty. 
    • He gets the Call to Adventure when his older brother must go to a job in another town and Saroo wants to go with him. 
    • His brother, Guddu, acts as his Mentor as he helps him with his goal.
    • They travel by train to where Guddu’s job is and his brother tells him to sit on a bench and stay until he returns. Saroo falls asleep. When he wakes, he notes the nearby water tower and assesses basically where he is. But his brother is nowhere near. He goes looking for Guddu instead of staying put as he was told. There’s an empty, open train and he decides to look for his brother in there. He Crosses the Threshold through the Door of No Return, literally. The train, apparently empty because it needs repairs, begins to move, trapping Saroo inside and doesn’t stop for over a thousand kilometers until it reaches Calcutta.
    ACT IIa
    • The five-year-old child on the crowded streets of Calcutta has many Tests and meets many Allies and Enemies—street children show him how to survive and mean, angry adults wish to do him harm. (The characters in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, experience dangerous tests, as well. They meet an ally in the form of an NPC (non-player character) in the game in which they now find themselves. This ally leads them through the game, giving clues. The enemies are obvious as the title suggests. They’re in a jungle fraught with obvious and non-obvious dangers.)
    • Saroo finally runs into a nice woman who takes him in, feeds him, gives him a soft bed, and takes care of him overnight as if he were her child. He thinks he’s found a safe haven, but it turns out this is the Approach to the Inmost Cave where severe danger lurks. The nice woman is really a child slave trader.
    • She calls a man who comes over to meet Saroo, but the boy, as young as he is, has some street credit now and can sense that the man wants to do him harm. He passes the Ordeal, by extricating himself from the situation by running away. (Dorothy’s Inmost Cave was the Wicked Witch’s castle. In The Mountain Between Us, Alex falls through the ice and Ben nearly loses her. Both survive the ordeal by getting out of the situation.)
    ACT IIb
    NOTE: After successfully going through the Ordeal, Saroo is now on his journey back. Picture the Hero’s Journey as a counter-clockwise circle. He starts at the top, takes a dive around the left side of the circle until he ends up in the Cave, then begins to climb back up the right side of the circle to where he started, albeit changed.
    • Saroo is finally found by someone who can help. He’s placed in an orphanage, where it’s not pleasant, but it will be the catalyst to him finding normal again. He’s adopted and receives his Reward. His short goal, or first Outer Goal, was to be safe and he’s achieved that. Just as Dorothy’s short goal was to survive the Wicked Witch, Saroo has been concentrating on not dying on the streets of Calcutta. However, his Inner Desire, to be reunited with his family, has not yet been met.
    • Once he’s placed in the home of a lovely Australian couple, he begins The Road Back. And this propels him into the third Act where resolution is achieved.
    Act III
    • During The Road Back, Saroo grows up in Australia, his native language slowly fading. He becomes a man of sterling character, happy and healthy. His subconscious awakens bringing back the memories of his childhood. He tries to find his home on Google Earth, but there are too many little villages and he doesn't know where to start. He eventually finds the water tower at the train station where he was separated from his brother, but it takes him two more years to meticulously trace the myriad of tracks leading away in a one-thousand-kilometer circle. He zooms in on the countless villages hoping to spot familiar landmarks of his home. 
    • This leads to his Resurrection. During his search, he has dropped out of school, cut off family and friends, and has become obsessed. One day, he’s confronted by his ex-girlfriend who helps him reconnect. He invites her and his parents to his apartment to reveal what he’s been doing. They assure him they love him and are okay with him trying to find his other family. With renewed hope, he continues his search.
    • One night, he decides to look outside of the circle on Google Earth. He spots a hillside that he remembers and a river where he used to swim. Excited, he sees the name of the village is Ganesh Talai. He’d been pronouncing it incorrectly, calling it Ganestalay. He travels there and begins asking about his family. He finally sees his mother and they are reunited. His Inner Desire has finally been met. He Returns with the Elixir, the Hero’s Journey term for achieving his goal.
    The hero in our journey has started in one place emotionally and ended in a different place. Yes, he’s older, so obviously that would have happened anyway, but Saroo wouldn’t have been the same person as an adult had he not endured so much throughout his life. He now has a different perception of who he is.
    The Door of No Return is a great catalyst. Often, the books I read or the movies I watch, (or the first drafts I write, gulp!) don't have this important aspect of character development. Without it, we stay in the protagonist's Ordinary World and we don't see him challenged. Not so with Christopher Robin (2018,) who had to follow Pooh through the tree trunk before his paradigm could shift. Thor had to be transported to the junk planet to be taken down a notch (Thor: Ragnarok - 2017.) And Paddington (Paddington - 2014) had to find himself lost in a London train station far from his native Peru in order to learn about the world. Not all instances of the DoNR are literal. Elle Woods would never have earned her undergraduates degree from law school if her boyfriend hadn't cheated on her...with her rival (Legally Blond - 2001.) Ron Hall wouldn't have moved into an undying friendship with a violent homeless man had his wife not insisted on volunteering at the shelter and pushing him into helping (Same Kind of Different As Me - 2017.) Doors are important. Shove your protagonist through them, kicking and screaming. They'll be better off for it.
    The point of this exercise is to show that every story needs structure. The Hero’s Journey is the most popular outline, spanning centuries of story-telling. A good structure in our stories assures the reader of an emotional ride, leaving them haunted with the beauty of the story, as was my case. Yes, Lion is coming home with me.

