Inciting event

According to Robert McKee “the inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life”. Brian McDonald in “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, neither give you any real insight into what needs to happen.

Personally I lean towards John Truby’s interpretation. He calls it 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”. 

Since starting the redraft of Carrion I’ve struggled 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 discovers Reiner murdered his daughter, prompting him to take action. Reiner making a direct attack on Christine, forcing Adam to step in to protect her. I’ve explored an infinite number of permutations based on this scenario ending with Christine attacked, forcing Adam to step in and save her.

In the end it all seemed too complicated, demanding of too much exposition. 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.

Adam needs to see the kind of attack society is making on drug users, see what’s going to happen to Christine if he does nothing. Once I’d realised this, 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, Adam gets his first glimpse of the coming storm.

The actual event alluded me until the phrase “Adam has to choose Christine” came to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realise it’s the thing that connects Adam’s need and desire, the thing that takes him out of the frying pan and into the fire.

He’s given a choice, prohibition or Christine.

If he chooses prohibition he’s allowing her to die. From that point, Adam’s desire to save Christine kicks in, and the story is under way.


Adam’s immoral action

I have a problem, I’ve 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 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, 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.

Does the make Adam seem passive? 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 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 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? He wants to save her because she is his sister. Initially he thinks he’s saving her from herself, that’s why he arrests her, then from prohibition.

Alternatively a direct threat on Christine, by Reiner, would push Adam to take action, despite his overwhelming hostility to drug users. That way he’s not passive, appeasing prohibition, but taking positive action to save Christine.

The immoral action in the story world is his attempts to save a drug user.

Summing up Carrion

I read something by John Truby about Breaking Bad (2008- ).

Truby had some interesting insights on the character development of Walter White. A journey described by the shows creator Vince Gilligan, explaining he’s “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 change 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“.

Mr. Chips to Scarface” has been 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 Che Guevera they don’t think of his specific politics, they think rebel, and that’s Adam’s primary characteristic by the end of Carrion.

So 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. Today I think I might have found my Mr. Chips. John McClane from Die Hard (1988).

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.

“I want to turn John McClane into Che Guevara.” Perhaps it works better as a question, “what would turn John McClane into Che Guevara?”

You tell me?

Struggling with desire

I have been struggling with what Adam wants in the story, his specific desire. As David Mamet might say, what does he want?

The working hypothesis has been, Adam wants to save his sister. This raises the question, how do we know when he has saved her, does he get a prize? “Save” isn’t concrete enough 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.

What is he saving her from, prohibition? He’s actually saving her from the physical manifestation of prohibition, drug eating insects.

We’ll know Adam has saved Christine if she is alive or dead at the end of the story.

Adam’s desire is to save Christine from becoming carrion.

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