Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Beats - Turning Points - Stages - Pinch Points

One of my on-going challenges as a story consultant has been to clarify terminology and minimize the equivocation in terms. (Thus the recent post Protagonist vs. Hero with assistance from Chris Volger). Clarifying terms was a motivation behind writing the The Moral Premise regarding what others were calling various things like "the Controlling Idea," "Theme," "Premise," and so on.

The Story Diamond was not original with me, but I saw the opportunity of layering other story  concepts onto it and thus demonstrating how the wide variety of terms used in our niche industry, are really all about the same thing.

So, this post is another attempt at that...with hopefully some nomenclature consistency. It was prompted by the last several posts by Michael Hauge over at StoryMastery.com. Michael has made the turn from calling every sequence and turning point a "beat" to differentiating between the different kind of beats as "turning points" and story "stages".  This solves an on going problem. I would tell my clients that some beats are "moments" (a single scene) and others are "sequences" (numerous scenes.) Yet the connotation of "beats" still sounds  instantaneous...which is confusing since half of the beats are not moments at all.

So, taking this hint from Michael, I offer up the following and the Story Diamond has been updated to reflect this subtle shift in labeling conventions.

Recall that our goal is to create an emotional roller coaster effect for our reader/audience. That end goal demands a regular (up and down) progress of scene sequences and turning points (or beats) or pattern over which we can apply our story elements and plot.

Additions and Revisions

1. Around the perimeter (in red) I've added a version of the Staging convention that Hauge uses, with the addition of dividing up Stage 3 and 4 into 3A, 3B and 4A, 4B. (I don't like this particularly because it is not cogent with the previous convention of Act 2A (Stage 3) and Act 2B (Stage 4). But if you don't mix systems, you'll be okay.

2. Then it occurred to me that the Inciting Incident and the Final Incident were very much like Pinch Points A and B (which were originally at the mid points of Act 2A and Act 2B. None of these points were "turning points" but rather places where the antagonist (or antagonistic force) raises its head to prod the protagonist (or hero) forward. "Turning Points" were moments where the Protagonist or Hero make decisions that takes the story in a new direction. This interconnectedness between the Protagonist and "new direction" reinforces the story dictum that the Protagonist is in charge of the story, and not the Antagonist. The protagonist changes the antagonist prods. So, I am now labeling the Inciting Incident "Pinch Point A" and the Final Incident "Pinch Point D" which leaves the former Pinch Points A and B to be relabeled C and D.


Then if we refer to the Climax of Act 3 a turning point (which is clearly is in redemptive stories where the protagonist makes his/her biggest change) we then have a wonderfully symmetrical story system.  There are 4 Turning Points, and 4 Pinch Points, and they alternate, helping to create the roller coaster effect we're after.

Plus, the Sages alternate with the Points, for a deeper symmetry and a satisfying roller coaster ride.
  1. (Prologue)
  2. Stage 1
  3. Pinch Point A (Inciting Incident)
  4. Stage 2
  5. Turning Point 1 (Act 1 Climax)
  6. Stage 3A
  7. Pinch Pint B
  8. Stage 3B
  9. Turning Point 2 (MOG)
  10. Stage 4A
  11. Pinch Point C
  12. Stage 4B
  13. Turning Point 3 (Act 2 Climax)
  14. Stage 5
  15. Pinch Point D (Final Incident)
  16. Stage 6
  17. Turning Point 4 (Act 2 Climax)
  18. Denouement
A full explanation of the Story Diamond is presented in my On-Line Storycraft Training series.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hero vs. Protagonist

Thanks to Christopher Vogler for his contributions to this post.

What's the difference between a hero and protagonist; or for that matter the anti-hero, villain, antagonist, main character or POV character?  Like many concepts it's easy to lapse into equivocation because of the varied way these terms are used.

While I have no serious issue with using "hero" and "protagonist" interchangeably, it can make sense to use them differently. Below are a few suggestions for all these terms.

An underlying assumption (and a big one) is that the audience has a working moral compass and knows what behaviors are to be rooted for or deplored. This may not work in a morally ambiguous universe, but for general audiences that comprise a cross section of society, a movie's popularity will correlate to natural law, which is a fair basis for moral certainty.


