Monday, October 27, 2014

Helping New Writers

The Moral Premise can help new script-writers or novelists understand what their story is about in a way that will focus their effort and make their writing more efficient. I share this new comment with my blog readers, not to add one more kudos to the list, but to encourage new writers that there is a way to understand the mystery of stories and how good ones work.

This, then, from Lisa McCorkle, Brooklyn NY:
Dear Stan, 
I am a novice at book writing.  Before reading The Moral Premise I knew what message I wanted the audience to receive. However, I didn't know how to articulate it. Fortunately, I was still able to write 197 pages .  After reading your book I was able to articulate the premise of my story and from that I'm now sketching a synopsis. Your book has introduced me to the language of novelists. And even though I'm still in the process of learning I'm way much better off after reading your book.  It's given me so much direction and when it's time for me to edit, which is now, I will have a clear path. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. 
The story is about characters living without a purpose, a lack of understanding and communication and the negative impact it has on their finances and family. After much intervention, self reflection, receiving and embracing vital information and finding their purpose... they start making changes that reverse their negative behavior. It takes a horrific incident to bring all the characters together. Friendships are formed and with support they each work on their purpose and goals together. I'm still working on how to summarize the story in a clear and concise manner.  But, I'm getting there. 
An early log line is: Families adrift in their urban community find purpose through self reflection, efforts and a shocking horrific incident that leaves a college bound student fighting for his life. 
I'm so excited to be doing something I enjoy and... finding treasures along the way. Your book was one of them. What a great find.
Lisa's moral premise could be stated like this:

Living aimlessly, without noble purpose, 
leads to dysfunction and sadness; but
Discovering and following one's call in life 
leads to relationships and happiness.

Good luck and God speed in our writing Journey, Lisa. It can be a long road, But,, perseverance leads to satisfaction. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Beauty So Rare

Just finished best selling author Tamera Alexander's latest release, A BEAUTY SO RARE, her second Belmont Estate novel (476 pages). What a wonderful read—historically accurate, romantically inclined, international intrigue, scientific discoveries ... and the struggle of post-bellum Nashville.

The book lives up to its name.

I had the opportunity to work with Tamera a number of times early in the story's development -- character arcs, metaphors, and plot. So, I knew the story pretty well, at least in broad strokes. But reading her masterful writing is a joy unto itself. And knowing what's going to happen is like reading the story a second time because I could concentrate more on how she pulls off the suspense, the secrets, the beats, the bumps, and the resolution.

One of the great things about historical fiction are the real-to-life characters authors like Tamera weave into the fictional tapestry. In A BEAUTY SO RARE she involves the following real life people, and maintains their identities: Adelicia Cheatham and her Belmont Estate  (perhaps the richest woman in America at the time), The European House of Habsburg, Luther Burbank (botanist who invented the Russet potato), Gregor Mendel (father of genetics), Dorothea Dix (American activist for the indigent insane), the work of Joseph Mozier, and others. There are some great YouTube videos about the mansion and Tamera's inspiration for the story via her website link above.

A funny "secret" about the books creation and publication is how Tamera wanted to write about a woman who was smart, generous, took initiative, had nerves of steel, but wasn't so pretty...she was plain to put it mildly. Her beauty was hidden beneath the surface. The story is how that blossoms into real beauty of character such that a handsome Archduke of European royalty who has moved to Nashville to escape the arrangement of his life, falls in love with her.  Tamera uses multiple and rich metaphors including the Selenicereus grandiflorus (The Queen of the Night that blossoms only once a year at midnight - see video below).

So when the publisher showed Tamera the cover (above), Tamera had a fit. She didn't picture the protagonist, Eleanor Braddock as anything like the beautiful model and never wearing anything so pretty as a huge, beautiful PINK dress. But the publisher was insistent on using the cover, which is a doctored photo of a shoot of a real model and a real greenhouse. What to do? So I suggested Tamera put Eleanor in a situation where she was given a dress that she had to wear and it was big and pink ...and she hated it, just like the author. And that's just what Tamera did with excellence, both at the beginning and (LOL!) at the end of the story. It was a wonderful surprise for me and perfectly demonstrated Eleanor's arc. In fact, on the back of the book...sort of a way around the beautiful cover, Tamera wrote this, and the publisher's used it:

"PINK is not what Eleanor Braddock ordered, but maybe it would soften the tempered steel of a woman who came through a war—and still had one to fight. Plain, practical Eleanor Braddock knows she will never marry, but..."