    Monday, May 7, 2018

    This is Me. . . And Me. . . And Me

    I could have titled this article Never Enough, another iconic song from The Greatest Showman that hit theaters last Christmas. But let’s face it. The title I chose is catchy, no?

    This story sweeps us into an emotional amusement park ride that we don’t want to end. I had to buy the DVD/Blu-Ray as soon as it came out. Not just for myself, but for my teen grandgirls, who also love the movie, particularly the music...and Zac Efron. Okay, I admit, Zac and Hugh Jackman are quite the draw, even for myself. But I digress.
    P.T. Barnum, according to the movie, has a strong inner journey, which is what keeps the audience engaged. He wants to be accepted. A tailor’s son, he was emotionally abused by his father. P.T. assisted him as he measured suits for a wealthy man and fell in love with the man’s daughter. P.T. was told he’d never be good enough to date or, subsequently, to marry the girl.
    Charity, P.T.’s intended, sees his heart, not his status. She commits herself to him no matter where he is on the social scale. She loves him with her whole being, enough to defy her parents and marry him. They create a perfect world, despite P.T.’s rollercoaster professional attempts, and two perfect daughters. Life is good.
    Enter Jenny Lind, the famous opera star.
    I stop here because I want to talk about the Death in the Middle. I have to keep reminding myself that this particular plot device is not just a death, but a paradigm shift. It usually just affects the main character, but when others are involved, it becomes a delicious twist that makes one want to ponder the story long after it ends.
    While in England meeting the queen, P.T. has invited Jenny to perform in America. He sponsors the show and uses it as a springboard into the “normal” world—where he longs for acceptance. This is his emotional goal. Charity’s parents had rubbed his poverty in his face, even after he became successful. Once he started his circus, the locals hated him, and worse yet, the critic, James Gordon Bennett, continually slammed the show, never accepting it as true entertainment. No matter how wealthy P.T. becomes, he is never fully accepted by those who have stepped on him.
    In the middle of the movie, Jenny makes her American debut as an opera singer. (I would debate that the song she sings isn’t true opera, but what do I know?) The song, Never Enough, is a lyrical device that symbolizes the journeys of all three people. No matter how much money P.T. makes, it will never be enough to satisfy his critics. It also symbolizes Jenny’s view on life, which we’ll see in a moment. Ironically, for Charity, she has had all she has ever wanted in her marriage and children. The song represents the opposite for her.
    But as Jenny sings, something interesting happens. P.T. is in the wings watching Jenny. Then we see Charity in the audience watching P.T. watching Jenny. Then we see Jenny turn her head to look at P.T., and the paradigm shifts. Totally devoted to Charity since they were kids, P.T. is now looking at another woman with more than admiration for her craft. He looks to the audience who leaps to its feet in a standing ovation. Jenny is giving him all he ever wanted. And really, didn’t Charity do that already? In his thirst to be accepted by the upper crust, he has somehow slipped down instead of up. We, who are watching this display, gasp as we realize what just happened, and we know that P.T. and Charity are in trouble.

