No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Megaplotter



Hi, Folks.

Thirteen years ago I wrote the following article. I just googled, and the three hits on "andrew ferguson megaplotter" are dead -- nothing in google cache, either. Those three amigos will surely disappear soon, so I'm blogging it now for posterity.

I've learned a lot about story crafting in those 13 years since, and I was tempted to completely overhaul this thing, but I decided to go so far as fixing the spelling errors and leave it there.

Raw as it may be, looking upon it now, it does hit the major beats of the Hero's Journey, and it still offers a good starting point for novice writers and screenwriters.

Over the coming months I plan to dump in here a plethora of writing research and knowledge, accumulated over decades, in the hope that other writers will find it useful.

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Version 280293
Compiled by Andrew Ferguson

(For clarity, I use a male hero throughout this text. However, reference to one gender is intended to encompass both genders.)

ACT ONE

The hero at home and the call to adventure.

SEQUENCE ONE

THE MAIN PROBLEM IS INTRODUCED
Unforeseen events destabilize society and a solution is required. FORCES OF EVIL have seized the balance of power. If the evil forces are unknown, the question of Who/What/Where/When/Why/How arises.

WE MEET THE HERO
just prior to his call to adventure. He is a nonhero in a humdrum, mundane world -- a world in need of rejuvenation. *He* also may be in need of rejuvenation and healing, be it physical, emotional, psychological, or all three. He may or may not be aware of this need.

At home the hero may be in conflict with his family. The hero- to-be is often the youngest son. Sometimes, one parent or family member is conspicuously absent from home. The mother image may be split into a diabolical stepmother and a natural mother who is no longer around. The hero's father is likely to show exasperation toward his adolescent son's naiveté and foolishness. This criticism is shared and amplified by the hero's older siblings. At home, the hero has few allies. Yet he is the chosen son, the son who will ultimately outperform his older and more experienced siblings. He is the least well equipped and supposedly the least likely to succeed. But although the young hero would appear to lack merit, luck is on his side.

For all his shortcomings, the hero possesses one characteristic which sets him apart from his fraternal rivals: compassion. While brute strength and intelligence are hereditary, compassion and humility must be learned. This is why even the most untalented youth can become a hero. The hero's compassion extends to the natural world: the animals, the water, the sky. Before being summoned to his quest, the hero must undergo a test of character to prove himself worthy of the natural and supernatural assistance he will receive from helpers during his journey. Of all the tests, tasks and trials that will befall him, this first test is most important, because it establishes his privileged status. Once he displays his compassion -- with its attached implication of humility -- he can do no wrong, even when he violated interdictions, disregards warnings, or ignores instructions.

We find out the hero's PERSONAL GOAL (foreshadowing what he wants to achieve) and his deepest FEAR (foreshadowing what he wants to avoid but will inevitably face). The hero has a DOMINANT CHARACTERISTIC which inhibits his efforts to achieve his PERSONAL GOAL.

The PROBLEM may only affect the hero tangentially at first, or it may not appear to be all that significant or serious.

THE SITUATION IS ESTABLISHED.
At first, much of the action is small scale and provincial.

The villain carries out reconnaissance, finding out about his victim.

We see the hero display the nascent strengths which earmark him as a potential hero.

THE HERO RECEIVES HIS CALL TO ADVENTURE.
A blunder -- apparently the merest chance -- reveals a NEW WORLD. Or, the violation of an interdiction or command causes the PROBLEM.

The villain deceives his victim, who may unwittingly aid the villain to accomplish his intentions. The villain injures, harms, or deprives a family member.

** CRISIS **

The hero reacts to the crisis according to his INHIBITING CHARACTERISTIC.

A MENTOR CHARACTER APPEARS
amid the sequence crisis. He is usually the archetypal Wise Old Man -- the herald of destiny who will trigger the hero's inner awakening and set him on the path of transfiguration. The hero will soon begin his rite of spiritual passage which, when complete, will encompass the death of his old self and the rebirth of his new identity. Although he may appear insignificant, the mentor is the one with the special knowledge, skills, and artefacts, which he will use to prepare and train the hero during his early adventures. He has limited magical powers and formidable fighting skills.

This guide has long watched the hero and is aware that the character is the focus of great hope, for only the person with the right qualities can find and possess the PRECIOUS OBJECT. The partnership of the mentor with the hero works to balance the hero's weaknesses and enable him to perform the superhuman deeds that he could not accomplish unaided. through the guide, the hero recognises his strengths and weaknesses and reconciles them.

