UPDATE: What is discussed in this post is not some new discover. Not much is new under a billion year old sun, even if it's continually being rediscovered. See end of this post for link to another post that reaches back a few years to something called Nicomachean Ethics.
During a recent story meeting in L.A. our well-known host and producer solved a story problem we were having by introducing a brilliant expansion of the moral premise concept as it pertains to the conflict of values. I'm sure it applies to other well-known stories once we have time to think more about it. Perhaps readers will have some suggestions.
To introduce this expanded conflict of values idea let me first review some basics from the book and my workshops. I'll use some old and new workshop slides to illustrate.
[Double Clicking on any slide opens a larger vision in a new window.]
All drama requires a conflict of values, principally between the protagonist and the antagonist. The values can be identified by a virtue and it's opposite vice. For instance, generosity (a virtue) is related to greed (the contrary vice). Both of these values (generosity and greed) can be depicted in different characters to different degrees. And both protagonist and antagonist, in the telling of the story, will move along a continuum of pure greed at one end (black) and pure generosity at the other end (white.) In a redemptive story the protagonist may be a little greedy at the beginning of the story, but by the end, he will have moved toward the virtue end of the scale and become somewhat generous.
I've made the point, illustrated by the color arrows in Slide A, that if the "greed" and the "generosity" are too far apart, the story may come off as unrealistic and artificial. In 2 hours, it's hard to envision a protagonist going from a greedy crook to a generous social worker. Some movement, please, but not too much. Keep it real. At the end of a redemptive movie, a protagonist will still be imperfect, just not as as imperfect as he or she was at the beginning.
A deceptive heart leads to rejection; but...our protagonist may start somewhere in the middle of the vice-to-virtue continuum, then during Act 1 and the first half of Act 2, move toward the vice in an effort to achieve his or her goal. But in the second half of Act 2 and Act 3, she will move to the virtue side as the goal is achieved. In the example in Slide C, the character slides toward deception before she learns to tell the truth and moves toward success. This, of course, is story with a "redemptive" end, or what I call in the book a "classic comedy" as opposed to a "tragic drama."
A truthful heart leads to acceptance....
A deceptive heart leads to rejection; butSlide F
A habitual lying heart leads to isolation and despair.
THE SMITH OBSERVATION
Now, here's the expanded concept of how the conflict of values works in an expanded way. Credit goes to Will Smith for recognizing this and how is can be used effectively in story telling. Like other natural laws of story telling this has probably been used many times, but I have not seen it artiuclated or documented until Will brought it up in our meeting. It was pretty exciting and will definitely make the movie we were working on all that much better. (Note: The examples I use below do NOT refer to the project in development.)
Notice that in the graphic the tradition vice (to the left) is the abandonment of the virtue, while the other end is the virtue taken to the extreme by a manic, obsessive, or repressive disorder. Where the absence of the virtue is the result of some degree of evil, the other end is the result of an extreme effort to be good. So, how does this work when we apply them to character arcs?
A deceptive OR scrupulous heart leads to rejection; butNotice the whole continuum deals with the values of deception and truth-telling, either truth-telling in its absence or to the point of being repressive and hurtful. The Bible asks us to speak the truth in love, which suggests that we can speak the truth in a way that is either hateful or harmful.
A truthful and compassionate heart leads to acceptance.
Comments? And again, thanks to Will Smith and his constant pursuit of excellence.
(See posts on: Nicomachean Ethics, especially the advanced use of this concept that I explain in my review of THE KITE RUNNER.)