Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Writer's Journey to Save the Cat in the Twilight Zone

Twilight Zone episodes are story telling masterpieces that unfold in just 24 minutes making them painless ways to analyze many examples of what makes a great story.

To make it even easier, both Blake Snyder (Save The Cat!) and Christopher Vogler (The Writers Journey) were inspired by Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces to adapt his myth structure for movies and novels. I've created a cheat sheet of the important points that I could use while watching Twilight Zone on Netflix. (At this moment, they're available on DVD and subscription streaming services. Check TV.COM for current availability.)

The 15 points from Save the Cat are in red. The 12 points from The Writer's Journey are in blue. They overlap quite a bit since they're both based on Campbell's work. The Writer's Journey points are simpler. The Save the Cat are richer and more detailed (though I've pared the descriptions down since a 24 minute episode can't pack in all the points of a movie.)

I'll be revising this as I watch Twilight Zones, to make it more useful.

Act 1
3. Set Up — WJ #1 The Ordinary World
  • This is a glimpse of how the hero’s life is likely to continue.
  • This is the world the hero understands. It’s where he has played out how he believes he must act to get what he wants in life.

1. Opening Image
A glimpse of the story world. The author hands you the blocks he wants you to begin building from.
Look for:
  • Tone: The tone the author wants you to pick up. How does he create it? What images, sound, music, lighting?
  • Rules and expectations: What building blocks for the story’s rules does the author give you:
  • Familiar world? Do you already know the rules and expectations? Like a western setting, domestic situation? (Caution! The author may exploit your expectations and subvert them with a twist.)
  • New world? Fantasy, sci fi or surreal? Look for recognizable elements the author brings in.
  • (At the end of the story is there a corresponding “after” image?)

Look for:
  • Hero snapshot: The immediate impression the author wants you to have of the hero. (Young, old, profession, male, female?)
  • Lacking: What and how does the author show what’s missing from the hero’s life? What does the hero want?
  • Flaw: How is the hero getting in the way of his own happiness? How does the author show this?
  • What choices is she making that prevents her from getting what she lacks? Why is she making those choices?
  • What weaknesses, blind spots, flaws does he have in his belief system?
  • What changes must she make in herself to win/have a better life?

Other characters: What is their relationship with the hero? How does the author show this?
Look for: What vital part in the hero coming to a new understanding does each play?
Look for these archetypes (some characters may play multiple roles).
(NOTE: There are other archetypes (e.g., “The Mom”, “The Queen”, “The Fool,”) that may or may not be present, but the following are essential roles in the structure of a story.)
  • HERALDS -- Look for: Announces important events. Brings the challenge (before Act 2) which begins the hero on his story journey. May be messenger or the message or an event.
  • MENTORS -- Look for: aiding, training, wiser one. May test the hero. Gives a gift to the hero.
  • THRESHOLD GUARDIANS -- Look for: Challenge before hero crosses a threshold to a new “arena”: e.g., before entering the “special” world (of Act 2), before facing the antagonist, before the entrance to any new challenge the hero must face.
  • SHAPESHIFTERS -- Look for: change in role, personality, appearance, uncertainty about loyalty. “All is not as it seems.” Can be a catalyst whose change causes change in hero.
  • SHADOWS -- Look for: Negative figure, opposite of the hero and opposes him, his shadow self, his dark side. Usually the antagonist, though there can be more than one shadow.
  • TRICKSTERS -- Look for: clown, a mischief maker, provides comedic relief. Represents cunning. Pitted against opponents who are stronger. Also adds uncertainty.
  • ALLIES -- Look for: Supports the hero.

2. Theme Stated
Look for: A statement of what the story is about. (Rod Serling’s intro is probably the theme.) Otherwise, a character may make a statement or ask a question of the hero.

“A screenplay is an argument by the writer, the pros and cons of living a particular life, or pursuing a particular goal. Is a behavior, dream or goal worth it? Or is it false? What is more important, wealth or happiness? …. The rest of the screenplay is the argument laid out, either proving or disproving this statement, and looking at it, pro and con, from every angle.”