...is the character with the most screen time. This may or may not be the hero, anti-hero, one of two kinds of protagonists, anti-hero, antagonist, or villain. It is almost always the Point of View (POV) character, or the perspective of the storyteller.

HERO... is the character that
  • epitomizes the virtues or strengths of the moral premise, but still 
  • is subtly flawed
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always in the same direction. The hero's values will not change direction or polarity, but at the Moment of Grace will get stronger & deeper. 
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience can root for.
  • will be a good guy with desirable traits.
Example: Captain Miller in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

ANTI-HERO... is that character that:
  • epitomizes the vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and thus 
  • is significantly flawed.
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always in the same direction. That is, the hero's values will not change direction or polarity, but at the Moment of Grace will get stronger & deeper
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience can root for.
  • will be a good guy with undesirable traits
Example: Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER

VILLAIN... is that character that:

  • epitomizes the vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and thus
  • is significantly flawed
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always more dark. 
  • actively attempts to prevent the hero or protagonist from reaching the goal.
  • will always be the bad guy.
Example: Hans Gruber in DIE HARD

PROTAGONIST (Redemptive)... is that character that:

  • at first, embraces vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and is therefore,
  • clearly flawed, but
  • will change (arc) clearly toward the virtue or strengths of the moral premise.
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience roots for.
  • is usually a good guy in the end.
Example: Bob Parr in THE INCREDIBLES

PROTAGONIST (Tragic)... is that character that:

  • at first, embraces vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and is therefore 
  • clearly flawed, but
  • will change (arc) clearly toward darker vices or greater weaknesses of the moral premise.
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience roots against
  • is usually a bad guy in the end. 
Examples: Charles Foster Kane in CITIZEN KANE, and
Tony Soprano in THE SOPRANOS

Test Question: Do tragic protagonists always sit at table with a wine glass half-full, chin down, eyes up, and glare off screen camera right...."as if the answer to their dilemma were over there" (CV).

ANTAGONIST... is that character that:

  • embraces either vices/weaknesses or (not both) virtues/strengths of the moral premise, and is therefore 
  • clearly flawed, or clearly virtuous,
  • may or may not (arc) clearly toward the opposing value, but if arc occurs will be cogent with the moral premise
  • actively opposes the physical and visible goal of the hero, anti-hero, or protagonist becoming the catalyst for change (arc) in the hero, anti-hero or protagonist.   
  • may be the good guy or the bad guy
Example: The Angels in "Touched By An Angel"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

TABLES from The Moral Premise for Kindle Readers

Reader Christopher Pratt made this valuable suggestion for Kindle (and perhaps other tablet readers) who can't make out the sense of the large tables from The Moral Premise. I had nothing to do with the book's conversion to Kindle et al...nonetheless I'm sorry for the problem. So, here's a solution to those that can find this blog post. If you click on any of the images below you'll get an even larger image very readable on your screen. These images are from my original manuscript to the publisher and not the final format manuscript. So, they should be easier (even more so) to read. Let me know. Thanks for reading. I hope your writing is getting better.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr

Jason Holborn is a fan of The Moral Premise and independent filmmaker residing in Toronto, Canada. A while back he came across The Story Diamond on my writing aids page and how it demonstrates the coincidence of various story structures.

[A full explanation of the Story Diamond is presented in my On-Line Storycraft Training series.]

The structure that caught his fancy was Jeffrey Schechter's interpretation of Carol S. Pearson's archetypes explained in her earlier book THE HERO WITHIN. (Jeffrey's book is MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY! and I discuss Carol's latest effort in a recent blog on AWAKENING THE HEROES WITHIN.)

The structure that Jason vamped on in a blog back in 2013, but which I just came across, is Orphan, Wandered, Warrior, Martyr.

Jeffrey's take, which I have used in The Story Diamond is very simple and yet profound. The four archetypes identify the protagonist's primary mode of operation in each of the four equal acts of the movie.

