Creating Conflict

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Can’t we all just get along?

Conflict is a crucial part of every story. It’s the driving force that moves the narrative forward. Without conflict, there can be no story.

How do you create conflict?

Where does it come from?

On today’s episode we look at three different sources for conflict in a story:

  • interpersonal conflict
  • environmental conflict
  • inner conflict

Listen to Episode #31 – mp3iTunesStitcher

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

star warsStar Wars: The Force Awakens takes the franchise in a fresh new direction. With a dash of lens flare and more than a hint of genius, J.J. Abrams has managed to create a fascinating blend of new characters, exotic locales, and non-stop nostalgia that delivers a higher concentration of dopamine than scientists ever though possible. It’s enough to make you forget the prequels altogether.

I had high hopes for this film and I’m happy to confess that despite some questionable creative decisions and a few unexpected but really not that unexpected plot twists, Episode VII does not disappoint.

Ok I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but I just couldn’t wait to review it anyway. Listen to the review below.

What Is Theme?

creekTheme is not an easy thing to pin down. You might be tempted to think that theme doesn’t matter, but theme can be a helpful tool in finding out exactly what it is you want your story to focus on.

On today’s episode we look at how theme can become a driving force in a story. It can and should be the big unifying idea that brings all the disparate elements of a story together.

Listen below or download it on iTunes.

Why Spoilers Aren’t So Bad

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Can you spot the influence character?

I have two new episodes up on the podcast just dying for you to listen to them.

Episode 21 – Influence Characters

The best way to challenge your main character is not necessarily through plot. It’s actually through another character. In this episode we discuss how to bring out the best from your protagonist by bringing them into contact with a conflicting worldview embodied in another character.

Episode 22 – Spoilers Are Overrated

The internet was made specifically for spoilers. But what if spoilers aren’t really that bad? What if good stories can’t actually be spoiled? On this episode we talk about why spoilers don’t matter as much as we think they do.

The Geography of Story

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Geography has a huge effect on characters and their decisions. In this week’s episode of Story Punch, we’ll be looking at the following questions;

  • Can geography be a character?
  • How does a single location movie work?
  • What about exotic or fantasy locations?
  • How can geography help convey emotion?

Here’s an excerpt from the episode:

All stories require geography. 99% of stories have characters who exist within the confine of space and time. They exist within three dimensions and therefore the story must deal with that space they live in. Whatever environment you choose to put your characters in will greatly affect their decisions.

If you put two characters in a sports bar, they will probably have a very different conversation than if you put them in a library. One context will push them toward joking and laughter, another context toward hushed whispers.

A politician character at a press conference will reveal much different things than that same politician in his bedroom. Same character, different geography.

Where your characters are helps defines your story’s potential. Certain things happen some places that can’t happen otherwise.

I hope you’ll give it a listen!

The Hobbit Trilogy Is Almost Over

hobbitI’ve written tens of thousands of words on the Hobbit trilogy. It truly appears that there is nothing left for me to say about it. But it’s not over. Not yet.

As all True Hobbit Fans know, the movies aren’t official over until the extended edition comes out and we are nearing the release date of Peter Jackson’s last Middle Earth extended edition. (The digital edition arrive October 20 while the Blu Ray arrives November 17).

What does this mean?

I don’t know. A lot of the narrative weight of the trilogy rests on the last film. The first two films in the series raised a ton of questions about the questionable nature of Thorin’s quest, the significance of the Arkenstone, possible necromancy in Dol Guldur, and Smaug’s political alliance with Sauron. Many of those questions got left behind as the tension between the different armies kicked into high gear. Characters were slain, including dwarves we had known for three movies, but their deaths didn’t quite resonate with the emotional impact many were expecting. It ended almost too soon.

The theatrical version did give us one final spectacular battle but curiously removed the main heroes from the heat of battle and had them split up to get killed off one by one.

The Dol Guldur subplot that has been years in the making resulted a cameo-filled battle that was both visually stunning battle and painfully short.

Even the signature Peter Jackson length was trimmed down to neat 2 hours and 24 minutes, instead of his trademark 3 hours.

The biggest issue however is that the third film was juggling way too many balls. It didn’t quite figure out how to integrate Tauriel, Legolas, Radagast, and Alfrid into the story naturally. It didn’t solve the mystery of the dwarven rings of power. It didn’t explain Thorin’s dragon sickness or even give him a heroic death. And it didn’t quite set up a satisfying link to the next trilogy.

I’m not saying the trilogy is a failure. I wouldn’t have spent literally days of my life watching, rewatching, and analyzing the films if I didn’t have an inordinate love toward them. But I have to wonder if there’s any way the extended edition could rehabilitate the parts of the installment that didn’t work out. Could the extended edition redeem the film? Will it sufficiently answer all our questions?

Probably not. What’s done is done. An extended edition will most likely be just a longer version of what we already have, not an actual reworking of material. We’ll get a little more here and there, an extra action set piece involving the dwarves, and hopefully a little more resolution for Thorin’s death in the form of an actual funeral, but it is what it is.

The Hobbit is an ambitious trilogy that had a lot of potential and actually turned out pretty great considering the conditions under which it was made (a stalled production that was suddenly rushed into existence with a reluctant substitute director with only three months to prepare), but those limitations really show up most in this third film. Although it’s a minor miracle that it got made at all, that doesn’t make the loose ends easier to swallow.

Even though the creative decision to split the films into a trilogy at the last minute didn’t result with a powerful conclusion to the story, it did give us more time with a stellar cast of memorable characters in a stunning fantasy world, three beautifully haunting scores, and 27 hours of behind-the-scenes features that are a masterclass in blockbuster filmmaking all by themselves.

I eagerly await the final extended edition and will be watching as soon as it hits digital shelves. The Hobbit Trilogy for all its flaws is still leaps and bound above most fantasy films and an enthralling ride back to Middle Earth. Even if the plot is shaky from time to time, the characters and the world they inhabit will continue to hold up for years to come. What will our final 20 minutes with The Hobbit be like? I can’t wait.

Action Scenes and Points of No Return

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In a world full of shameless self-promoters, what’s more needed than some shameless self-promoting? Well anyway, I have two new episodes up on the Story Punch podcast that I’d like to share with you today. And they are both focused on the same thing: learning how to tell better stories!

Episode 16 – Action Scenes

There’s nothing more thrilling than a great action scene. But there’s also nothing more tedious than a bad action scene. So what can make or break a good piece of storytelling action? In episode 16 I came up with a list of several important things every action scene should try to have:

  • a clear sense of geography
  • a swinging pendulum of who’s winning
  • a clear goal with wider implications
  • vulnerable heroes
  • character-based decisions
  • something never seen before

At the end of the episode, I give some examples of both good action and bad action.

Episode 17 – Point of No Return

In the next episode, I talk about points of no return. Here’s a quick excerpt:

A point of no return puts your story in a place where one character’s decisions will affect things in a big way, for better or worse. Every choice matters, every action has an effect. This is a powerful storytelling tool because it tells us that small actions can have big consequences. One person can make a decision with huge consequences that ripple out and affect everybody around them.

Thanks for indulging me in my little podcast round up. If you have any thoughts about the episodes or requests for future topics, send a comment my way!