Great job, Tamera. I loved it all.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Scientific Method Story Structure

Successful Story Structure has a few rules. One is that the major beats and turning points  align themselves with some Natural Law order of the human condition or experience.

In other posts and in The Moral Premise book I discuss a number of these structures, including:

  • Traditional 3 Acts (Field)
  • Traditional 13-18 Beats (Hauge, Snyder, Williams)
  • 12 Steps of the Hero's Journey (Campbell, Vogler)
  • The 12 Steps of A.A.
  • The 5 or 7 Stages of Grief
  • Four Acts - Four Archetypes (Schechter)
  • Alison Fisher's 5-Act Purchase Funnel
And there's another, which I've known about for years but only one time discussed in the footnote to a blog on Stories and Premises in Medieval Art. And, that is The Scientific Method. 

Although you can find the Scientific Method explained in various number of steps (from 4 to 7, and I use 4 in the link above) I like the version illustrated on the right. 

Think of the process steps as Six Acts and the "moments" or "beats" between the acts as turning points. The acts may be sequences of different lengths, and the beats between the acts (the white triangle arrows) are turing points. This would produce an 11 beat structure, here alongside the traditional 3/4 Act structure with the vertical spacing indicating duration. The Moment of Grace is the scene/beat/triangle connecting 2A and 2B (Sequences 3 and 4).

Notice that this VERY similar to the Traditional 13 beats, where the only beats not represented are the Final Climax and the Denouement.

I cannot provide an example of a film that reflects this structure, but since it reflects how humanity discovers and validates natural laws, I suspect it would work for a particular type of story and thus connect at a subliminal level. If any of you have examples you'd like to suggest, please use the com box.

Thanks and good writing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Didactic Message Films Always Fail

I have spent a good deal of time trying to persuade storytellers that message films, with a didactic base will always failed at the box office. The subject matter doesn't matter. Failure is inevitable unless you've managed to target your project (and budget it) to the niche audience that agrees with the film

There are examples every year.

Today I read this story about the Broadway Musical "The Great Immensity," which was clearly a government indoctrination effort produced by climate change supporters.

What must be considered if you're going to connect with a wide audience is to use a conflict of values that is UNIVERSALLY accepted by the wide audience. This is so simple to understand. Follow natural law, not man-made ideology. The audience isn't dumb. And in the case of "global warming" relabeled "climate change" (when it was discovered that the globe is not warming...)  somewhere around 30% of the public believe it's at some level true, and far less than that think it's a priority. That's not a universal value.  [I next expect a musical promoting Kale Cakes in school cafeteria's programs instead of Brownies, to fight obesity.]

The law within the moral premise framework is to match motivational values with NATURAL LAW consequences of actioning out those values. You cannot manipulate Natural Law and win. I don't care if you're a fundamentalist Christian who wants to wave the Bible in your audience's face, or a liberal environmentalist. There may be truth in both messages, but unless the audience agrees with you,  you're going to lose big, folks.

Anyhow, to prove my point, once again, here are some selected quotes form the reviews:

The curtain has come down on Climate Change 
The Musical and reviews of the taxpayer-funded play about global warming are downright icy.
By Perry Chiaramonte - 9/20/14 - Fox News 
The play, which is actually entitled "The Great Immensity," and was produced by Brooklyn-based theater company The Civilians, Inc. with a $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, ended its run early amid a storm of criticism from reviewers and lawmakers alike. It opened a year late, reached just five percent of its anticipated audience and likely fell short of its ambitious goal of informing a new generation about the perceived dangers of man-caused climate change. 
Plus, it apparently wasn't very good. 
“Despite fine performances, the musical mystery tour is an uneasy mix of fact and credulity-stretching fiction. It’s neither flora nor fauna,” New York Daily News reviewer Joe Dziemianowicz wrote in a review at the time. “[The] songs — whether about a doomed passenger pigeon or storm-wrecked towns — feel shoehorned in and not, pardon the pun, organic.” 
The play, which featured songs and video exploring Americans’ relationships to the environment, opened in New York in April with a three-week run before going on a national tour that was supposed to attract 75,000 patrons. But it stalled after a single production in Kansas City, falling short of the lofty goals outlined in a grant proposal. 
It was envisioned as a chance to create "an experience that would be part investigative journalism and part inventive theater,” help the public "better appreciate how science studies the Earth’s biosphere” and increase “public awareness, knowledge and engagement with science-related societal issues.” 
According to a plot description on the theater company’s website, "The Great Immensity" focuses on a woman named Phyllis as she tries to track down a friend who disappeared while filming an assignment for a nature show on a tropical island. During her search, she also uncovers a devious plot surrounding an international climate summit in Auckland, New Zealand. 
The description touts the play as “a thrilling and timely production” with “a highly theatrical look into one of the most vital questions of our time: How can we change ourselves and our society in time to solve the enormous environmental challenges that confront us?” 
"Even the best adventurers can wander off course, and the Civilians do so on a global scale in The Great Immensity,” read a review from Time Out New York. “The inventive troupe’s latest effort is all over the map… It’s not easy preaching green.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Screenwriting: “124 Pages Of Begging For Money & Attention”