  1. In Act 1: ORPHAN...lost...needing a quest.
  2. In Act 2A: WANDERER...chose the quest...but unsure how to achieve it.
  3. (stick in here a MOMENT OF GRACE (MOG) where S/He discovers what the story is really about)
  4. In Act 2B: WARRIOR...having discovered through the moral premise how to actually get what he needs.
  5. In Act 3: MARTYR for what he and his village back home needs.

Jason has contributed something very valuable, here. He's analyzed a number of films and described for us the above structure in them. Thank you, Jason, for permission to reprint this.

Immediately in the next paragraph, is Jason's post...copied verbatim...except for some formatting I've added to coincide with the numbers, as above.

(Sadly, Blogger only allows 200 characters in the labels...dumb!)


This is really something; I’ve often idly thought of unifying all of the various story structure writers’ ideas (and especially, terminologies) into one. They’re mostly talking about the same things, only in different terms. Someone beat me to it! Especially if you know these writers’ ideas already, you can stare at the Story Diamond for while.

I hadn’t before heard of Jeffrey Schechter or his concept of Four Archetypes, but coming across it here, I was set on fire! Mentally, I ran thru a slew of movies; it’s very interesting:


  1. Orphan: Unloved, over-sexed, unconnected, using women.
  2. Wanderer: Trying out business/entrepreuneurship, examining paranormality he didn’t exactly believe in before (“Are you even using that thing correctly?”).
  3. Moment Of Grace: “I respect you. It’s corny but I respect you.”
  4. Warrior: Fighting EPA and Peck. Getting serious about Zuul and Gozer, finds Dana in trouble. Fighting for freedom with Mayor.
  5. Martyr: “Cross the streams…..” “I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it.”


  1. Orphan: disconnected, no meaningful intimacy, poverty, struggling
  2. Wanderer: he never really thought of music before….
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Must recruit believers, make peace w/noisy neighbor, get a better mic, rid himself of unhealthy hangers on, and most of all, talk Skinny Black into hearing his demo
  5. Martyr: Anger gets best of him, he shoots entourage member, shoots his way out, arrested and jailed… Only to discover that in commercial hip hop, jail time is good; he is respected and listened to


  1. Orphan: her parents hate her, her friends hate her, her siblings don’t see her, she has nothing
  2. Wanderer: stealing cash, she goes to Hibiscus Island, connects with Rhonda, moves to Sydney, “This is my new life! I’m changing my name”
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Rhonda is paralyzed with cancer, Muriel must find new, real money and escape, sees the ad for David’s wedding
  5. Martyr: She might have saved her mother’s mental health; she sees that the marriage to David is fraudulent. She reclaims her dignity and self-respect


  1. Orphan: Omitting the obvious (dead parents): Unconnected lurker in the night, a “myth” figure. Disconnected from Rachel, and making saddened peace/acceptance with that fact, and the fact of his lonely life. Even famed ballerina doesn’t take his mind or eyes off of Rachel
  2. Wanderer: The Joker will kill until he unmasks; new territory he never anticipated.
  3. Moment of Grace: He refuses to kill the Joker and commits to his ideals.
  4. Warrior: He has to fight for his own morals and ethics, tested like he never anticipated (he expected to butt heads with the Mob, not a game-player idly screwing around with him).
  5. Martyr: “This is too much power for one man,” into, “I killed those men. That’s what I can be.”



  1. Orphan: Ex-patriate in exile, alcoholic, left behind in Paris and unable to accept, disconnected from his virtues and virtuous causes.
  2. Wanderer: Exploring Ilsa’s secret past. Meeting Strasser, encountering Nazi takeover of French Morocco.
  3. [MOG...see my on-line StoryCraft training course for a complete analysis of Casablanca (with clips no less.) http://storycrafttraining.blogspot.com/search/label/Casablanca—sw]
  4. Warrior: Making plans to challenge destiny.
  5. Martyr: Sacrifices himself to save Ilsa’s husband; luckily saved by friend-in-high-place.

I think it fits great.


