Page 1 of 1

Re: Self parody as main character

Posted: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 1:34 pm
by Rkcapps
From a brilliant book on the craft of writing:

"There’s a small two-character movie called Sparrows Dance in which the main character, an unnamed young semi-successful actress, has been seized by agoraphobia. Not only can’t she leave her apartment, she can’t even open the door to the delivery guy who brings her takeout food. We watch as she slides the money beneath the door and nervously listens for his receding footsteps; only when she’s sure he’s gone does she tentatively open the door and snatch up the bags he’s left on the floor.

Lucky for her, she has enough money to make that her normal daily routine. In fact, she never has to leave her apartment at all; she can have everything she needs delivered in perpetuity. Problem solved.

Except for one thing: She’s lonely. Seeing the raw longing on her face as she gazes at a man and a woman having a meaningful conversation in an old black-and-white melodrama on her tiny TV, we feel her anguish. Clearly, this woman aches for human connection. We learn both of these things before the plot itself kicks in. We know what she wants: love. And we know what holds her back: when it comes to genuine human contact, the pickings are pretty slim when not only can’t you set foot outside of your small apartment, but you won’t let anyone inside, either. Sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? And if nothing happened to force her hand, that nameless protagonist might live her entire life thusly, lost in a world of fear and longing. Enter the plot.

What happens that forces her to confront her fear and go after what she wants? Ask yourself, Even if all your creature comforts—food, water, clothes, shelter—were provided for, what is the one thing, if you live in an apartment (or just about anywhere), that you can’t live without? The answer couldn’t be less romantic: working plumbing.

She wakes up one morning to discover water cascading from the base of her toilet, covering the bathroom floor. Now she has no choice but to call a plumber, and the plot then revolves around what happens when the plumber—an actual human being—arrives to repair her pipes. Thus the answer to the question, Why does the broken plumbing matter to her? has very little to do with the mundane yet increasingly pressing reason it would matter to the rest of us.

After all, we’d have no problem opening the door to a complete stranger, as long as he wielded a huge wrench and a big box of spare parts, and had a halfway decent rating on Yelp. But for her, simply having to open the door to him is the hardest thing she’s ever had to do. The point is, if she hadn’t had a driving internal goal urging her forward, and a clear-cut fear holding her back, we’d be watching a two-hour movie about how a woman gets her toilet fixed.

Now, unless you’re an apprentice plumber, or—for reasons probably best kept to yourself—you have a thing for watching someone repair a toilet, chances are you would not watch that movie. But Sparrows Dance isn’t about how a woman gets her plumbing fixed (except maybe metaphorically); it’s about how she overcomes her fear and takes that first tentative step back into the outside world. So although a gazillion things must have happened to her from birth until the day she locked herself away in her apartment, most of them are irrelevant to that specific story. This is something the filmmaker no doubt knew, because there’s nothing in the film that doesn’t relate in some way to her inner struggle, continuously forcing her to squirm, rebel, and fight back until she has no choice but to squarely face her fear head-on."

Cron, Lisa. Story Genius (pp. 72-73). Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

Re: Self parody as main character

Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 10:23 am
by JoeJ
I like this excerpt because it provides a very clear window into how good stories start. We have a "home" setting, which betrays an uneasieness in the character's world, and includes nearly all the elements to be expanded upon later. Then arrives the challenge, the toilet leak, and all that it encompasses. One can really feel the horror that the protagonist would have experienced when the penny dropped and she realized someone would have to enter her space.

I wouldn't mind betting the film ends in the same "home" setting or one very much like it, but without that uneasiness and with a clear display that the protagonist has surmounted her earlier challenge.

As for self parody, I'm sure that was the right fit for this sort of characterization. The film would have exhibited a tremendous amount of dramatic tension, I bet. But because of the subject matter, a leaky toilet, the direction of the dramatic energy, as it were, would have been far different than had we an agoraphobic actress who needed medical help after being bitten by, I don't know, a deadly spider.

Interesting how stories can go in so many directions with the most minor of tweaks.

Re: Self parody as main character

Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 2020 1:39 pm
by Rkcapps
Yes, I agree Joe, just little tweaks can make all the difference :)