James Schamus
“While we ask for respect as artists,” Schamus (IMBD) said, “we really don’t know what we mean by art.” 

Screenwriters who have finished a screenplay have not written a work of art, but rather have finished...
 “124 pages of begging for money and attention.”

Interesting article on Dateline. 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Beauty Will Save the World

One of the discoveries that came to light during my research for The Moral Premise, and which to this day continues to be true, is that a true and consistently applied moral premise is at the heart of all successful stories. (Where "truth" is coincidence with Natural Law, and "success" relates to audience acceptance on a broad scale, e.g. box office). 

If a movie has a slew of A-list actors attached, with a big budget and strong marketing but the moral premise is false, the movie will bomb, or come in less than expected. At the same time, having a true and consistently applied moral premise does not guarantee success, because there is the Natural Law of craft and marketing. But success cannot come without that central idea that binds the talent to the heart and makes it all work as one.

A properly applied moral premise elevates the otherwise diverse collection of talent and money to secure a story as a work of art that reminds us and encourages us to embrace all that is good, true, and beautiful in life. 

 I thought of all that again when today as I read an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn titled "Beauty Will Save the World" which is his reflection of Dostoyevsky's enigmatic phrase. The entire essay is here but here is the part that reflects what I've been trying to say about the moral premise's importance.
Dostoyevsky once let drop the enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.” What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift—but whom had it ever saved? 
However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart. One can construct a political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system, so that in appearance it is smooth, well structured, and yet it is built upon a mistake, a lie; and the hidden element, the distortion, will not immediately become visible. And a speech, or a journalistic essay, or a program in rebuttal, or a different philosophical structure can be counterposed to the first—and it will seem just as well constructed and as smooth, and everything will seem to fit. And therefore one has faith in them—yet one has no faith. 
It is vain to affirm that which the heart does not confirm.
Exploring this a bit further I came upon this explanation of Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot at A Heedful Idiot blog by French priest Fidor, who quotes Pope Benedict XVI Address to Artists, about the importance of beauty, which I think describes profoundly why stories, as art, told truthfully, will save the world:
If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day.”
That's what successful movies are to me, they give their audiences the joy of seeing what is good, true and beautiful about humanity and creation once again. We leave the theater of a great film story with a firmer grasp on the profound meaning of our existence and mystery of which we are apart. And that understanding draws us closer to fullness, happiness and the passion to engage life joyously everyday.

Meanwhile allow me to recommend my friend Gregory Wolfe's book Beauty Will Save the World on the intersection of this concept and the demise of the modern culture.

Monday, August 25, 2014

D. M. Cumbo's Dreamside Book Series Uses The Moral Premise

David Cumbo is a veteran concept artist who has been at Ratchet & Clank and Resistance developers Insomniac Games for the past 7 years. He is one of those extreme talents and is not applying his trade to story books, and motion pictures. 

Some time ago he enlisted my help with a story concept for a series of animated e-books he's calling DREAMSIDE, the first of which is coming due soon.  It's the uplifting story of a child's search for meaning amidst a deadly disease. 

The story and his art are truly amazing so I'm glad he's given me permission to share his project with you. 

