Thursday, February 9, 2012

My latest revelation

OK, so you probably already know this. And I guess I did too on some level, because it just makes sense. But it's finally hit me what is the main thing I yearn for in a story, the thing that keeps propelling me through pages, or screen time. The thing that makes me love a movie or book.

This came to me in a variety of ways, all accumulating to my big revelation.

First, were the managers. Several managers liked the logline of one of my scripts enough to request I send it to them. The feedback I got was positive, it was a solid script, well written, well crafted, yadda yadda... but bottom line was they didn't fall in love with it enough to campaign for it.

Then, after several friends recommended I read "The Hunger Games" I picked up the first one, and devoured them straight through till the end of the 3rd book.

And finally, I read this article that a friend emailed out. It's about a producer named Lindsay Doran, and what she thinks makes a movie joyful. She talks about a bunch of things, but there was one point in particular that she made that stood out to me.

Here it is. Here's my big revelation.

The two things that hook me in a story, that make me turn the page as fast as I can to see what will happen, are:

1) If I fall in love the main character.
2) To see what will happen with his/her relationships.

It's not to see how they'll get out of jail, or get rich, or learn a secret, or save a city. Nor is it to see if the bomb goes off, or the bad guys die, or the mystery is solved. I mean, I care about those things. They have to be good. Put me on a roller coaster. Make me tense and scared. But that's not what makes me fall in love with a story.

It's the people. And who they care about. And what's going to happen to them.

Lindsay Doran said that “Audiences don’t care about an accomplishment unless it’s shared with someone else. What makes an audience happy is not the moment of victory but the moment afterwards when the winners shares that victory with someone they love.”

What was it about The Hunger Games, that I had to see what happened? Sure the games were horrible and graphic, and the distopian future was engaging and the premise and the story line, and all that was fast paced and interesting. But the one question that kept popping into my mind, the one that I had to find out the answer to, was... who would she end up with? I fell in love with the main character, and I loved the people she loved and I had to know who she would end up with from this romantic triangle she was caught in. And the scenes where this was touched on, the emotional moments she had with the two prospects, were the ones I savoured.

Maybe I would have been embarrased to admit that before, so I never really recognized it. Does a wonderful sci fi tale really all come down to trashy romance? Yes. It does. Those are the juicy bits. Of course, the story has to be good, and engaging and that needs to move forward, uping the stakes and so on. But the thread that gives a the heart a tug, the emotional yeaning, the thing that makes us fall in love with the story, are the relationships.

Lindsay Doran also said when the hero realizes the relationship is more important than the achievement, that makes us happy.  But also, this doesn't mean that it has to end all peaches and cream. A movie can end with the lovers not getting to be together. Look at Casablanca. He gives up his own love for her to be happy, and he finds another relationship that will be meaningful for him. But it's still about the relationships. That's what we want to know about. It's not about what kind of man will Rick turn into. It's who will be in his life? Who matters to him? Will his relationships come to a satisfactoy conclusion?

Harry Potter. Would we have cared so much about this boy if he didn't have friends he loved to share his adventures with? If it was just Harry against the world, alone, fighting for good, I doubt it. 

I thought of the managers. One said "I didn't fall in love with it enough to campaign for it." And I now know why. I had no one, not really, for her to share her conquest with. It was hers and hers alone. The relationships in my story were secondary to the plot and action. I got it backwards. What we love the most, are the relationships. The connection between people. Whatever causes emotions. Love, hate, jelousy, fear, passion, shared joy. These moments are made between people. These moments are the ones that makes us love the story.

Thanks to The Hunger Games, I also realized that for me, I must love the main character, in order to really care about his/her relationships. I can like a story where I don't love the main character, but I won't love it. What makes me love a main character? When they love someone else more than themselves, or if they are kind to someone when no one else was, or the relationship they have with another person, even if it's in need of repair. What makes me love them is how they relate to other people (or sometimes animals).

And then I thought of all the books I've loved the most, the movies where I would hold my breath and then cry the hardest, were all because I loved the main character, and I became invested in the relationships in their life. Some of the greatest moments in movies are that moment when the relationship is resolved, or a success is shared. Or a loss of a relationship is felt.

For example:
"Sense and Sensibility" - when Edward tells Elinor that he's not married, and all her reserve shatters into sobs of relief and joy. (this still makes me cry!)

"When Harry Met Sally" - it's New Years Eve and Harry give his speech to Sally, ending with "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

"Dangerous Beauty" - when she's at trial, and the love of her life, a man who was more concerned with his status than their relationship, stands up in front of everyone to defend her, causing a chain reaction of all the men who secretly loved her, and who's lives she touched, to defend her.

"Blade Runner" - The scene on top of the roof in the rain when Roy says to Decker "All those moments will be lost, like tears in the rain." It's the moment that Decker sees Roy as human. Their relationship changes in that moment just before Roy dies.

Sure I have favorite moments that have nothing to do with relationships, but it's the relationships that make me fall in love with the story in general, and how the main character relates to others is what makes me fall in love with them.

I am rewriting my sci fi story now. I am focusing on the relationships in her life, as she goes through her journey. Focusing on the people she loves, and her difficulties with them. I'm excited. This is the stuff that moves me. And I'd somehow neglected this most crucial part of storytelling.

Onward and upward.