Do you sit in front of the TV or a book and admire the character arcs, pacing and plotting? Just me, then. This is the stock-in-trade for the jobbing author and essential craft skills I have to master for the current challenge.
At home we often sit in front of the TV and play Plot-Point Bingo. Turning point one, turning point two, death of the mentor, all-is-lost. We annoy people if we play the game at the cinema. You can try it as a drinking game, but you’re unlikely to make it to the climactic showdown.
You can blame Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, or its many adaptations, such as Christopher Vogler’s The Twelve Stage Hero’s Journey. It’s become such a staple of novel and screen-writing structure it’s hard to find an example that doesn’t have it firmly embedded. You can also blame it for the factory-templated, flat-pack structure so common it comes with its own Allen-wrench.
The trouble is, the human desire for story seems hardwired to certain mythic structures and tropes; the conquering hero battling adversity, two fails and a success, the all-is-lost moment before the climax.
If you don’t pay attention to it, both story and character arcs fall flat. No amount of plot-chicanery and jaw-dropping action can make up for a satisfying character and plot arc. That’s how we got Transformers.
You can go too slow, you can go too fast. You can skip stages in the main character’s emotional response to events. You can break the entire Campbell Monomyth. But if you do, don’t expect five-star reviews. It underpins everything from Pride & Prejudice to Bridget Jones, The Life of Pi to Star Wars and every knock-off since.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an orphaned wannabe-space-wizard-farm-boy in possession of a hovercar, an elderly mentor, an amoral sidekick and two robots, must be in want of a light-saber…”
Image credit: Extract from 1977 original Star Wars poster by Tom Jung