I ended my last post with a question; what does Christine’s desire line look like? It would be easy to say Christine’s desire is to escape prohibition but I don’t think that adequately describes what she wants. To truly understand her desire we first have to understand her need. What must Christine fullfil within herself to have a better life? Need is about overcoming her moral and psychological weaknesses. The knee-jerk reaction to this question identifies her drug use as her weakness but as I tried to explain in my previous post Christine’s drug use is not a negative. That understanding just doesn’t fit with the moral vision or theme I have for the story. As I understand it Christine’s weakness is her rebelliousness; that impulse she has to resist authority, control or convention. In the “Character Web by Archetype” chapter of “The Anatomy of Story” John Truby notes that the rebel’s strength is the “courage to stand out from the crowd and act against a system that is enslaving people.” The weakness of this archetype is that they “often cannot provide a better alternative, so end up destroying the society.” I think of the link between the two sides of her weakness like this. If Adam’s self-righteousness is a product of a positive pushed until it becomes a negative; his responsibility, taken to the extreme, is oppressive. Christine’s weakness is a product of her bravery pushed until it becomes destructive. At the beginning of the story her rebelliousness is the wellspring of the conflict with Adam. Her defiance exasperates Adam. He reacts with self-righteous indignation and arrests her, which reenforces her will to resist. At its essence she has a destructiveness about her at the beginning of the story. The question then becomes; what is she at the end? In purely technical terms she needs to achieve the polar opposite. Put simply if her weakness is destructive she needs to create something. An insight that brings me to the conclusion that Christine’s need is to change the society she lives in. Ironically, a need she is only able to fulfil through Adam. When he chooses freedom over security at the end of the story Adam is fulfilling Christine’s creative need to free society. He is doing it because of what he has learned through Christine. A conclusion I wasn’t really aware of until now. Christine’s desire line is not to escape prohibition, it’s to change Adam. This insight changes the way I look at Adam and how he relates to Christine. But that’s the subject of another post.
As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Adam’s main opponent Anthony Reiner. Specifically I’ve been struggling to understand what makes Reiner such a willing exponent of prohibition? As I pondered in the comments of my previous post; “I’m trying to figure out the mechanism of his adherence to the cause. Why does he react so violently to Adam’s need to save Christine?” (1) Reading back though yesterdays post I realise now that Reiner reacts to Adam’s decision to help Christine as a betrayal of the cause. A reaction rooted in Reiner’s totalitarian mindset. A mindset that has no tolerance for ambiguity. When he encounters the kind of complexity offered by Adam’s willingness to help Christine he tries to impose his pre-existing frames of reference on the decision, reducing it to an us or them ultimatum. Going back to Alfonso Montuori paper “How to make enemies and inﬂuence people” (2) it’s interesting to note the kind of personality the totalitarian mindset attracts. Consistent attempts to suppress “complexity through maladaptive simplicity is characteristic of the closed-mindedness of the authoritarian personality.” (3) Montuori’s characterisation of the totalitarian mindset as an authoritarian personality fits perfectly with description I have in my head of Reiner. For Reiner ambiguous situations cause anxiety. A stress he copes with by adhering to “a clear set of rules and regulations… imposed by whoever is in charge.” (4) While this might be described by John Truby as his psychological weakness. A weakness that Truby defines as hurting only himself. It doesn’t describe his moral weakness. The weakness that is hurting at least one other person. It is clear to me now that Reiner’s moral weakness is explicit in his framing of drug users as an external threat. As Montuori notes “the perception of an out-group as a threat and an enemy is the glue that holds this (totalitarian) mindset together.” (5) A distinction that’s at the very core of Carrion. In this fiction, as in reality, drug users are universally defined as a threat; blamed for everything from social unrest to criminality. The prohibitionist routinely reduces our understanding of the drug issue to a simple black and white choice; “if we sort out the drug problem everything will be all-right.” In Carrion the threat from users becomes even more acute when they are attacked by the insects. But it’s no coincidence that the government are behind the release of the insects. It serves two functions. First it’s an attack on the drug using population; it unites people against an identifiable enemy. Second it creates a crisis that allows drug users to be targeted for persecution. In Carrion the drug user is not only a threat to public order, now he’s a threat to public health. A threat that needs to dealt with in the expedient (read harshest) terms possible. Although it’s interesting to remember that when Hitler was asked whether he thought Jews should be annihilated he replied no. If we didn’t have them “we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.” (6) In trying to answer the question; what makes Reiner such a willing exponent of prohibition? It has become apparent to me that Reiner’s willingness to persecute drug users, in Trubian story telling terms, is his moral weakness, a manifestation of totalitarian mindset that is embedded in the authoritarian personality that is his psychological weakness. Now all I have to do is work out his need; what he “must fulfil within himself in order to have a better life.” (7) But that will have to wait for another post.