SEQUENCE TWO

AFTER ENCOUNTERING THE GUIDE FIGURE,
the hero may return to his familiar, unremarkable life. Because of this encounter, which has opened the hero's eyes to a new world of possibilities, his old life may no longer seem tolerable.

The hero may or may not attempt to deal with the PROBLEM, depending on how much is personally at stake for him. He may adopt the cause for the sole purpose of furthering his own motives, or have the cause forced upon him. In the first case, the hero is a SEEKER-HERO who willingly leaves home to commence his specific quest; in the second case he is a VICTIM- HERO, forced by circumstance to leave home. During the adventure, the hero may swap from the role of seeker-hero to that of victim-hero, or carry both roles at once. Or the roles may be split between two heroes, one subordinated.

If he does act, the hero might only succeed in complicating matters (though he still believes the problem is manageable). If he doesn't act, the problem becomes compounded anyway, and the hero finds himself personally at risk.

THE HERO TRIES TO RECTIFY THE PROBLEM.
But he underestimates the problem's seriousness or misinterprets its nature or allows his character flaws to cloud his judgement, and consequently a major complication arises. The problem veers off in an unanticipated and far more dangerous direction, with the impending consequences suddenly much more severe. The new gravity of the situation demands an urgent solution.

** CRISIS **

The hero again reacts to the crisis according to his INHIBITING CHARACTERISTIC, but not quite as strongly -- because it has already begun its reversal.

If the hero ignores the call to adventure, a series of signs of increasing magnitude appear until the call can be refused no longer.

THE HERO IS LURED, CARRIED AWAY, OR SENT INTO EXILE
by benign or malignant forces, otherwise he proceeds voluntarily.

The hero may enter the new world in order to escape his oppressed home conditions; he will meet far more perilous situations in the terrain in which he seeks refuge.

ACT TWO

The hero commences his search and moves into the netherworld where he encounters tests, obstacles, learning, discovery, and preparation.

THE HERO HEEDS THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
(or is drawn into it against his will) and moves out of his drab, oppressed world into the magical foreign realm where he will be transformed from the ordinary to the extraordinary. This place is the stage for the deeds that will comprise his later history.

Initially the hero may underestimate the difficulty of the quest ahead, but he gradually loses his naivety as the journey unfolds.

THE HERO BEGINS HIS QUEST FOR THE OBJECT
for its whereabouts are not originally known. He is a traveller between two worlds: the outsider who becomes the insider, the rebel who turns conformist, the victim who triumphs over his oppressors.

THE HERO CONFRONTS THE THRESHOLD GUARDIANS
as his first test, beyond whom lies the unknown. The guardian's job is to ward off any who are incapable of encountering what lies beyond. Those who cannot understand a god see it as a devil and are this defended from the approach. The hero may conquer or conciliate the power of the threshold, or he is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died. The threshold passage is a form of self-annihilation -- the hero goes inward to be born again.

THE HERO ENCOUNTERS A SERIES OF TESTS, TRIALS AND OBSTACLES,
which must be overcome in order to achieve his goals and defeat the enemy.

From there the hero moves through a series of unfamiliar settings, sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying. It is a place of strange beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delights.

He undergoes training, learning, and preparation for the trials ahead -- we learn along with him. He discovers that the quest will be more dangerous than his initial expectations.

THE ENEMY'S PRESENCE GROWS.
The hero struggles to tackle the problem head on. Because of the interaction of his faults and virtues, he makes mistakes and misjudgements which cause complications, hindrances, obstacles, and disasters, one after the other, each being more terrible than its predecessor.

The enchanted world that he has entered contains not only monstrous adversaries, but also humane helpers in a variety of benign forms: fellow travellers, well-wishers, unexpected allies, agents of his supernatural guide, etc. -- some of whom join his quest. The hero must undergo tests before he receives magical tokens from donors or the assistance of helpers. The hero does not always react positively to these tests. Some helpers may begin as hinderers, hinderers as helpers. But without this added assistance the hero would fail.

The headstrong young hero frequently lacks the good sense to follow the advice of his many helpers. Disregarding their instructions inevitably leads the hero into complications, crises, and catastrophes.

Some of his assistants in the quest are good-natured comics. The hero's new friends are diverse in character and attitude, and whereas his adversaries are generally human, the hero's allies are generally of other species. As the hero grows into a figure of responsibility and authority, so do his friends and colleagues.

Often, one of the hero's band is an observer/commentator.

A series of tests screens out the unworthy, revealing the true hero(es) of the party. Members of the group die as the quest progresses.

