Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beats! (Sorry Blake Snyder...), part 1

I mentioned previously that there are these things called 'beats'. Here now is a better breakdown of some them.

Opening Gambit - This is a scene different from the main thrust of the story, but that gives the reader/viewer an opportunity to see the protagonist in action. This is a mini-serving of the character or context of the world, and is often done in media res, meaning we join the action in the middle of it occurring.

Opening Gambits have three parts
                A. Observation - We (and/or the protagonist) sees the world by way of a specific problem - We meet Batman on the roof of bank being broken into, for example. And that tells us something about the character (They fight crime, they're heroic, etc) and about the world (it has criminals, it's dangers, etc).
                B. Operation - Here we see how the protagonist does whatever they do. Batman fights the bad guys, Macgyver builds something with string, celery and a dime, something that demonstrates WHAT the character does and HOW they do it.
                 C. Resolution/Praise - Having navigated the challenges of the opening conflict, the protagonist gets a reward. How they handle the reward provides more information about the character. Do they sigh when a rescued hostage thanks them? Do they escape before the police or publicity finds them? Do they talk about apple pie and democracy? The response to a completed (or failed) gambit educates the reader/viewer more about the nature of the character.

Instigator - This is a scene or character that leads the protagonist towards the conflict. They often introduce us to the plot as a concept, without actually breaking down the specifics of the plot. In a movie about treasure hunting, this is the character who tells the explorer about the existence of the map being found, for example.

Challenge Set-up - Just after the plot is introduced, most writers leave the protagonist for a moment and cut/wipe away to the antagonist to show them in a similar, albeit more evil situation. (Indiana Jones meets with the wise sage, the Nazis gather together to dig more holes) This is done to show that the desired Mcguffin is sought by multiple parties, to create tension.

The flaw here is the assumption that without the cut-away, the audience wouldn't know that this should be tense.

If the object is important, and the potential danger is illustrated (if the Russian guy gets the missiles, he can blow up the world!), then we don't need to cutaway to prove it -- the potential can be SHOWN to us in the characterizations.

McGuffin Tease - If your movie, novel, or play and it has a McGuffin, then you're going to want to show us that the object is powerful. The Ark of Covenant kills a few rats, the cursed Cthulhu statue leads to someone dying,  the piece of kryptonite weakens Superman.

By showing the audience what the McGuffin can do when it's not even actively being used, you show how dangerous the plot is and how important the good guys win should be.

Sidekick Conversation Hour - Do you have time to kill between the B-plot romance and before you get back to the main plot, generally just before things look really bad for our intrepid protagonists? Then you're likely due to have 'Sidekick Conversation Hour'. This is that scene, or portion of a scene where the two stoner friends reference pop culture or allow you the writer to express your personal inside jokes that the audience will only tangentially understand. (Note - this is like the second beat cut out of a film, just after those scenes where multiple characters bring the audience up to speed on the plot as if we haven't been following along.)

Stay tuned for part 2, screenwriters.