4. Catalyst — WJ #2 Call To Adventure
Look for:
  • The event that gives the hero a reason to change his current course. (The call is outside the hero’s control. Something happens to the hero.)
  • Does a HERALD bring the news? Or does the event announce itself?

5. Debate — WJ #3 Refusal of the Call
Look for:
  • How does the author show the hero has doubts? And convey the hero won’t find this easy?
  • Is the challenge she’s debating to avoid something? Or to get something?

WJ #4 Meeting with the Mentor
Look for:
  • How does the hero overcome his doubts?
  • A MENTOR may give the hero advice. The mentor may give the hero a gift in addition to advice.

6. Break Into Act 2 — WJ #5 Crossing the first threshold
The hero makes a decisive decision to step into the Special world.
Look for:
  • Does he need a nudge at the last minute (to show how really difficult the hero feels this is)?
  • There may be a THRESHOLD GUARDIAN, one who challenges the hero before he crosses.

Act 2, first half
The hero turns off the path he’d been on. He enters the Special world.

7. B Story & 8. “Fun And Games” — WJ #6 Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  • The A story is the hero’s tangible goal, what she wants.
  • The B story is the hero’s spiritual goal, what he needs, what truth he must accept. The B story helps the hero learn the lesson he needs to learn.
  • (Since Twilight Zones are short stories, A&B probably aren’t separate.)
  • “Fun and Games” is the hero trying his old ways against new challenges and being forced to accept her outlook and approach are wrong.
Look for:
  • The hero failing challenges as he goes after what he wants.
  • She keeps relying on her beliefs, “right” understanding, approach to life, skills, mental and physical abilities. Her life (the author actually ;-) keeps trying to get her to admit she’s wrong or inadequate and must change.

WJ #7 Approach To The In-Most Cave
  • The hero and newfound allies enter the Antagonist’s home territory. (Though may not face the Antagonist right away.)
  • There may be another THRESHOLD GUARDIAN.

9. Midpoint
Look for:
  • A big success or big failure. It’s where he thinks he has it all figured out, or thinks he can’t ever figure it out. (But he’s wrong!) He’s modified his old beliefs with new beliefs but hasn’t let go of the core that isn’t working.
  • A party, or public declaration.
  • The Antagonist recognizes the hero as a real threat.

Act 2, second half
The hero commits herself to this path (though may not want to.)

10. The Bad Guys close in
  • Hero reacts to attacks from bad guys rather than being proactive.
  • It’s the final assault on his old beliefs.

11. All Is Lost — WJ #8 The Ordeal
  • The hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life. This is death of the phoenix so she can be reborn, caterpillar entering its cocoon.
  • Event happens to the hero — counterpart to the Catalyst in Act 1 — but more devastating.
  • MENTOR may die here.

12. Dark Night of the Soul
  • The phoenix spirit wallows in its ashes. The caterpillar holes up in its cocoon.
  • This is a counterpoint to the Debate in Act 1. It’s hesitation. It’s “Now what?”

13. Break into Act 3 — WJ #9 The Reward
  • The hero takes possession of the treasure — magic sword, knowledge — won by facing death.
  • There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
  • The hero is “reborn,” like a phoenix. The hero emerges as a butterfly from its cocoon.
  • A eureka moment. The hero knows what he must do.
  • The hero decides to act. It’s a counterpart to #6 Break into Act 2.

Act 3
  • The old world and new world combine.
  • The hero is re-energized, confident.
  • It’s the “Final Exam” of all he’s learned, the ultimate test.

14. Finale
“Storming the Castle.” Five parts. Look for:
  1. Team is regathered.
  2. Plan is executed. **
  3. The hero reaches the “high tower” but is halted by a set back. The princess isn’t there. What he needed isn’t there. Traitors are exposed. (The clock keeps ticking.) ***
  4. Dig Down Deep, for that last bit of strength or insight.
  5. The new plan is executed. And it works. Or doesn’t.

** WJ #10 The Road Back
The hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

*** WJ #11 The Resurrection
At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

15. Final Image — WJ #12 Return With the Elixir
  • Image corresponding to the Opening “before” Image to emphasize the change that has taken place.
  • The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

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