    What I love about this shift is that it hits all three characters at the same time. (And a couple of sub-characters. Watch that scene again and see how rich this moment in the middle really is.) Charity suddenly realizes that her perfect marriage is being threatened. P.T. realizes that he can become enamored by someone other than the woman he’s devoted his life to. And Jenny, poor shallow Jenny, gets pinged by a love arrow, but we later see that she’s a spoiled diva whose quest to fulfill that empty hole in her life will stop at nothing, even wrecking a happy home. It is true what she sings:
    I'm tryin' to hold my breath
    Let it stay this way
    Can't let this moment end
    You set off a dream in me
    Gettin' louder now
    Can you hear it echoing?
    Take my hand
    Will you share this with me?
    'Cause darling without you

    All the shine of a thousand spotlights
    All the stars we steal from the night sky
    Will never be enough
    Never be enough
    Towers of gold are still too little
    These hands could hold the world but it'll
    Never be enough
    Never be enough...
    Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
    Jenny will never be satisfied, and neither will P.T. because, even though he’s not fully aware, he’s willing to trade success for the life he’s built with Charity. And now, thanks to the two of them, Charity’s satisfaction in her life with P.T. and her children is shattered.
    This is not only the death in the middle, it’s carnage.
    And there you have it. A love triangle that peaks in the exact middle of the story, thus creating the tent pole moment (the prevention of the sagging middle,) and a perfect paradigm shift that changes life for the main character as he knows it.

    BONUS: The paradigm shift should also happen at the end of the first act and the end of the second act. Thus, it looks like this:
    ·         End of first act—the door to no return—death of the ordinary world.

    o   P.T. loses his job.

    ·         Middle of second act—perception shift—death could be a good or bad thing, literal or symbolic.

    o   Even in his success, P.T. is set up to lose what he prizes the most.

    ·         End of second act (going into third)—bleakest moment—All is lost, which is a type of death.

    o   Charity walks out. The bank is foreclosing on the beautiful home they built together. She moves back in with her parents, sealing their perception of him as a failure.

    Whatever one may feel about plotting, one can’t ignore the fact that it works. Stories make sense. They carry emotion far past THE END. And when done well, audiences/readers will want to come back to see what other spectacular moments you have for them.

    If you haven’t already, please get a copy of A Bouquet of Brides, and read my story “Periwinkle in the Park.” I’ve been working hard at getting that Death in the Middle thing into my writing, and I did it in that story, if I may say so myself, perfectly. (Kathy pats herself on the back and proves she could be a contortionist in P.T. Barnum's circus.)

    Wednesday, February 28, 2018

    Villain With A Cause

    Recently, I found time in my schedule to see not one, but three movies. One in the theater, one a Netflix DVD, and one from my own library. Each of these movies had the obligatory ANTAGONIST, so I thought I'd compare them.

    First up, Peter Rabbit, the 2018 offering starring James Corden. Peter is an incorrigible bunny with a bent for mischief. His nemesis, after old Mr. McGregor dies, is the latter's great-nephew, Tom. Upon learning about the death of the uncle he never knew existed, Tom moves into the old house intent on selling it so he can buy his own toy store. He has recently been unjustly let go from Harrod's and he wants to build his store near theirs to rub their noses in it. There's a fabulous quote from Tom on this subject from the movie, but I can't remember it. When this London-bred man goes to the country to see his uncle's house for the first time, he's disgusted to find every woodland creature has taken up residence and he must now clean the place out.

    Tom isn't really all that bad. A little OCD, maybe. But he starts out as a meticulous employee of Harrod's, and becomes the unwilling owner of a country home with a "vermin problem." Wouldn't we all be a tad stressed out if our new home was overrun by everything from a hedgehog to a male deer with a full rack?