Media coverage so far:

David's site is where you can watch him (in time lapse) draw Dreamchild. Here's the trailer for the series:

Congratulations, David, it looks truly beautiful. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

A Great Summary of The Moral Premise

Karen Schravemade
@TaraGoedjen included @MoalPemise in a tweet with a link. I followed the link and came across two comprehensive blog posts by Aussie Author-Blogger-Mother Karen Schravemade about The Moral Premise book.

Karen has done an excellent job of summarizing Part 1 and Part 2 of the book.  I suggest that she may understand the book better than the author, ber posts reminded me of a few things that I didn't even think were in the book, but had always wished were. Duh! Maybe I ought to reread what I wrote. Thanks, Karen for doing that for me. Here are links to her helpful summaries.

The Moral Premise - Part 1

Applying the Moral Premise to your Story (Part 2)

She also did a great job of analyzing FINDING NEMO and articulating a moral premise statement which I will post on the Moral Premise Statements Page of my main site. I may have to use her explanation of the Moment of Grace in NEMO in my workshop. Gotta watch the  movie again, just for the "You just have to let go!" line.

Karen is one of the contributors to the writer's blog, The Writers Alley: Inspirational Tips Write Up Your Alley.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wobbly Moral Premise Statements

I received this comment and question from a reader in Hong Kong. He apologized for his English, but it was actually pretty good. Nonetheless I've edited it in the post below for clarity. In honor of this question, I must post a picture of the Chinese edition of The Moral Premise. (I had nothing to do with the cover design...neither did my publisher, or so I'm told.)

      Dear Dr. Williams, 
I am a screenplay writer from Hong Kong. Yes! You have a loyal fan all the way from China. : )  
I really love your book and your blog. You have such a kind heart to share your ideas.
Here's my question: I always find the moral of my story wobbling. Maybe I want to say too much within one story. Or, maybe, I don't know how to shorten the moral to a one-line moral premise statement.  
Regarding a recent project here's my dilemma. 
Is self-preservation, survival or stability of life enough of a motivation to carry an entire story?  Is survival and stability more important than the basic human need to love, to be loved, and to make real friends? Should one take risks for love and justice? 
Self-protection leads to safe, stable life and money, but also loneliness and isolation. By protecting oneself, one must lie, and to reject chances to help others.
Meantime the hero might be haunted by his own action, because he does not confront the righteousness in the bottom of his heart. 
In the beginning of my story, the hero always ignores justice by remaining neutral; at least that's how he comforts himself. He is says to himself, "I am only being neutral, I don't take sides." Later on, he finds the youngster he 'trained' has become evil. The youngster has become so self-protective that he wants to destroy justice. That's one of the moments that awakens him that he's going at it all wrong.  
I find myself stuck in condensing al this in a one-sentence moral premise statement. It seems that the story is about self-protection, but it's also about "what one does returns to him."  Does "self-protection" articulate what I want to say? Is it that I am looking at my story from too many perspectives or trying to include too many moral concepts, thus diluting a central theme? 
Is it okay to dig deeper into such philosophical questions? Or, will that only make my story more wobbly (or ambiguous)?  

Dear G:

It may seem that you are taking on too many moral concepts and thus you're not sure what the story is about at its moral core...thus it seems wobbly and not about one thing.

It is true that a single moral premise can affect other thematic issues other than the one explicitly stated in the main moral premise statement.  But you need to be able to understand how all the "sub" themes reinforce the "main" theme.

A good example of this is explained in my blog analysis of the moral premise themes in the movie KITE RUNNER.

In KIT RUNNER the central virtuous theme is COURAGE. But the movie embraces other themes that are logically related to courage by helping us understanding that the total lack of courage can lead to paranoia, and that an excess of courage can lead to arrogance. Further that the courage is needed to be able to forgive and seek justice. The blog diagram of the inner journeys shows the relationship of nine themes: paranoia, courage, arrogance, bitterness, forgiveness, tolerance of evil, lazier-faire, justice, and totalitarianism. That sounds like a mouthful, but each of those concepts are logically courage.

The same may be true for your story.

If the central virtue is "self-preservation" then the absence of that virtue could lead to "self-destruction" or "suicide." Similarly the excess of that virtue would be "arrogance," "tyranny," or as you say, "the destruction of justice."

In a similar way an excess concept of justice (tyranny) can lead to isolation as people stay away from individual that like bullies.

And as you suggest when your protagonist acts a certain way, that may cause others to treat him the same way. So if he bullies others they may bully him back. Of if he bullies a bigger bully, he's sure to be in for a surprise.