  1. Orphan: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” (Plus, an Orphan, transported to another world)
  2. Wanderer: Wandering Oz.
  3. Moment of Grace: ‘I’ll help you… if you murder the Wicked Witch.’ She agrees. Scared Little Lost Girl takes on courage and masters Oz, as 
  4. Warrior: Trekking, fighting Monkeys, defeating Witch.
  5. Martyr: Toto discovers the Truth – there is no Wizard of Oz.

Total fit  (I may not have nailed Martyr)


  1. Orphan: Transplanted New Yorker. “When do I get to be an Islander?” “Never. You’re not born here, you’re an islander.”
  2. Wanderer: Unfamiliar with ocean deaths; unfamiliar with sharks and learning about them for the first time. Venturing into ocean for first time.
  3. Moment of Grace: Fear of ocean/water melts after son nearly dies; mans up to face the water.
  4. Warrior: Hiring Quint, chumming, barrels and harpoons.
  5. Martyr: Going down fighting with the ship for a community which rejects him.

Good stuff.

Curious about something smaller, ie.

  1. Orphan: Kills cop; on the lam. Hungry for connection w/Patricia.
  2. Wanderer: Exploring connection with Patricia (philosophical discussions, making emotional and physical contact). Wandering Paris for his owed money.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: On the run from police; new plan to hideout in Montmartre.
  5. Martyr: Accepts Patricia’s disinterest in running away to Italy; he should have talked about her, not himself. Gives up the chase when alerted to Patricia’s betrayal; alerts friend in street to police’s knowledge, shot dead by cops.


  1. Orphan: Unsuccessful writer ex-patriate in Paris; slight English mistakes in French, evidently not local.
  2. Wanderer: Maybe Michel is alright for her…? Even if he goes against her goals and plans.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Fights for place in Parvelesco press conference; defies police, feigns barely knowing Michel, sides with Michel and concocts hideaway plan in Montmartre.
  5. Martyr: Gives up Michel to prove she doesn’t love him (but she does).


  1. Orphan: Something’s up with Jack/The same old thing.
  2. Wanderer: What’s this!? What’s this?!
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Kidnap the Sandy Claws.
  5. Martyr: Shot down for his love of Christmas; Resurrection as King of Halloween.


  1. Orphan: “Simba, it’s all your fault.”
  2. Wanderer: Run away, and never come back –> Hakuna Matata.
  3. Moment of Grace: Rafiki and Nala find him, and Mufasa’s spirit visits: Runaway becomes Prodigal Son.
  4. Warrior: We’re going to fight your uncle for this??
  5. Martyr: You never told them your little secret — Simba is responsible for Mufasa’s death.


  1. Orphan: Mankind, subject to elements and predation, unable to fend for self, unable to cooperate, ruled by tribalism.
  2. Wanderer: Bestowed with intelligence, Man invents tools, predates, and murders, and unites beyond nations (tribes) to explore space, having bestowed intelligence to his tools.
  3. [MOG...my favorite movie of all time and I have to admit I've never analyzed it. —sw]
  4. Warrior: Man battles the SmartTool, and against all odds, Dave defeats and murders HAL.
  5. Martyr: Determined to find the promised answers, Man enters Gate – and dies, to be resurrected as a new creation.


  1. Orphan: Bye-bye home planet; he doesn’t fit in in Smallville or on Earth; all those powers and he couldn’t save his dad
  2. Wanderer: Arctic, 12 year space-time trip with Jor-El to discover himself, moves to Metropolis
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Tested by Luthor, he saves Hackensack and rebuilds San Andreas Fault
  5. Martyr: His dad only had one real rule… and now, he chooses to break it, to have Lois back


Great stuff.

Out of curiosity:


  1. Orphan: Disconnected lonely with mental impairment.
  2. Wanderer: Exits into neighborhood on quest to find dog.
  3. [MOG]
  4. Warrior: Defeats seductress; confronts unknown “mystery” dog. Draws blood in chase.
  5. Martyr: Discovers and comprehends that he is mentally impaired.