    Enter the beautiful neighbor next door, Bea, who takes care of the creatures, Peter being her favorite. She tells Tom, "We share our land around here." They form an attraction and we see Tom in a different light through Bea's eyes. I begin to like the guy, and his face is actually attractive when he smiles. Tom's redeeming quality is his love of toys and making people happy. He has this conversation with Bea:
    Bea: What do you miss most about the store? And don't say having everything in its proper place. I get it. You have control issues. Thomas McGregor: I miss being helpful. A parent or grandparent comes into this shop looking for a gift for the child they love. I ask a few simple questions and know exactly what they need. Thomas McGregor: I love helping people get what they want. [pauseThomas McGregor: Especially when they don't even know that they want it. Those are the best. 
    Tom has a passion and this blip in his plans has brought out the worse in him. In the end, he redeems himself and lives happily ever after with his love...and her woodland creatures.

    The next movie I watched was The Mummy starring Tom Cruise. Boy, do I miss Brendan Fraser. But I digress. The villain in this movie is a 5000 year old princess whose destiny was ripped from her. Princess Ahmanet is somewhat narcisistic. She longs to be queen, but when her father's wife gives birth to a son, Ahmanet knows she has lost the crown. She makes a pact with Set, the god of death, and kills her father, stepmother, and the baby. She then attempts to kill her human lover with a special dagger so Set can embody him and they can be gods together. Her plan is thwarted, the unsuspecting dupe is killed by a different person, and Ahmanet is captured and mummified alive. She's placed in a sarcophagus and sent to Mesopotamia--modern day Iraq. There she stays hidden until Tom Cruise unearths her centuries later. She comes to life and now chooses him as Set's new rental home. Yes, she's evil, but she does have a cause. Her greatest desire is to become incarnate and rule the world the forever. Unlike Tom McGregor, she does not gain redemption and ultimately shrivels up and is placed back into her sarcofagus.

    And lastly, in an attempt to erase all of the violence and ick from the mummy movie, (again, Brendan Fraser, where are you?) my grandkids and I decided to watch the live-action Cinderella.

    I love Disney villains. In the past, they didn't need a reason to be bad. They just were. Sometimes I long for the days when I could write an antagonist and not have to come up with a reason why they're messed up. However, readers are more sophisticated now, and demand to have well-rounded plots. How rude! Cinderella starring Lily James fleshes out the evil stepmother, much like it was done in Ever After. (Had to mention that one. It's my favorite! Read what I wrote about it here.) As much as I love Angelica Huston in that role, Cate Blanchett also plays a deliciously evil stepmom. This quote sums up her cause quite nicely:
    Lady Tremaine: [holding the glass slipper] Are you looking for this? There must be quite a story to go with it. Won't you tell me? Hm? Very well, I shall tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a *beautiful* young girl who married for love. And she had two loving daughters. All was well. But, one day, her husband, the light of her life, died. The next time, she married for the sake of her daughters. But that man, too, was taken from her. And she was doomed to look every day upon his beloved child. She had hoped to marry off one of her beautiful, stupid daughters to the prince. But his head was turned by a girl with glass slippers. And so, I lived unhappily ever after. My story would appear to be ended.
    Cinderella's evil stepmother had a cause. She wanted her daughters to be cared for and thought she had found that in her second husband. But once again, she found herself in dire circumstances, and to add insult to injury, must live with the man's daughter whom he clearly favored over herself. When he died, it was reported that he talked of nothing but Ella and her mother. Obviously, that didn't sit well with his widow.

    All three of my Friday movies had villains with a cause. And, it seems, they were all due to something happening to them unjustly. Tom McGregor had his treasured job taken away and was then forced to deal with a circumstance beyond his comfort zone. Princess Ahmanet had her destiny ripped from her, and Lady Tremaine's plans were thwarted through the death of her insurance policy, her husband.

    When writing the antagonist, determine whether they will be redeemed in the end. Add to that, why they are the way they are. What circumstance or series of events has made them evil in the sight of the protagonist?

