I’ve been struggling with the second half of the first act of Carrion; specifically the inciting incident. According to Robert McKee “the inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.” Brian McDonald in his book Invisible Ink describes the inciting incident as a curtain moment. A theatrical term denoting the point at which the curtain is dropped between acts. In theatre you have to get the audience back after the intermission “so acts end on the highest point, when the stakes are at their most desperate.” While both descriptions tell us that something needs to happen at this point in the story. Neither give you any real insight into what needs to happen. Personally I lean towards John Truby‘s interpretation. He calls the inciting incident the inciting event and describes it as a small step that “connects need and desire.” At the beginning of the story “when weakness and need are being established, the hero is paralysed in some way. You need some kind of event to jump-start the hero out of his paralysis and force him to act.” And since starting the redraft of Carrion I’ve been struggling to pin down the event that metaphorically takes Adam out of the frying pan and drops him in the fire. I had a whole slew of things going on in the fifteen minutes that lead up to this event. Adam discovering that Reiner murdered his daughter prompting Adam to take action against Reiner. Reiner making a direct attack on Christine forcing Adam to step in to protect her. I explored an infinite number of permutations based on this scenario. All ending with Christine attacked in some way forcing Adam to step in and save her. In the end it all seemed too complicated; demanding of too much exposition. None of the story-lines I envisaged ever really set up Adam’s desire correctly. It wasn’t until I started to think about this section and where it fits into the story that I started to get a handle on what the inciting event should be. At this point in the story Adam needs to see the kind of attack society is making on drug users. He needs to see first hand what is going to happen to Christine if he does nothing and goes along with prohibition. Once I’d realised this is what needs to happen in this section of the story things started to fall into place. Adam and Reiner are part of the squad that is tasked with picking up drug users. When Reiner is particularly vicious in his treatment of the users Adam gets his first glimpse of the coming storm. But the actual inciting event still alluded me until one morning. I woke up with the phrase “Adam has to choose Christine” in my head. I wrote it down and mulled it over for a while. The more I thought about it the more I realise it is the thing that connects Adam’s need and desire. The thing that takes him out of the frying pan and into the fire. He is given a choice; prohibition or Christine. If he chooses prohibition he is allowing her to die. From that point on Adam’s desire to save Christine really kicks in and the story is under way.
I have a problem. While working on the plot for Carrion I have started to get this nagging doubt that Adam’s actions aren’t going to work. They’re not proactive enough. The moral vision for the end of Carrion has Adam taking action against prohibition. He starts the screenplay a self-righteous policeman and ends a humbled rebel. For this transformation to work Adam can’t just take up arms against prohibition. He has to go through a series of actions that teach him the right way to act in the world. He has to take actions that teach him not only to resist prohibition but to fight it. Structurally the problem can best be explained by paraphrasing John Truby. “In the early part of the story the hero is losing to the opponent. He becomes desperate. As a result he starts taking immoral actions to win. Other characters criticize the hero for the means he is taking. The hero defends his actions.” I think what Truby means is that only by taking immoral actions that fail can the hero learn the moral way to act. In trying to answer this problem I asked myself the question. What kind of immoral actions does Adam take? The answer can best be summed up as “not fighting back”. The actions he takes are immoral because it appeases prohibition. The problem I have with this course of action is that it makes Adam seem passive. Writing about it here. What I’m struggling to reconcile is who Adam is at the beginning of the screenplay and who he is at the end. The key to it seems to lay in his conflict with Reiner; a rampant prohibitionist who has killed his drug using daughter. How does Adam deal with that moral dilemma? He believes in the law so should arrest Reiner. But with the rabid hatred of drug users apparent in the story world of Carrion we’d be at the end of the screenplay before he’d begun. Alternatively the answer might lay in Adam’s desire to save Christine. Why does he want to save Christine? Who is he saving her from? He want to save Christine because she is his sister. Initially he is saving her from herself; that’s why he arrests her. But then he is saving her from prohibition. Alternatively a direct threat on Christine by Reiner would push Adam to take action; despite his overwhelming hostility to drug users. In this way he is not taking passive action to appease prohibition. But positive action to save Christine. The immoral action in the story world of Carrion is his attempts to save a drug user. Sorry if this all seems to ramble a bit. It really is me trying to work something out.
I read an article recently by John Truby about Breaking Bad. I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad so was interested to see what Truby had to say. He had some interesting insights on the character development of Walter White over the length of the show. A journey best described by the shows creator Vince Gilligan. “What was interesting to me was a straight arrow character (Walt) who decides to make a radical change in his life and goes from being a protagonist to an antagonist.” Walt’s development from protagonist to antagonist can best be summarised with another quote from Gilligan; his initial pitch to Sony. “I want to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface over the life of the series.” The line “I want to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface” has stuck with me since I read it. It’s a brilliantly concise premise for Breaking Bad and one I have been struggling to emulate for Carrion. I got one half of the equation relatively quickly. Adam Leigh becomes Che Guevara. Adam doesn’t share Guevera’s politics but when most people think of Che Guevera they don’t think of his politics they think of him as a rebel. And rebel is the primary characteristic Adam has by the end of Carrion. By the end of the screenplay Adam has been transformed from self-righteous policeman into a freedom fighter willing to take up arms against the oppression of prohibition. That half of the equation set its complement has taken a little longer to pin down. I’ve found it hard to come up with a policeman with the right amount of character flaws that doesn’t end up being thought of as Dirty Harry. But today I think I might have found my Mr. Chips; Die Hard’s John McClane. The more I think about it the more it seems to fit. Adam Leigh might be a little darker than McClane but he’s a good hook to hang Adam’s character coat on. I’m still not sure if it works completely. Does this pitch peak your interest? “I want to take John McClane and turn him into Che Guevara.” You tell me.
I have been struggling all morning with Adam’s desire. Desire is what Adam wants in the story. His specific goal. As Mamet might say; what does he want? The hypothesis I have been working with to date has been; Adam wants to save his sister. But this raises the question; how do we know when he has saved her? Does he get a prize? To simply “save” Christine is not concrete enough of a desire to carry the audience through the various twists and turns of the story to the end. I have thought of linking it to a location. If he gets her to a specific location has he saved her? Perhaps. But it still seems a little nebulous. His desire simply isn’t primal enough. It’s not a matter of life and death. This prompts the question; what is he saving her from? He is saving her from prohibition. Actually he is saving her from the physical manifestation of prohibition; drug eating insects. The logical conclusion to this line of thinking is that we will know Adam has saved Christine if she is alive or dead at the end of the story. So Adam’s desire is to save Christine from becoming carrion.