– It fits perfectly.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Carol Pearson's 12 Archetypes and their Moral Premise Statements

 Carol S Pearson, Ph.D. continues her contribution to human psychology and story telling structure in her 2015 book "Awakening the Heroes Within: 12 Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World."  Somewhere in my library I have her earlier work, "TheHero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By."  The 12 Archetypes project... is a further development of the 6 Archetypes effort. Both valuable...for storytellers.

While she gives credit to the seminal work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung for her understanding of the human condition, it's interesting that her suggested 7 uses for her 12 Archetypes book includes clinical psychological diagnostic interventions (et al) but does not include those of us in the story telling industry. But then, as we writers know, we are very much a part of the psychological diagnostic intervention business...not just for our characters, but for the audiences that identify with our characters.

Light and Shadows
Pearson does a great job of articulating each of the 12 Archetypes as both positive and negative forces in a character's life. Here's a quick summary. You will see the clear connection to the moral premise statement's virtue and vice (strength/weakness) dipoles that control motivations and drive action.

Archetype Strength [Archetype Shadow]

  1. INNOCENT [Denial of reality]
  2. ORPHAN [Irresponsibility]
  3. WARRIOR [Compromised Principles]
  4. CAREGIVER [Guilt Manipulation]
  5. SEEKER [Commitment Avoidance]
  6. DESTROYER [Addictive compulsions]
  7. LOVER [Seductive sirens]
  8. CREATOR [Obsessive distraction]
  9. RULER [Tyrant]
  10. MAGICIAN [Evil Sorcerer]
  11. SAGE [Heartless judge]
  12. FOOL [Without dignity or self-control]
[Update 9/2/16] The above list is a bit "innocent" and does not clarify the Archetype Strength. The confusion lies in the common understandings of some of the terms. For instance, "Destroyer" and "Creator" are commonly thought of as opposites. But here they are on the same team. So let's try this:

InnocentAbandonmentFidelity/Trust/OptimismDenial Reality/Seek Rescue
OrphanExploitationProcess pain/InterdependenceIrresponsibility
WarriorWeaknessFight what matters/Courage/DisciplineCompromised Principles
CaregiverSelfishnessGive to others/Compassion/GenerosityGuilt Manipulation
SeekerConformityBe true to self/Autonomy/AmbitionCommitment Avoidance
LoverLoss of LoveFollow your bliss/Passion/CommitmentSeductive Sirens
DestroyerAnnihilationAbility to let go/HumilityAddictive Compulsions
CreatorInauthenticitySelf-acceptance/Individuality/CallingObsessive Distractions
RulerChaosTake responsibility/Control/OrderTyrant
MagicianEvil SorceryAlign with Cosmos/Personal PowerEvil Sorcerer
SageDeceptionEnlightenment/Wisdom/NonattachmentHeartless Judge
FoolNonalivenessTrust process/Joy/FreedomWithout dignity/No Self Control

Heroic Myth Index
The depth of her research into her understanding of the personal human journeys is an extrapolation of Campbell and Jung, of course, but also of the Myers-Briggs Type theory...from which she's developed her Heroic Myth Index (HMI)...which is included in the Appendix of the 12 Archetypes.
While Pearson intends the HMI as an exercise to helping the reader in self-evaluation, we fiction writers and story creators will also see its immediate value in fiction character development.

Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr
As in her earlier work (The Hero Within), much of her system is directly applicable to story creation such as how four of her archetypes (Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr) directly correspond to the four equal divisions of a traditional screenplay: Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3.   Jeffrey Alan Schechter brought this to my attention in MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY and I incorporated it into the Story Diamond...which is discussed in my Storycraft Training Series and accessible on The Moral Premise's main Writing Aids page. 

Moral Premise Statements
But what I want to focus on in this blog post is the reworking of a table that appears early in her 12 Archetypes and give the table a moral premise practicality. This can be done easily with the above  table of Archetypes and their Shadows. But Pearson goes further, although it's a bit uneven, which forces me to attempt a leveling. (I'll not reference her book, forcing you to buy it. It's well worth the read.)

In constructing the following moral premise statements 
I have NOT carefully considered their universal truth. 
A proper and effective moral premise statement must be universally true. 