    As a final note, I'd like to mention my newest book baby, A Bouquet of Brides. When I wrote the synopsis, I introduced the hero's antagonist whom I planned to redeem. But when I wrote the story, turns out, this one had redeemed himself before I even introduced him to the story. Totally changed the plans I had for him. But I found it much better than what I had cooked up. The heroine's antagonist was a different story. Read about her HERE.

    *All quotes and movie photos are courtesy of 

    Saturday, October 14, 2017

    Two Roles for the Mirror

    As water reflects the face, so the heart reflects one person to another.
    Proverbs 27:19 CEB

     The Case for Christ
    It seems strange to blog about The Case for Christ. Not only is it autobiographical—the original book penned by Lee Strobel—but I know his daughter, Alison, from my writing circle of friends. So, I’m about to pick apart a character who is very real (in the physical sense, not from Kathy-land,) and I know one of the players personally. Weird.

    But, here goes. . .

    There are several types of characters in a story. The Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Mentor, etc. I’d like to address the Mirror. This is the character who becomes the reflection for the protagonist, and helps them become who they were meant to be in the first place, thus helping them complete their arc.
    It wasn’t until I saw The Case for Christ that I realized there are two functions of the Mirror.

    #1 One is to show to the protagonist a positive part of himself that he didn’t realize was there, bringing out the best of his personality.

    A good example of this is Megamind. The blue alien, Megamind, is falsely taught that to be bad is good, (see my post on Megamind, “How to Find a Supervillain’s Essence.”) He tries very hard to prove himself a supervillain to the citizens of Metro City. But deep down, he really is a nice guy. His love for the reporter, Roxanne, is the catalyst to him finding his true self. But first, he must take on a less antagonistic body form. So, he creates a formula for shape-shifting and becomes the mild-mannered, and yawningly uninteresting, Bernard, Roxanne’s coworker. While thinking she’s talking to Bernard on a date, she sees the real Megamind. She hears his heart and falls in love. Through Roxanne, Megamind finds his true self, his true-blue essence, and becomes better for it.

    #2 The other role of the Mirror is to reflect the negative aspects of the protagonist’s personality. To do this, it’s helpful if the protagonist is an anti-hero. Think of the acerbic Charlie Alnutt in The African Queen, (or really, any Humphrey Bogart movie.)

    In The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel is an anti-hero. He comes off as an arrogant journalist who feels he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no God. He teaches his daughter this, and he lives it with every fiber of his being. His wife, Leslie, had also started out this way, but through an event that nearly costs her daughter her life, Leslie begins to change her mind after witnessing a miracle. The family is in a restaurant where Alison nearly chokes on a gumball. A nurse, Alfie, is there and saves the little girl. Alfie is a Christian and refuses the parents’ thanks, claiming that Jesus is the one who saved their child. Alfie and her husband were going to a different restaurant that night, but she had a strong feeling they should go to this one.

    Leslie begins to turn her back on the atheist platform on which she and Lee had built their lives, and she seeks out Alfie to learn more of this Jesus who saved her daughter.

    Lee becomes more and more belligerent against the thought of a God of the universe. He emerges into the anti-hero as his refusal to listen to Leslie begins to rule his life. His marriage becomes strained. The more he converses with his wife, the more he sees the ugliness of his convictions, even though he’s not ready to admit it. The Mirror is doing her job by calling out the parts of Lee that God did not create.

    Leslie begins to pray, “Take his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh.” She prays this daily throughout the duration his journey.

    Lee's Identity is hard-nosed journalist. Lee's Essence is what God had put in Him from the time he was knit in his mother's womb—lover of truth. 

    Lee decides to settle the debate once and for all, and puts his journalistic tools to work to prove there couldn’t possibly be a God. The more research he does, the closer to the truth he comes. And, of course, God proves Himself worthy while on trial, and Lee must concede that Leslie and Alfie, and other believers he has encountered, are right. There is a God.

    Had Leslie not challenged him to look within his depths to see the unyielding, arrogant man he was, Lee would have never embarked on the journey to dispel Christianity. And as a result, he never would have traded his heart of stone for a heart of flesh and come to know Christ as his personal Savior.