THE HERO'S GROUP RELY ON TEAMWORK AND INDIVIDUAL SKILLS.
Individual members' skills often excel those of the hero, and this allows him to call on their particular talents at specific times. The hero's helpers and donors are grateful beneficiaries of his deeds. When the hero finds himself facing an impossible task, a helper with the proper attributes is at hand. Ultimately, the credit for the achievements of the helpers shift to the hero. Although the hero may not have been instrumental in the tasks, in the end he acquires these attributes of his helpers, gaining their strength, courage and wit.

Outsiders must win admission into the group.

ARCHETYPES THAT MAY APPEAR ARE:

the nurturing, intuitive Earth Mother;

the Shadow Figures/Reflections (positive and negative);

the mischievous Trickster archetype, who revels in creating chaos through its wit and cunning, and who sometimes helps, sometimes opposes (but eventually aligns himself with the forces of good);

animal archetypes, both good and evil;

the Anima and Animus, the female reflection of the male and the male reflection of the female.

Assistance may be in the form of gifts (protective amulets, artefacts), information, protection, sustenance, etc.

The characters draw upon combinations of the six personality types: the Innocent; the Orphan, who seeks trust; the Wanderer seeking clarity; the Warrior, who wants power; the Martyr, in search of love; and the Magician, who seeks joy.

Rituals from the past (old world) are enacted, as well as of the present (new world).

Finally, when things seem that they cannot get any worse ... they do.

*** MIDPOINT CRISIS ***

In attempting an all-out solution, a catastrophe tosses the hero out of the frying pan into the fire. His prospects plummet instantaneously from terrible to hopeless.

His INHIBITING CHARACTERISTIC has also reached the midpoint of its transformation and is now neutral, i.e. it is no longer negative, but it is also not yet an ENHANCING CHARACTERISTIC. From this point it will grow to become the positive reflection of it's originally negative aspect.

ACT THREE

THE HERO HAS A NARROW ESCAPE
to emerge from the catastrophe of Act Two in one piece.

The choice to continue with the quest is reaffirmed -- with fewer illusions -- and he sets about tackling the problem from a new angle.

THE SUPREME ENEMY
begins to take a personal interest in the hero and his friends now that they have proven themselves to be a more serious threat than he at first supposed.

A subsidiary enemy, who is evil but less powerful than the Supreme Enemy, and once himself a champion of the good side, has ambitions of dethroning the Supreme Enemy and usurping his power.

*** CRISIS ***

For the first time, the hero's inhibiting characteristic is now an enhancing characteristic, mild though it may be right now.

THE SUBSIDIARY ENEMY
tempts the champions of good to join him in deposing the Supreme Enemy and ruling the kingdom together in peace. This is summarily rejected as a false solution: it would amount to the heroes doing the right deed for the wrong reason.

Despite the inevitable complications, the hero finally gets on top of his situation; he seems to be making headway and a solution to the problem appears to be at hand. The hero's spirits soar. But the fact is, he has not yet learned his LESSON fully, despite his escape from the catastrophe, and is therefore doomed to failure by his own hand.

*** CRISIS ***

Although his enhancing characteristic is now strongly positive, an ironic tragedy befalls the hero when he is tested for the second time. Despite the hero's newfound confidence, a tiny unforeseen element of failure wrecks his plans. All his efforts and achievements appear wasted.

THE GOOD SIDE IS BATTERED
and in danger of losing all.

Also at this point, important good characters may be in the hands of the evil forces, and true identities and motives are revealed.

At this blackest moment the hero often has a death experience which leads to a kind of rebirth.

ACT FOUR

THE HERO IS FORCED TO CONFRONT HIS FLAWS,
his greatest fears, the nature of his deeds, and the true nature of the situation. He may learn the true identity and motivations of the people he is dealing with. The QUESTION may appear to have been solved, with only the CHASE remaining.

THE HERO IS PRESENTED WITH A TRAPDOOR:
a quick way to bail out of the quest and thereby cut his losses. Or he may be tempted with a SHORTCUT: a way to achieve his personal goals without the need to resolve his inner conflict -- this at the expense of his global goal. This is the dilemma: the choice between his personal needs and those of society.

If he does back out and use this trapdoor or shortcut, it is only temporary. He may be using either to his advantage, fooling those around him. Or he may be turned back to the quest path by an event, reminder, friend, remembrance, token, realization, etc. Whatever, the hero is rejuvenated, his determination redoubled, and he storms ahead on his path to death or glory.