I’ve been going over the plot for Carrion while skipping through Anatomy of Story by John Truby. In the chapter outlining Twenty-Two-Step Story Structure there is a section called The Iceberg Opponent. Truby argues that in order to make your antagonist as dangerous as possible you should create a hierarchy of opponents and “hide the hierarchy from the hero and the audience.” This worries me slightly because Adam’s opponents aren’t really hidden from him. The only element really hidden from him is the true nature of prohibition. I’m not sure if that’s enough? Adam’s main opponent is Reiner. He’s the one who want’s to stop Adam achieving his desire; save Christine. As the plot develops Adam encounters ever more hostile forces. But the insects, police and military he battles to save Christine are less a hidden opponents and more a hierarchy of force. Why would they hide? As I noted in my previous post “prohibitionist’s aren’t shy about tell us they think users should be killed.” In an earlier chapter of Anatomy of Story, Truby urges you to “always look for the deepest conflict that your hero and opponent are fighting over.” I mentioned this briefly in The antagonist’s antagonist that deep down Adam and Reiner are actually fighting over the kind of society they live in. Which version will prosper? “Will it be a society of freedom ultimately chosen by Adam or will it be a society of security demanded by Reiner?” So this is a fight for freedom or security. And if you dig even deeper security is actually an analogue of power. I often quip prohibition isn’t about public health, it’s about public control. It’s a aphoristic way of saying prohibition is a mechanism used to control the population. Adam’s real opponent, the opponent hidden at the deepest part of the iceberg, is actually power. But not just any power, the power to destroy an entire class of people because they don’t fit their view of how you should live in the world. What Reiner is actually fighting for is tyranny.
In an earlier post “Adam’s opponents” I mentioned John Truby‘s notion of four cornered opposition. It’s a strategy that increases the depth of a story by increasing the number of opponents the protagonist has to deal with. It makes all the characters more rounded especially the hero because he’s forced to deal with the central problem of the story from at least three other points of view. For Carrion I’ve designed a four cornered opposition which places Adam in conflict with Reiner. They’re the mirror of each other. Similar in many ways. But because Adam decides to save Christine they become mortal enemies. Reiner is the prototypical prohibitionist fighting with Adam over the kind of society they live in. Which version of society will prosper? Will it be a society of freedom ultimately chosen by Adam or will it be a society of security demanded by Reiner? Adam’s second opponent is Christine. Although she’s his sister and it’s his attempts to save her that put him conflict with Reiner, they’re still in conflict with each other. While she articulates the point of view of the drug user in the story. Deep down their opposition is about how he treats his younger sibling. Is he able to respect her point of view, treat her as an equal, behave more compassionately, less patriarchally towards her? The final character in this four cornered opposition is Sexton. He’s not only in opposition with Adam and Christine but also Reiner. He is the binary opposite to Reiner. The antagonist’s antagonist. Articulating the dealer’s point of view in the story; I think? When I fist envisioned Sexton he was the stereotypical drug dealer. I had in my head the many incarnation of drug dealers in cinema. The hapless career criminal of Henry Hill in Goodfellas. He get’s high on his own supply and drops himself straight into witness protection. I thought of the accent wielding, coke snorting, gun touting nihilist Tony Montana in Scarface. Before considering the calculating, ruthless, out for profit businesspersons of Carlos and Helena Ayala portrayed in Traffic. The thing is, none of these interpretation of a drug dealers represent my understanding of who Sexton is in Carrion. It wasn’t until I realised Sexton has to be more optimistic that I started to get a