Somebody I follow recently tweeted:
Saying the script’s great but the end needs tweaking is a bit like saying “Great pyramid, but can you move the point six inches to the left?”
Actually, it might not have been recently. Or someone I follow. Or even on Twitter. I have no idea. Not even convinced it’s 140 characters and I’m far too lazy to bother counting to find out.
It might be a famous quote.
It may even have been something I overheard in a public toilet, but that seems unlikely.
Whoever said/wrote it in whatever context, pat yourself on the back and (if you read this) feel free to identify yourself in the comments so others can (virtually) pat you too.
Because it’s a great analogy.
Recently I’ve had to do the opposite. I’ve had a script which needed the beginning moved six inches to the left. Or right. To be honest, no one was really sure where it needed moving to.
The problem was, no one who read the script cared about the protagonist. For he is a massive cock. Which was kind of the point. The idea was to have the protagonist gradually reveal himself to be the antagonist and for his girlfriend to gradually take over as the protagonist.
Which, structually, works really well.
In terms of caring about the protagonist … not so much.
The problem is, the stakes don’t really become apparent until halfway through the story. Until then, it’s interesting … but only in an intellectual way. That’s not good enough, it needs to be interesting in an interesting way.
The solution was clear, the proper protagonist needs to be more of a protagonist from the beginning. Dual protagonists from the word go. More than that, she needs to be the primary protagonist in a 51/49 percent split. It’s about both of them, but it’s more about her than it is about him.
Sounds easy enough, just give her more dialogue, subtly refocus the early scenes so she’s the instigator from the get go, essentially shuffle him six inches to the left and her six to the right until she’s in the spotlight instead of him.*
Except it’s not. Because it turns out, under the glare of the spotlight, that as a character, she’s paper thin. Bordering on transparent.
She seemed fully rounded and well thought out with motivations and goals and all the stuff a character is supposed to have … but somehow, moving her into the spotlight made all that stuff disappear. And, as a consequence, the entire film collapsed with her.
Now this isn’t a writing boys vs writing girls moral. It’s not about me developing male characters better than female ones. It’s about a character designed to be a protagonist being more meaty than one designed to (initially) support the protagonist.
If it helps, think about (arbitarily) trying to tell Star Wars (the proper Star Wars, the first one. I’m not down with all that Episode 4 – A New Hope retconning bullshit. It’s fucking called Star Wars because that’s its fucking name) from Obi Wan’s point of view.
Obi Wan’s a great supporting character, but really all he does is impart wisdom, fill in some backstory and then get killed. That is his function. He doesn’t learn anything or need anything, there’s no central irony to his character … or at least none I can think of with PEOPLE FUCKING SHOUTING! IN MY FUCKING EAR! WHAT? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?
Oh right, I have to move. Hang on.
I should probably stop typing everything I’m thinking but … well, I’m in the flow.
Sorry, where was I?
Oh yes, so Obi Wan works well as a supporting character in Star Wars, but if you decided to tell the whole film from his point of view then you’d (probably) find out he’s a bit on the thin side. You’d need to give him an inner goal or a need or perhaps a more concrete goal from the off.
Maybe you’d need to go into more depth concerning how he feels about being the last (as far as he knows?) Jedi?
Or maybe there’d need to be more about how he secretly looks out for Luke (assuming he does?).
Or maybe even a good hour of him looking in the mirror and wondering what the fuck happened considering he’s apparently only in his mid-forties. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? What kind of bad paper round would you have to have as a kid to look like that in your forties?
See? All this prequel bullshit makes life so complicated.
No prequels, just the trilogy. Just the trilogy, just the trilogy …
Imagine me rocking back and forth and dribbling, if it helps.
The point is, in order to move any secondary (tertiary?) character into the lead role isn’t as simple as repurposing a bit of dialogue or the odd scene, it involves a complete and utter tear down and rebuild of the script.
It’s repointing the pyramid.
Finding a motivation, need and want for a protagonist which ties in thematically and carries an inherent irony AFTER the script has been written is a complete and utter pain in the arse.
Five fucking times I’ve started, got as far as page 40 and realised it makes no fucking sense.
Yes, I should have planned it out before I started rewriting.
But I didn’t.
Every time I started, it seemed to work. It seemed to be clear and obvious and … well, it fucking wasn’t.
But I’ve cracked it now. I think. Maybe. It seems to be working anyway and I’ve got to the final act. In a way, I guess I’ve moved the base of the pyramid six inches to the left without moving the point.
The only question I have now is … was did the client mean his left or my left?
* Does that work? Would that not put both of them in the spotlight? Or both of them out? Wait, let me think about this. I need some volunteers and a lightbulb. Or my fingers. I’ll do it with my fingers. Yeah, it works. Kind of.