So, your moral premise statement may not be wobbly at all, but just needs to be focused.

Just be sure that the various theme (or values you're writing about) ARE logically realated to the core moral premise and it's SINGLE conflict of values.

It could be: "Self-destruction" or "Arrogance" leads to isolation and death; but a "healthy self-preservation" and "generosity to others-for-the-sake-of-your-own-safety" can lead to friendship and life."

Again, see what I do with these movies and their moral premise arcs:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Are Super & Myth Movies Only about FIGHT v. FLIGHT?

A Screenwriter Asked:
Hey, Stan, 
I find myself thinKing about your stuff; the thing I like best about “Moral Premise” is it’s the book to turn to when you’re suddenly asking, “Why am I writing this again?”   
It seems to me that all the “myth” movies, from Superman to Spiderman to Batman to Iron Man to Gladiator to Matrix all are about the responsibility of saving everyone when you have the power.   
I just read an outline for Gladiator, and I could see that Maximus (Russel Crowe) wants “nothing to do with politics” but gets pulled into a battle with evil.  It’s like the Edmund Burke quote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Is this the point of all these movies?   
Is my moral premise: 
 “Running away from evil leads to disaster and isolation; but  
Facing and fighting evil leads to victory and freedom and togetherness”? 
I guess my question is, do I have no wiggle room here?  Should I embrace that moral premise, and stop wondering why I’m writing this??? 
Thanks,  Mike

Dear Mike:

I think most of the “super” stories can be defined by a moral premise that you articulated. But in such clear cut hero/villain stories I think there are dual moral premises that are related to a foundational one, like what you suggest. We might call these “secondary” moral premise statements, which are organically related to the foundational one. But it’s the secondary premise that is more likely to connect to non-super human audiences.

But in both cases the values in conflict must be universal … if you want to avoid niche audiences.

What you wrote:
Running away from evil (isolationism) as a value to find happiness vs. Fighting evil (engagement) as a value that leads to happiness... the proverbial FLIGHT v FIGHT dilemma. It is definitely a universal concept that appears at all levels of the humanity condition.  It's evident in (a) a confrontation I witness on a street corner between a pimp and a whore, or (b) the Bush Foreign Policy Doctrine vs. the Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine. Fight or flight is everywhere and the answers are not easily answered.

You are perfectly safe keeping this simple and direct moral premise as the heart of your story, if that is what you focus on.

But you can give your story more personal and human death by looking deeper into the “human” story that exists in the “super human” diegesis.

For instance:

THE INCREDIBLES is also about:
Battling adversity alone leads to weakness and defeat; 
but Battling adversity as a family leads to strength and victory. 

BLIND SIDE (yes it’s about fight vs. flight) is also about:
Courage to do what is difficult but foolish leads to dishonor;  but
but Courage to do what is difficult and wise leads to honor.

SUPERMAN II (1980) is also about:
Pretending to be someone we’re not leads to fragility; but
Being whom we were made to be leads to superlatives.

DARK KNIGHT (2008) is also about:
Revengeful, self-service leads to nihilistic  desperation; but
Sacrificial public service leads to purposeful hope.

And there are manny other examples.

So, I think your fight or flight is a good place to start, but I think you can also go deeper, to another layer, that will give the basic “super” movie an even more “human” connection that everyone in the audience will get. Not everyone will get “saving the world” because they can’t. But the secondary moral premise (exampled above) are value dilemmas we all deal with.

This moral identification is one of the  20+ techniques filmmakers and authors use to get audiences/readers to identify with their characters on a physical, emotional, and moral level.

Since you have been writing "short" stories for years, and your material is well accepted by the mainstream public, (if I were you at this point), I’d just write it and see if a moral premise (at the secondary level) doesn’t pop out later on. Don’t feel you have to figure it out beforehand. That can be a hinderance. Trust your instinct.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Can the "Moment of Grace" Be at the End

Recently, I was asked this question: Can the Moment of Grace (MOG) for the Protagonist be at the end of the story?

There are several ways to answer this.

A. IF you’re writing a straight ahead redemptive film, the MOG for the MAIN PLOT (13-18 beats), for the PROTAGONIST must be in the MIDDLE. This is because you want to create a fairly even roller emotional coast ride for your audience both (1) morally and (2) physically. 