Imagine each of these archetypes as a best descriptor for your protagonist. As Pearson explains,     each archetype is tempted by virtues and vices (i.e. strengths and weaknesses) to motivate their actions. Her book, of course, goes into more detail.

Denying danger leads to abandonment, but
Discerning danger leads to safety.
False Optimism (misplaced trust) leads to abandonment, but
Fidelity to reality leads to safety
Ignoring reality and embracing victimization and pain leads to exploitation; but
Facing reality and taking responsibility for pain leads to safety.
Battling everything in our path leads to loss and weakness; but
Having discipline to battle what matters leads to winning and strength.
Coarse selfishness leads to puts one's self in harms way, but
Generous compassion leads to care for others in harms way. 
Reckless conformity to the status quo leads to a false self-respect and unhappiness, but
Autonomous initiative leads to a deeper self actualization and a better life. 
Fear of commitment leads to loss of love, but
Pursuit of your passion leads to bliss. 
Draconian arrogance leads to annihilation; but
Humility leads to metamorphosis.
Stifling our natural creativity leads to inauthenticity, but
Cultivating our natural creativity leads to vocation.
Autocratic recklessness leads to chaos and disorder, but
Autocratic consideration leads to order and structure.
Ignoring the cosmos* leads to evil sorcery, but
Alignment with the cosmos* leads to righteous transformation.
(* natural law)
Material attachment leads to dark deception, but
Transcendence leads to enlightened truth.

Playing tricks on reality leads to walking deadness (non-aliveness), but
Letting reality playing tricks on us leads enjoyment, joy and freedom. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Story Break by FaceTime

Nothing new here, just a fun time breaking a story with Brian Shield's LUMEN ENTERTAINMENT FILM CAMP via FaceTime. I'm in Novi, MI, they're in Jacksonville, FL. It felt they were right across the table from me and the story cards spread between us. I used Post-It stickies on my 26" Mac display screen to write their names. Now that they have a good story, let's see if the can execute it. I guess my image was displayed on a iPad hung above the table with with a C-stand. Waiting on a picture of that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Man, Nature & God

Humanity lives on
Imperfectly human
Striving for 
Our condition confounds
Tragedies and horrors lay waste
    Terrorist acts
        all intended, all unjust
   War acts
         some intended, some not
         some just, some not
   Accident acts
       all unintended, all just
Afterwards only
        from God—always
        from Man—sometimes
        from Nature—never.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Characterization and The Moral Premise

As with everything in a story or script, the arc described in the moral premise needs to be present especially in each character's characterization. Not every element of characterization needs to arc, but arc'ing a few would strengthen the story. My online Storycraft Training Series (click on the link to access the training) teaches you how to do this in many ways. As an extension to that valuable training, here is a description of characterization and how it adds to the elegancy of the moral premise method of storytelling.

You can categorize characterization in the following ways:

Appearance. This refers to wardrobe, mannerisms, and hygiene. Do your characters look like, act, and dress like who they really are? Is this correlation obvious, obscured, and ironic? Do they dress down because of their humility or are they hiding something? Do they dress up out of arrogance or to compensate for a sense of inferiority? Do they refuse to care for their health because they hate who they are? How does their appearance change or not during the course of the story? A good writer will plan this arc, and it's clarity (or it's obscurity), to subliminally reinforce the moral premise of the story.

Action: This refers to their decisions to choose one course of action vs. another normally associated with the turning points of a plot (or subplot). What does the character do? What don't they do? What do they consider doing...or not doing? Is there an indication that they would like to do something but they turn from it, or that they don't want to do something but they do it anyway? While this is easy to describe in a novel with internal monologue, it's a bit more of an art in a screenplay where you only have physical actions to describe in the action paragraph or in the nonverbal of dialogue.  (Yes, you can explain it in dialogue, but don't.) A good writer will plan this arc (as they plot the action), to explicitly reinforce the moral premise of the story.