    Do you know and love someone with a heart of stone? Be the Mirror to help them see what is really going on with them. Remember, a reflector doesn’t beat the reflectee over the head. It gently allows them to see what they already know about themselves.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Of Love and Self-Sacrifice

    I finally got to see the new Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. After turning in a manuscript, I took a “Me Day” to reward myself. Two friends joined me, and there we were, three middle-aged women at 10:40 in the morning enjoying a child’s tale. But it is oh, so much more than that—due, in particular, to the well-rounded development of the characters.

    While working on the Tree Plotter for Beauty and the Beast, (call it a hobby, called it a disorder,) I wanted to get the inner journeys of both of the main characters. This is a romance, and to craft a well-rounded romance, we must develop both characters equally. This is also called a 50/50 romance where each character shares 100% of the story.

    A good romance, I believe, works when the theme applies to both characters. In fact, this should be true for any story where characters share importance. At first, I had different themes for both characters. This is okay, to a point, because there could be several themes in a story. One of Belle’s themes could be “Love Beyond All Faults.” Beast’s could be “Open the Heart.” But the theme that works for each is “Self-Sacrifice.” This overall theme is what drives the story, and shows up over and over.

    Here is the Tree-Plotter for Belle:
    • THEME: Self-Sacrifice
    • INNER NEED: To accept herself as she is despite the villagers calling her odd.
    • INCITING INCIDENT: Sacrifices for her father and shoves him out of the cell to take his place.
    • TENT POLE: Beast attacked by wolves while saving her.
      • Death: Beast almost dies.
      • Connection to Theme: See's through his self-sacrifice that he's not the beast she thought he was.
    • BLEAKEST MOMENT: Sacrificed her safety to warn the Beast, but he is still mortally wounded and she tells him she will never leave him again.
      • Reflection of Inciting Incident: Was once a prisoner but has now returned out of love.
    • LESSON/DECISION: Has learned, through the love a beast, to embrace who she is.
      • Reflection of Inner Need: Because she's found a kindred spirit, she can now accept herself.

    Here is the Tree-Plotter for Beast:
    • THEME: Self-Sacrifice
    • INNER NEED: Put others before himself
    • INCITING INCIDENT: Intruders
    • TENT POLE: Saves Belle from wolves and almost dies.
      • Death: Nearly dies
      • Connection to Theme: Sacrifices himself
    • BLEAKEST MOMENT: Belle leaves and apparently sends the villagers to kill him.
      • Reflection of Inciting Incident: More intruders, and they're bent on killing him.
    • LESSON/DECISION: Has learned that he is a better man when he puts the needs of others before himself.
      • Reflection of Inner Need: Puts others before himself

    My take away: To write a tale as old as time, it's always good to strengthen the theme in a way that affects both characters.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017

    Destiny vs Secret Desire

    When it comes to human nature, Destiny almost always loses to Secret Desire. As we see in La La Land, even though two people appear destined to be together, nothing is stronger at getting it's own way than that urge living deep within us, our Inner Need, sometimes buried so deep that we don't even know it's there until it's forced from hiding. At this point, it is called the Secret Desire.

    Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, seem to be the perfect romantic couple. There are lots of sparks in their relationship, but often the typical romance taps into the Inner Need of the characters and fulfills whatever is missing in their lives. Not so much in real life, and La La Land depicts this, much to the consternation of it's audience (aka, me.) Did I want to see these two together? Absolutely! I write romance. I've gotten several couples together successfully. But this movie, as fantastical as it is, (dancing, singing. . .floating,) was written to portray real life. Well, some real life. Obviously some of us have had successful romance stories. I'm going on 42 years with the love of my life.

    The following Tree Plotter gives us some insight as to the Inner Needs of these two characters. My take: When writing a story with real life emotions, tap into the Secret Desire and make the character's dream stronger than whatever Destiny might have planned for them.



    Click on images to enlarge.

    It may be cynical, but the lesson our two characters learn is, "Here's to the fools who dream."