1. The moral up and down is related to the psychologically of your protagonist’s and the audience’s understanding of the truth of the moral premise. This is a very subtle roller coaster ride because it is NOT explicit or obviously visible except in metaphors and non-verbal. Yes the MP is true, no it’s not, yes it is, no it’s not. But it is very critical because it is the foundational motivational factor in the protagonist’s actions and are seen on the screen. 

2. The physical up and down is the explicit answer to the story questions: Will your protagonist’s reach his/her goal and will your audience reach it’s expected cathartic moment when the goal is reached? Yes the goal will be reached, not it won’t, etc. Those peaks and valleys of those two interrelated roller coast rides must be evenly spaced or the movie will flatten out and you’ll have too long of a dry or boring sequence.  

Recall the macro effect of the turning points, how every other one is from the antagonistic force or the protagonist making a decision to pursue the goal in the face of that force.

B. NOW, if the MOG for the Protagonist’s main plot is put off to the end and the film is still redemptive then you have a near tragedy where the audience is taken down, and down, and down a very dark roller coaster with tunnels ….and there’s no hope too close to the end. Aronofsky’s NOAH did this. As you may have read on my blog posts about that film, I liked it and found it Biblical etc. BUT, the MOG for the film's main plot is not until the very end of the film, and to the audience you have what looks like a tragedy with a madman at the center of the story. He’s mad to do what he thinks the Creator wants him to do, he doesn't see the clear ways in which God is communicating to him, and thus the MOG is not until the end... and many Christians could not understand that kind of a story character. In his defense I understand how Aronofsky could see the character that way because (a) so many of us humans can't "hear" God clearly, and (b) since Aronofsky was 10-years told he always saw the Noah story as very dark because of all the people and innocent babies that died in the flood. All his life he wondered if he was in that situation, would he be good enough to get on the ark?  But the structure of such a film requires that the protagonist NOT understand (even a little) the truth of the moral premise until it’s almost too late. (In Noah's case it's almost axiomatically, Too Little, Too Late.) … and it’s a hard, dark ride for the audience, even if it is true. I’ll point out that the NOAH movie did not do that well at the box office, and I think what I just pointed out is there reason.   

C. THERE is a horror film titled CLOVERFIELD where the MOG is at the Act 1 to Act 2 crossover. The act breaks is late (44% instead of 25%) and the MOG is early (44% instead of 50%) and because there is no emotional bump in the middle where the MOG should be, and because the crossover is late, I think the movie suffers from being  to slow in a couple of places like in the middle. The coaster track levels out, so to speak. I blog about here: CLOVERFIELD: Is There Danger...

D. YOU may think you have a MOG at the end of your story, but it may be that you’re confused by the placement of the MOG and the final realization by the protagonist.  You may be working on a story where the final TURTH is CONFIRMED at the end, but you can still have a MOG in the middle. Usually the MOG is not a “come to Jesus” moment where everything changes. But rather a moment where the truth is realized and now must be tested. Thus, the truth of the MOG is not confirmed until the battle is finally won. But from the mid-point's MOG to the Act 3 Climax (the last 50% of the story) the truths of the MP are being applied with increasing effectiveness. Remember the roller coast hills get steeper in the end of a movie, which is the opposite of a real roller coaster. 
In such movies the audience experiences a great cathartic moment at the very end. That is not the MOG, but the final confirmation of the truth of the Moral Premise's truth. 

FINALLY, just to tie up the obvious loose end of this question: The minor characters can have their MOG at the end, as Collette in Ratatouille does when she's running away from the kitchen on her motorbike.  She stops at a red traffic signal, sees her former boss's book in the bookstore window (Any One Can Cook), has a realization of the truth (the red light turns green), and in the next scene we see that she's returned to the kitchen. In fact, such minor characters can have a MOG just about anywhere in the story, but they work best when their MOG is after the main MOG of the protagonist, and before the main plot's final climax, say from 55% to 95%. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Aronofsky's NOAH, Story Structure, and the Christian Backlash.

Here is the link to my earlier blog about: NOAH's Moral Premise and Its Biblical Accuracy.

During the 2014 Biola Media Conference Jack Hafer moderated a way-too-brief panel about the controversy surrounding Aronofsky's NOAH. On the panel were Dr. Stan Williams, Brett McCracken (both who generally found merit with the film), and Brian Godawa who disliked the movie. Because our time was so short on stage we agreed to continue the conversation at Biola Campus later in the week. Unfortunately, Brian was unable to make the taping, so Williams and McCracken gave it a willing crack.