AT LAST, DEEPLY AFFECTED AND CHANGED BY HIS AWFUL EXPERIENCES,
the hero learns a GLOBAL LESSON or TRUTH about his situation, and he now understands what must be done. Whatever the hero's choice, it involves great SACRIFICE and presents his gravest RISKS so far. With grim determination he reaffirms for the last time his choice to go on and then moves boldly forward, aware that this is his last chance and knowing he will soon meet his greatest triumph or his greatest sorrow.

THE HERO GAINS THE BOON HE HAS SOUGHT AFTER –
it may be treasure, the princess, recognition, knowledge, the Truth -- and flees. The forces of evil give chase. The hero faces his final obstacles and challenges. Sometimes the hero is incapable of fleeing or refuses to do so, in which case he must be rescued by his comrades.

EARLY IN THIS ACT THE GUIDE DIES
while fighting the superior enemy in order to facilitate the escape of the hero's party from the enemy fortress. He returns later in the form of a transmogrified spiritual being. Whether he likes it or not, the hero now has the leadership of the quest resting on his shoulders alone.

THE HERO GOES AFTER THE SOLUTION
one last, desperate time, doing the things he knows how to do, using props and skills and knowledge foreshadowed earlier in the story. His actions initiate an escalating series of events which lead inexorably toward the hoped-for solution.

*** CRISIS ***

The hero's enhancing characteristic (formerly the inhibiting characteristic) is now only one step away from completing its full reversal.

THE HERO IS RESCUED FROM PURSUIT.
He arrives home, sometimes unrecognised by his family.

If the apparent solution to the QUESTION proves wrong, the question resurfaces.

The subsidiary enemy attempts to defeat the Supreme enemy and is destroyed. The Supreme Enemy prepares for the confrontation with the hero.

If the story involves fraternal rivals who vexed the hero in his pre- heroic days, they often reappear at this point. Or a false hero attempts to take the hero's place. The brothers pilfer the hero's riches, usurp his power, try to alienate him from the land. In this final contest the prize has escalated to become the princess and the kingdom, and the punishment is death. But the hero prevails because he is no longer the naive, weak boy his siblings remember him to be. He was singled out in the first act and made singular in the second. Now is his opportunity to eliminate all competition and prove himself the sole heir to the highest office in the land: the throne.

*** CRISIS/CLIMAX ***

The conflict splits into two arenas: a one-on-one fight between the hero and the Supreme Enemy, and a battle between the forces of good (led by the allied shadow figure) and the forces of evil.

If the QUESTION still has not been answered truthfully, it is answered here.

The hero is tested for the third and final time. Despite having the key to the GLOBAL SOLUTION, the hero is thwarted unexpectedly at the last minute when the Supreme Enemy uses the hero's unresolved personal conflict against him. It appears that the hero is finished. But unlike the tragedy of the Act Three crisis, this failure opens up an unforeseen and fleeting possibility which the hero can exploit, if only he can resolve his personal conflict. He does, and this last course of action leads to the complete solution of the THREAT/PROBLEM.

His enhancing characteristic is now the complete reverse of what began as his inhibiting characteristic.

At the return threshold, the forces of the otherworld must remain behind, so this is where the final desperate struggle usually occurs.

During his battle with the Supreme Enemy the hero is subjected to more than mind and body can bear. He and the quest are saved at the last minute by external intervention, allowing the enemy to be destroyed. [Note, this is different to Deus Ex Machina.] This reinforces the notion that "a man alone cannot conquer death.

RESOLUTION

The false hero is exposed.

The hero applies the Personal Lesson or Truth he has learned. It "heals" him or enables him to achieve self-worth. He is given a new appearance and is recognised by his family.

The guilty are punished, demeaned and demoted. The chief villain has his downfall initiated by the hero and completed by Fate, in accordance with poetic justice. In contrast to the hero's mercy toward animals, he remains singularly uncharitable when it comes to dealing with his human rivals. Even brides and brothers are dispatched without hesitation once their deceit is uncovered. Treachery is punished as swiftly as compassion is rewarded.

There is celebration and rejoicing, but there is still work to be done: the rebuilding of the ravaged world.

The hero returns to his mundane world and restores it with the spoils of his quest -- be they Artefacts, Knowledge, Truth or Lessons. His world changes accordingly, reflecting a shining new reality. He integrates what he has learned into his daily life and then his transformation from ordinary to extraordinary is complete.

He is rewarded both by society and Fate, and he receives generous compensation for his sacrifices. His heroism is celebrated with ceremony, ritual, and public honour. His rank is elevated both privately and publicly.

NOTES

The hero may be physically maimed in his battles. This becomes his badge of courage that further distinguishes him from his peers in the mundane world.

