All the Way Back
Here’s the problem you’re confronted with: Act Three isn’t gelling.
There doesn’t seem to be enough oomph in your big finish, and the hero doesn’t really seem to be learning a lesson — or applying it. That big, emotional uplift you’ve wanted to put in here at the end is missing. Looks like it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start re-working that finale, right?
But maybe the real problem lies back in Act One?
In a lot of scripts I’ve been reading lately, finding what’s wrong with the hero’s story starts with how we meet him, and what his problems are up front.
And most of the time, we haven’t given him enough problems to make the trip worthwhile, and the finale worthy of someone who’s come so far.
The fix is to take the hero “All the Way Back” — meaning to load him up with lots of problems, both individual and systemic.
What’s stopping us many times is we are our hero! And we don’t like to look anything less than evolved. And like our hero, we don’t want to show ourselves to seem ignorant, or problem plagued, or deficient in any way.
But we must.
This is partly about showing a complete change, and an Opening Image and Final Image that are opposites. And the pros know how to make those hero arcs big. In the Oscar nominated screenplay for The Savages, we start Laura Linney off lost in her professional life, having a tacky affair, and under the thumb of her brother, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. By the end of that movie, Laura has a play she wrote being staged, has made peace with Phillip, and traded in her lover… for his dog.
But if the screenwriter hadn’t taken Laura “all the way back” to a point of desperation, and even humiliation, the finale would not be nearly as satisfying.
All we’re saying is, this is about the constant adjustment of the Alpha-Omega, the change a hero undergoes. And if you’re not feelin’ it at the end, maybe the end isn’t the problem.
p.s. Take a look at the review of Funny People by Dennis Willis in the San Francisco Examiner!
- Scott W
That movie reviewer’s been getting a Cat-ucation!
Your excellent point is that you usually can’t make a roast taste better if you put it back in the oven and simply turn up the heat; the problem occurred in the preparation. Good thing for us we can “un-make” the roast.
- Steve Spatucci
I had similar problems with my previous script, so when it came to writing the next one, I made sure to bash my hero upside the head pretty good right up front in act one. It felt like overkill at the time and I thought maybe I’ll pull back a bit later, but by the time I finished the third act, the early pain I gave the main character seemed to pay off.
- Bob B
I have similar problems too. I always beat up my hero, but I tend to pull back a few blows, which ends up flattening the arc in the end. It’s time to throw the gloves down! Thanks Blake!
- Captain Perry
Blake, Your Blog plus at least five of the most inciteful comments of each put into book form with an index would be a valuable tool for me. You could title it “Writerprompter”.
THANK YOU! This is exactly what’s wrong with my script. It’s a two-hander, but only one of the heroes has a compelling journey. This is the advice I needed.
BTW, Blake, I saw a guy in Starbucks in B&N on the 3rd Street Promenade reading STC. My companion and I told him how much the book has helped our writing, but he’d already figured out what a great book it is. ‘-)
I agree about Funny People. First I think the title is really unoriginal and vague. Then the marketing department didn’t know how to market the film. When I watched the trailer I thought, well I don’t have to go to it anymore since I basically just watched the entire film. They spoiled any twists it might have had. Disappointing, but I guess Apatow was bound for a misfire.
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I fixed my last script by seeing what I liked about my heroine in the third act finale and then analyzing and changing what wasn’t working in the first act, so that the beginning and ending were in better harmony. So in other words, I had to dirty her up at the start to give her room to arc. I owe that bit of insight to Blake and the Way of the Cat. Thanks Blake!