Dr. Stan Williams & Brett McCracken at Biola's Cultural Conversation Studio

Here is the link to the menu of all six videos on the Biola's Cultural Conversations site.

And then the individual videos embedded from YouTube.
Comments are welcome and moderated.

1. Why Are Christians so Divided About Darren Aronofsky's "NOAH"?

2. Justice, Mercy and the Darkness of Aronofosky's "NOAH"

3. Gnosticism, Environmentalism and the New Eden in Aronofsky's "NOAH"

4. Message, Moral and Myth: Christian Approaches to Film

5. Why Christian Filmgoers Should Care More About Beauty

6. Can an Atheist's Art Bring Glory to God?

Novi, MI Workshop - June 7

Dear Filmmakers and Novelists Friends: 

If you're in Michigan...

I am presenting a 3.5 hour workshop on the 20 Secrets of Successful Story Structure at the GloryReelz Film Festival and Conference, June 7 (1:45 PM - 5:15 PM) at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Novi, located behind the Emagine Theaters. This is the same workshop I presented last month on the CBS Television Lot in Hollywood. I understand you can register just for my workshop at a reduced price. 

Hope to see you there. Register

General Content Info on the Workshop: 

Stan Williams 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stan Freberg and the Moral Premise

While preparing for my involvement with the 2014 Biola Media Conference I discovered they were going to give the BIOLA Media Lifetime Achievement Award to satirist STAN FREBERG ("The United States of America Parts 1 & 2," "GreenChristmas," "St. George and the Dragonet," "John and Marsha," et al). I thought the man had died some years back, and so had others. It seems there was a typo in the news accounts when his long time wife and producer, Donna Freberg passed away. Well, he's still kicking at about 86. In 2001 he remarried, one of his fans, Betty Hunter, who produced with Stan a typically hilarious album of satire titled: "Songs in the Key of Freberg: Songs about Life." Stan's accomplishments came from his life motto: "Ars Gratia Pecuniae," Latin words meaning "Art for money's sake." He's the winner of 21 Clios for his advertising campaigns, multiple Emmy's for a show starring sock puppets (Time for Beany) that attracted Albert Einstein as a loyal fan.  And he still refuses to be sponsored by alcohol or tobacco products, a principle that cost him the follow up to the Jack Benny show years ago. 

Here was my introduction and my quick remembrances of how he changed my life:
Ladies and Gentlemen. In the next few minutes you're in for a treat. You're going to meet one of the great icons of entertainment history.  
I remember when I first heard this man's voice. It changed my life. It was July 4, 1965, 10:35 at night. I was just out of high school - on my way to pack Sealtest ice cream into delivery trucks. Over the radio came the voice of Thomas Jefferson. He was trying to persuade Benjamin Franklin to sign a petition he had begun to pass around the neighborhood. "Just a harmless piece of paper," he said. Franklin was hesitant and suspicious. After all, looking over the document all of Tom's "S's" looked like "F's." Finally after a musical interlude, and after Tom promises it won't start a revolution. Franklin signs.
It was a record track on a vinyl LP on this man's presentation of the United States of America, Part 1. I would wear out the grooves on the record I bought, and wait 35 years with thousands of other fans for Part 2...fortunately, this time on CD.  (both albums won Grammys)
This is the man who, before computer graphics were invented and to the astonishment of audiences listening to pay radio (you had to go into your record store and buy one) -- drained Lake Michigan, filled it with Hot Chocolate, bulldozed in a mountain of whip cream, then arranged for the Royal Canadian Air Force to drop a ten-ton maraschino cherry into the mess, accompanied by the cheering of 25,000 extras.  
He's the man who convinced King Ferdinand of Spain, under doctor's orders, to go with Christopher Columbus - to Florida for the Winter.  
This is the man who can play the flight of the bumble-bee - on his lips.
This is the man who counted Lionel Barrymore and Albert Einstein as loyal fans of the world's first televised show featuring -- sock puppets.  
And here to introduce this, ah...original wizard of Oz, is another fan, our host, your friend, Jack Hafer. 
Stan Freberg's Wikipedia Article:

Here's a great bio about Stan written a few years ago from the AP:

Monday, April 7, 2014

GONE WITH THE WIND: Her Own Worst Enemy

This is a blog post from Moral Premise Workshop attendee, Ed Godwin.