Often the Shadow Figure gets the princess instead of the hero, who ends spiritually comforted but alone.

The outnumbered forces of good accept military discipline and serve voluntarily, but the Supreme Enemy must rule his evil forces with ruthlessness and fear.

The society contains a religion in decline while an evil demigod spreads a new corrupted religion. In wild and remote places, an honoured, near- extinct remnant of an ancient knightly order preserves a spiritual and military heritage during the current dark times.

The importance of individual, family, and clan honour is emphasised. In times of crisis or before conflict, characters often remind themselves and others of their noble heritage, thereby drawing courage and strength.

Heroes are usually anti-utopian and reject the grandiose empire building of totalitarians, instead favouring a free association of states.

The evil leader cannot understand the hero's motives beyond thinking the hero wants to usurp his power and replace him.

Conservative character who cannot meet the challenge or adapt to change are doomed.

The rebel forces are in fact counter revolutionary. The Supreme Enemy is the actual rebel, having overturned the natural order of things.

The hero's character growth occurs when he discovers how he is similar to the nemesis and how he is different to his shadow figure/reflection (positive and negative types). He must overcome his fears and recognise the darkness within himself and draw strength from it.

The hero's group become a professional unit and remain stoic in the face of danger and death.

The hero's inner conflict is tested several times as the quest progresses. It is not until the climax that the hero overcomes it.

To parallel the hero's growth from negative to positive, there is often a character (related to the hero) who reveals the reverse path: from positive to negative. The hero has two reflections: one positive and this other negative one. The story charts his downfall, as opposed to the hero's ascendancy. This character is a friend who becomes a foe; a helper who becomes a hinderer. He is an example of how the hero may have turns out has he himself followed the dark path. In battling this foe, the hero is in fact struggling with the potential for evil within himself.

The seven roles in fairytales, according to Propp, are: villain, donor (provider of magical agents), helper, princess (or sought-after person) and her father, dispatcher (sending hero on the quest), hero, and false hero. Only the hero is pure; other characters share various roles: helper; helper-donor, bride-helper; donor-helper, bride-counsellor; donor, bride; forced-donor, bride-tester; hostile-donor, bride-villain; villain.

The family romance: according to Freud, the family romance forms around the time a child begins to free himself from paternal authority. A growing sense of dissatisfaction with his parents, stemming from a sense of injustice, of being slighted or neglected, leads the child to fantasise that he must be a stepchild or an adopted child. Even after puberty the child's imagination may continue the task of ridding himself of his own parents and replacing them with those of higher social rank. He fancies himself the child of a prominent statesman, a millionaire, an aristocratic landowner -- of a person possessing the very qualities his own parents seem to lack. Freud noted that the new, exalted parents are equipped with the same attributes of the actual, humble parents. This suggests a degree of nostalgia for the days when his own mother and father seemed the most noble persons on earth.

The story requires a reversal of all the conditions prevailing at the beginning: the despised become beloved, the poor are enriched, the humble are enthroned, and vice versa.

Whereas heroes receive help only after proving their humility and compassion, heroines receive assistance only after they have been abased and forced to learn humility. Heroes suffer by taking the credit for the accomplishments of helpers and supernatural assistants; heroines suffer by being forced into a lowly social position. This process of humiliation and defeat ends in a rapid rise in social status through marriage and signals a loss of pride. [NOTE: this element is certainly prevalent in traditional tales, particularly fairytales. Debasing heroines in modern stories leaves the writer open to the accusation of misogyny. But if you debase your hero, who cares? :-) ]

The more naive the novice hero, the more foolhardy and fearless he is. This means he will be more likely to rise to the challenge introduced at the beginning of the story. Naiveté implies fearlessness in the form of foolhardiness, which can translate into courage and cunning. Sometimes a hero's stupidity can be so extreme as to utterly disarm his antagonists. As well as being a handicap, naiveté is a natural defence available to a hero unwise in the ways of the world. His naiveté gets him into trouble, yet this forces him to confront and outwit adversaries and thereby show his heroic qualities. Violation of a prohibition is a common occurrence. The trials and tribulations that befall the hero often result from his inability to heed a warning or prohibition.

END.

1 comment:

guernse6 said...

I just want to say I think this article is incredible, I really do think it's the best piece of writing I've seen on story structure. I can't believe your blog has been up for a year and I've just now discovered it, but I will definitely check it out regularly! Thanks for linking to my page! I am updating my site now, and I will link back to your blog, and to your articles! They are much nicer than the google caches I saved :) Thanks again, keep up the great work! -guernse6

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