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Thursday, January 04, 2007

DMc posts the new, famous story of the guy who leaped onto the subway tracks to save someone else. He didn't think about it. No time. It seemed like the right thing to do, so he did it.

Could you ever get away with a scene like that in a screenplay? Possibly not. We want to know why characters do the things they do. Yet people don't always know why they do the things they do. Yet movies exist partly to help us understand the events going on around us -- movies help us make sense of our relationships.

You could get away with this if it were the precipitating incident. Man saves someone else, that puts the two of them together, putting in motion a series of unexpected consequences. A man is stalked by the woman he rescues. A man is repeatedly helped by the man he rescued, but he doesn't want the friendship, it's too weird. A man becomes famous for saving someone else, but doesn't know how to live up to that one moment where he was a hero -- now everything else seems too mundane -- and his life falls apart.

If you're going for a very realistic and "loose" tone to what you're writing, it can sometimes be extremely effective to have an unexplained moment. A very human inconsistency on the part of one of your characters. So long as you're not doing it to get your character off the hook -- so long as it causes interesting complications -- it can work. You'll know it when you see it. You'll ask your character to go one way and she'll go another way. Go with it, see where it leads you. You can always go back to the logical choice in the next draft.


The reason that wouldn't quite work in a script is that it doesn't fit into a plot arc. If it's something he didn't think about, something that just came spontaneously, then it was great but not really interesting. It wasn't a solution to a problem. It was just a moment of action.

It's hard to imagine his story, if that is the heart of his story, filling up a movie. If a character had been in danger for over an hour, and then another guy swoops in and saves the day, it would seem cheap. Maybe if the character's dilemma could be something deep and ongoing, then a momentary crisis, then a miraculous rescue that also indirectly solves the bigger dilemma... maybe.

By Blogger Andrew, at 4:22 PM  

Hmm, but it could be a solution to the problem of what to do with the character who's been jilted at the altar - a failed heroic rescue attempt ;-)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:24 PM  

"You could get away with this if it were the precipitating incident." Like maybe if the guy who fell on the tracks went into a coma and the girl who rescued him pretended to be his fiancee?

By Blogger Vlad Tepes, at 11:20 AM  

Wasn't HERO with Dustin Hoffman and Geena Davis essentially just that?

I guess, it can, and has been done.

"It wasn't a solution to a problem. It was just a moment of action."

I'm sorry? A guy on the tracks about to get hit... isn't a problem?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 PM  

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