Her Own Worst Enemy
by Guest Blogger Ed Godwin
In the fall of 2012, I had the opportunity to hear Stan Williams give a luncheon speech at Rochester Writer's Conference in Michigan. I learned more about story structure in that hour than in all the advice columns and classes before and since. So when the opportunity arrived in April of this year for an all-day workshop, I jumped at the chance.
Listing the various key elements of a good story, he of course included the role of the antagonist, and how it was important that it be embodied in a person and not some vague concept. (Read his evaluation of CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE DAWN TREADER for a good example of this omission.)
Suddenly I was terrified that I might have to rewrite or abandon the story I'm currently working on. It didn't seem to have a clear antagonist, at least not at the beginning. So in an attempt to salvage my pride (a weakness nearly every writer has at some point), I searched my mind for an example of a successful story that had no clearly defined antagonist. And I found one--or I thought I did--in one of the most famous movies of all time: GONE WITH THE WIND.
I love stories with strong women, and Scarlett O'Hara of course is no exception. I find delicious irony in that her greatest asset, her will to persevere no matter what the cost, also blinds her to her ultimate goal of true love. But therein lies the clue to the dilemma. Who is her antagonist?
First, we have to realize that she has more than one goal: not only to (1) find true love, but to (2) save Tara and lift herself out of poverty by “beating [the Yankees] at their own game.”  The Yankees are a clear antagonist for the second goal, but this is a late subplot, starting with the defeat of Atlanta and the destruction of her way of life. Her desire to find love begins in the very first scene, and it isn't resolved until the very end.
So if finding true love is her main goal, who is her main antagonist? I first thought it was Ashley Wilkes. He's the one she's constantly pining after, yet his honor and fidelity always thwarts her devious schemes. But this goal is not a goal at all, it's an illusion. In a scene near the beginning, her father Gerald says "I want my girl to be happy. You'd not be happy with him." And like all good stories do, that sets up the main conflict right at the beginning: the pursuit of an impossible dream. I suppose even a false goal could have a “false antagonist”. But what she really desires is true love. She just doesn't realize it.
Is Rhett Butler her antagonist? In a minor way, yes. He comes and goes in various forms throughout the story, and is often the foil for her lesser schemes, such as paying the taxes on Tara. But in many ways he is as deluded as she is. He marries her, knowing her motivation is pure avarice, yet hopes she will eventually forget Ashley and love him instead. In that sense she is the clear antagonist for him, until his frustration drives him to seek comfort with Belle, the prostitute.
But Scarlett is so determined to win Ashley's love that it blinds her to the real thing, even when it's staring her in the face. It takes the tragedy of Melanie's death for her to realize she's been deluding herself all these years. If this is Scarlett's turn of events toward the truth of the moral premise, when she finally sees the truth, it is a complete departure from the recommendation that it should happen somewhere in the middle act. Any previous hint that she may be waking up to the truth is when Rhett carries her up the stairs for a night of passion, and she wakes up the next morning beaming with pleasure. But even that moment is less than thirty minutes from the end of a film nearly four hours long.
We love Scarlett. We also despise the scheming side of her (she treats criminals like slaves and her husbands like dirt), and at least partially applaud when Rhett walks away with his immortal "I don't give a damn." We love her and love to hate her at the same time because they both tie into the same moral premise in different ways, one of hope and perseverance (against poverty), the other of hope and perseverance taken to an extreme (her treatment of people and her obsessive infatuation). Scarlett O'Hara is her own worst enemy, both the hero and the villain, and therefore her own antagonist.
Margaret Mitchell only published one book during her lifetime. But what an impact that book made. All because she had the guts (or perhaps the sheer ignorance) to defy the rules and combine the antagonist and protagonist into one person. What resulted was one of the richest characters in literary history.

Ed Godwin
So readers what do you think? I've not studied GWTW, but one of these days I'll look at the movie and scan the book. Let's hear from you. GWTW appears to be a tragedy. Is it? Is this a valid moral premise statement for the movie and its main characters, one of which might be the Confederacy? 
Clinging to lost hope leads to poverty and lost identity; but
Advocating delusions leads to destitution and anonymity.
Stan Williams