Appearances in a movie are an important
part of characterization. Above, Chris Hemsworth
prepares for his role in HEART OF THE SEA.
Dialogue: How does the character speak in use of grammar, confidence, dialect? How do these elements contrast and compare to other characters? Can we distinguish who is talking if there are no character tags above each dialogue line? While you may think these characteristics may stay constant throughout a story, the best stories find a way to arc this element. In real life, once, during a flight from Michigan to California, I sat next to man who felt obliged to communicate a particular persona to me through a distinct pattern of speech. As we talked during the four hour trip his speech slowly changed to that of normal midwesterner. As we said our goodbyes in the LAX terminal, he had morphed into an entirely different character than the one I sat next to leaving DTW. I thought, if this can happen that quickly in real life, then such a change in a 120 minute motion picture is not unrealistic. And, if those speech patterns are logically connected to the moral premise' weakness and strength, you have a reinforced arc that will connect emotionally with audiences. A good writer will imbue this into their characterizations. 

Arc: This refers primarily to the main turning points of the main plot and multiple subplots. How does the character moral decision making change throughout the story and how does that change relate to whether they are a good guy or a bad guy? The assumption is that a good guy will always get better and a bad guy will get his comeuppance. This reflects audience expectations of characterization in a broad overall sense. But irony plays an important role in keeping an audience's attention. Can you make a character more interesting my plotting their action in a way that "stings" the audience? Does your protagonist fake her own death, but not let the audience in on the trick? Do they appear to tell the truth, but are in fact lying? Do they take actions that seem malevolent, but turn out to be merciful? Keep your audience guessing by thus enriching your character's characterization. But never, EVER, be irrational about the character's arc. Natural Law is your friend, because the turning points of a story, while perhaps manipulated by the character's values, will always arc back to nature in the end. To do otherwise will cheat and irritate your audience. 

Internal motivation/values: This refers to what drives all the action of every story. It's what the character's believe above all else will bring them happiness. While this element is mostly hidden in a screenplay, it's important that the writer have this firmly in their mind so the subtleties of writing and the choice of words and the length of sentences and dialogue and everything else subtly reflect who the character is and what he/she hope to be. Characterization originates from the character's most intimately held values....those articulated in the moral premise statement. Those values control everything they are, think and do. For characterization to ring true to your audience/reader, you must never violate the natural law connection between a value, and when acted upon the physical consequence. The consequence may be delayed, thus encouraging a vice/weakness the character has, but ultimately their internal motivation will reward them—good or bad. It is in this manner that the physical consequences (what we "see" in the story) become metaphors for the character's true self. Characterization is how we see that trueness, oftentimes before the consequence hits. A good writer will have this figured out ahead of time, or (if you're a pantser) do it by instinct. 

Introduction: In a screenplay, the introduction of a significant character is that one sentence allowed the screenwriter to tell us who the character really is...or at least at that moment who the screenwriter wants the reader to think the character is. The introduction is explicit, omniscient characterization. The writer is allowed to describe the internal motivations and values of the character hopefully by connecting it to some physical and visible element. Example: "A debonair young man whose mind was always in the gutter."  "A mindless beauty who was totally innocent of her affect on the opposite sex." "A woman whose intentions were always good but who's affect was always unwelcome." "Jacob was the syndicate boss who ordered the death of hundreds but secretly he wanted to be a weekend preacher and save souls  especially his own." Novelists have much more leeway to use a whole scene, of every chapter, to flesh out such characterization. The good writer will carefully manipulate this description to set up the character's values, arc, and appearance to entrap the reader's emotions as the story unfolds. 

Hopefully evident in those last examples (and should be evident in all the other characterization elements) is the concept of irony. "It was the best of days it was the worst of days, they were the best of people but they were entirely flawed." I think more than anything else the natural, organic incorporation of such irony in characterization is what makes people and characters interesting to an audience.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


This article appeared in Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2016). Weblink

by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.

You can change the world any number of ways. Revolution works if you have a large disgruntled populace. But revelation only works if you're related to God. Art had its place a few hundred years back, until pigment fell out of vogue. Scientific discoveries, industrial inventions and information technology are possibilities if your world is large and clumsy. If you're void of talent but like to talk, you might try reality television or politics. Or, if you have a large uninformed voting block at your command, you can try tyranny.

