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%. 

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