handle on who he really is. A large part of that realisation came while reading Jack London‘s “The Iron Heel“. A dystopian fiction about the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. Completed in 1908 London’s novel is based on the fictional “Everhard Manuscript” written by Avis Everhard; hidden and subsequently found centuries later. Added to this manuscript are a series of footnotes written by fictional scholar Anthony Meredith around 2600 AD. It’s a Marxist interpretation of capital told as a love story between Avis and Ernest Everhard. Avis is the middle class daughter of an academic who’s eyes are opened to the plight of the proletariat at the hands of the plutocracy. Ernest Everhard is a hero of the working man who is martyred by the oligarchy as he attempts to progress the revolution and progress society to a socialist future. He’s a smart character with a clear view of the world and what he is fighting for. Reading The Iron Heel made me realise that Sexton needs to have something of the Ernest Everhard’s about him. Adam’s not going to respond to the hapless actions of a character like Henry Hill. He’s not going to listen to the nihilistic rants of a Tony Montana. The ruthless logic of a businessman like Carlos Ayala won’t persuade him to see the world differently. Adam’s only going to respond to someone who is able to see what is happening and articulate enough to communicate it. He has to be intelligent, articulate and willing to take direct action. I’m a little worried that he might come across as unbelievable, somewhat fanciful, an idealist. I know it’s a risk. But take solace in having encountered one or two character who are evangelical about drugs. Who take pride in prosthelytizing the grace offered by psychotropic substances. Carrion needs Sexton. It needs him to show Adam how to live in the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about character change. Specifically Adam’s range of change. I wonder if there is enough room for Adam to move from one moral perspective to another without there being, dread of dreads, a kind of light bulb moment at the end. His actions at the end of the story must be the inevitable consequence of trials he has endured. But if John Truby is right and “true character change involves a challenging and changing of basic beliefs, leading to new moral action by the hero” I’m aware that I’ve plotted a story that demands a complete reversal of moral perspective in less that two days. Obviously this has the potential to be an implausible transformation. There is a pro-log that sets up Adam’s relationship with Christine. It happens six months before the major events of the story. My hope is that there is enough distance between the action of the pro-log and his action at the end to make Adam’s transformation plausible. Adam begins the story as a self-righteous prohibitionist. That’s the point at which I start him. Primarily because it’s the polar opposite of his moral perspective at the end. Adam’s self-righteousness drives him to arrest Christine and John. He takes a specific moral action based on his belief as a prohibitionist. His tough-love stance is born from a belief that he knows what is best for Christine. Chronologically this gives Adam six months to contemplate the consequence of his actions before the events of Carrion really get under way. My hope is that it introduces enough time for a level of self-doubt to creep into Adam’s character. He needs time to really feel the increasing threat of prohibition. So that when Reiner attacks the junkie at the end of act one the action he takes to save Christine don’t seem like too much of a leap. Hopefully the time between the pro-log and the inciting event is enough to make Adam’s arc believable. Ultimately Adam’s need to save Christine must fell not like the first step in his resistance of prohibition but something farther along the line. Something that is more like the forth or fifth step in a ten step journey. Starting this way will make the end point of Adam’s transformation that much closer. So that when he pick up a gun and attacks the forces of prohibition in the closing minutes of the story it doesn’t feel forced. It feels like the inevitable consequence of trials he has endured.