Yes, there are many ways to change the world. But my favorite is STORYTELLING. Yes, that's right—capitalized and italicized. Telling stories does not require political credentials, large outlays of cash, or a standing army. It does, however, require imagination, perseverance, and a good editor. You can learn to tell stories...and tell them well...by spending just ten minutes a night tucking-in your children, nieces, nephews or charges you may be babysitting. Amazingly, while you sit there in the semi-darkness comfortably in your pajama's, you can conjure up earth shattering revolts, epiphanies of revelation, splattering paint, quantum quarks, and other worldly places where fish walk about on their tail-fins and men and women levitate by flapping their ears lobes. Think of the possibilities.   

Granted, if you can't think of the possibilities storytelling is probably not for you. (See the options in paragraph 1.) But if, when thinking of the possibilities, your mind starts to snort adrenalin what comes next will interest you. I'm going to give you a preview on how to tell successful stories that can change the world. But first, here are a few examples of storytellers and stories that actually did it.[1]

·       Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), is credited with inflaming passions that brought on the most terrible war in our history.

·       In response to Stowe's Cabin, Tomas Dixon wrote The Clansman (1905), which was adapted by D.W. Griffith in the motion picture epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). Together the two are infamously credited with the revival of the KKK and the Jim Crow south.

·       The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1843), is perhaps best known for influencing Western Civilization's celebration of Christmas.

·       The Bible, by a host of men inspired by God and canonized in Carthage (396 AD), is the best selling story book of all time, with its "history-bending" tales that continually challenge society to change, vanquish fear, and embrace hope.

·       And television sitcoms like Will & Grace are credited with advancing liberal views toward homosexuality and non-traditional families.

Such stories have the capacity to change attitudes and values because of a few storytelling secrets that you too can apply. The purpose of these is to entice your reader (or audience) to emotionally identify with, and intellectually engage, the story's main characters. The result is a simulation of reality where the audience participates and learns with the characters about how to live happily and peaceable within the natural laws of the universe. Here's an abbreviated list of the natural laws of successful storytelling.

1.     Your hero (or protagonist) must be imperfect. Audiences like characters that are like them—with flaws.  
2.     Your hero must have a goal that is noble, visible, and requires sacrifice to achieve. Perilous stakes heighten suspense and intrigue.
3.     Your hero must passionately and proactively pursue the goal. Audiences find passive, indolent heroes boring.
4.     The villain (or antagonist) who obstructs the hero, in the goal's pursuit, must appear to be ubiquitous, more powerful, and more resourceful than your hero. The audience will root for the underdog.
5.     Undergirding the story must be a conflict of values that drive the hero and villain to make decisions that lead to actions, which create the drama. Moral values drive all decisions that, in turn, motivate action. When the values of characters conflict, the visible action is explosive.
6.     The consequences of the characters' actions must always follow natural law. While values, decisions and actions are under the control of your character, the consequences of the action are dictated by natural law. As soon as you discard natural law the audience will discard your story.
7.     You are, however, allowed to disregard natural law one time—in formulating the story's impossible hook. Aristotle tells playwrights to devise a story's physical premise on an impossible probability rather than a possible improbability. David beheading Goliath works better than Goliath inviting David to dinner.
8.     The hero's dogged pursuit of the goal must be thwarted until story's mid-point (the Moment of Grace) when the hero recognizes the need to fix his or her inner flaw. After the hero pays attention to redeeming his flaw, progress toward the goal accelerates...along with the obstacles thrown in the path by the antagonist. Thus, the hero's outer journey, which we see on screen, becomes a metaphor for the real story—the hero's inner transformation.

We can tell children not to touch the hot stove, but they may not change their behavior until their fingers are singed. Experience may be the best teacher, but who needs the pain? Storytelling, on the other hand, can emotionally engage an audience through a simulation of reality. That's how stories can change behavior and the world.


You can request a free bookmark that lists 18 Secrets of Successful Storytelling and read more about how to do it at Dr. Williams' website, blog, and on-line training, accessible at http://www.moralpreise.com.

Copyright © 2016, Stanley D. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

[1] My thanks to Jonathan Gottschall who saved me the research in his The Story Telling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).