Recently I plotted Carrion using a variation of “The Board” described by Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat. More of that in another post. Working the board has thrown up several issues relating to Adam’s opponents. One of the key problems I realise needs pinning down is Adam’s conflict with prohibition; how does a prohibitionist find himself on the wrong side of prohibition? To understand this more fully I find myself going back to reaffirm what I think Carrion is about. I take the view, expressed by John Truby in his book Anatomy of Story, that a story is a moral argument. “Whenever you present a character using means to reach an end, you are presenting a moral predicament, exploring the question of right action, and making an moral argument about how best to live.” To make this argument the hero needs a collection of opponents (and allies) who force him to deal with the central moral problem. To find the best opponents for Adam I first need to recognise the question at the heart of Carrion; why are drugs prohibited? The usual reason given for drug prohibition is public health. Drugs are dangerous. They cause harm. So should be banned. For me this throws up at least one glaring hypocrisy; why aren’t drugs like cigarettes and alcohol subject to the same prohibitions as MDMA? Both cigarettes and alcohol have significant health risks associated with their use. Yet they are both freely available. For me the distinction between drugs that are banned and those that are not is arbitrary. And because it arbitrary it is inevitably motivated by something else. Something entirely political. Prohibition isn’t about public health. It’s about public control. Boiled down to it’s essence I am compelled to make the argument that prohibition is a form of oppression. An oppression that is inherently cruel and demands the destruction of anyone who opposes it. Faced with this insight it seems to me Adam’s only moral action in the story is to resist prohibition. Ultimately this leads him to become an insurgent in ensuing civil war. But for his arc to be fulfilled his opponents need to articulate the conflicting points of view present in the war on drugs. So Adam’s opponent is prohibition. But prohibition is too nebulous a concept on it’s own. We need to see it as something concrete. We need to see it both as an institution and as a character. Actually it needs to seen through a number of characters on all sides of the issue. As an institution prohibition organises society against those who take drugs. It is the laws prohibiting drug use. In Carrion it is the “Code 10” laws that stop convicted users from getting the medical attention. It is the sanctions imposed on those who help users. It’s a social pressure best described by the maxim; if you’re not with us you’re against us. But the institution of prohibition is only the backdrop to Carrion. It’s what Truby describes as the story world. It’s unrelenting cruelty is personified by the drug eating insects that attack users. They are the ever-present sanction prohibition imposes on the citizenry. They can’t be argued with. Which ironically articulates prohibitions intransigence. You take drugs you die. As an opponent the insects attack Adam indirectly through Christine. While they force him to take specific actions that contributes to the moral argument of Carrion. Adam’s real opponent, the opponent who challenges him directly, is Reiner. He’s the “character who wants to keep the hero from achieving his desire.” He’s the one who tries to stop Adam from saving Christine. But as Truby points out “a true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire but is competing with the hero for the same goal.” This point throws up a question. What are Adam and Reiner really competing over? Adam’s desire is to save Christine. Reiner wants to see Christine dead. But he knows the insects will do that for him. He could just wait. Let them do their job. So if Adam and Reiner aren’t competing for Christine’s life. What are they fighting over? Adam’s desire represents a threat to Reiner. It confirms a fear that there is someone out there willing to challenge prohibition. At the core of the conflict is a fight over the the kind of world they live in. They’re fighting to have either a free society or a secure society. Let me explain. One of the primary arguments for prohibition is that drugs represent a threat. Not just to public health but to our security. Users are dangerous. Dealers are criminals. Drugs tear at the very fabric of society. Prohibition is the tool that keeps us safe. The irony is that prohibition is more of a threat to our public safety than drug use. But that is the subject of another post. Getting back to the point. What if prohibition doesn’t protect public health? What if it’s a form of oppression? Then the choice to take drugs amounts to demand for freedom over a notion of security. Deep down they’re fighting for a world of freedom or oppression. Another of Adam’s opponents is his sister Christine. If Reiner articulates the voice of prohibition Christine gives us the users point of view. Her strength in the story is her ability to attack Adam’s prejudices. Without her Adam would not begin to see the dangers of prohibition. He would not begin to see the oppression. His desire to save his sister is his call to arms. Whatever he may think of drugs and those who take them. Christine makes him see prohibition as something that need to be challenged. The final opponent to challenge Adam is Sexton. He is prohibition as seen by the dealer. In an earlier post “Adam’s immoral action” I contemplated another of Truby’s tenants. “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.” 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”. Only through his conflicts with Sexton does Adam start to behave in a moral way. Structurally Sexton enters the story half way through. Adam has gone as far as he can with his initial course of action. And has failed to save Christine. Then he meets Sexton. An unrepentant drug dealer who is willing to challenge prohibition by taking the fight to them. Sexton’s actions challenge Adam’s immoral action. Forces him to realise the only moral action to take against prohibition is to fight it. Structurally this collection of characters is what Truby calls a four cornered opposition. The system not only allows the moral argument to be fully explored. Each character articulating a different set of values. Attacking Adam’s great weakness in a different way. But because they are not only in conflict with Adam but all the other characters in the story the amount of conflict jumps exponentially. And finally by pushing each of their values to the extremities of the four cornered opposition they all become as different as possible from the other three.