CP09 | The 4 Principles

So far I have completed my rough story and my detailed character profiles, but to ensure my story is successful I conducted further research into the principles of stories. In Ted Jones book Getting Started in Short Film Making he lists 4 principles which every story should address these include a clear structure, a sympathetic protagonist, the protagonists goal, and interesting obstacles (2012:p.14). Jones created a list of questions which creators of stories should answer before the writing process begins in order to fully understand the plot, below are the set of questions and my answers;

Clear Structure – A clear structure is needed to raise the central question of a story that needs to be answered.

  • Does the story follow logically? – Yes, it follows a linier narrative, starting at the beginning and climaxing at the end.
  • Does the audience have the necessary exposition early enough in the story to understand clearly what follows? – The external conflict (the Vietcong invading) is made clear within the first minuet through a soldier above ground explaining the situation.
  • Is there anything in the plot that is implausible? – No, everything that happens on screen is something that could happen in real life, even more so seeing as it’s a historical drama.
  • Does the conflict have great significance to the protagonist? – Yes, it will determine the outcome of his life.
  • Is the audience able to see the conflict? Is it internal or external? – The conflict will be shown through visual and audio elements that increase the tension throughout the film.
  • Does the conflict increase in intensity as the story progresses? – Yes, the film is about the tension that is built up, ending with the dramatic climax
  • Does every scene reveal new information about the characters or the main action of the story? – My story only has one scene, so not applicable.
  • Does the story reach an emotional and visually satisfying climax and resolution? – Yes, the ending of the film is when Sebastian breaks down into tears, therefore a shocking climax which will surprise the audience.

Sympathetic Protagonist – A sympathetic protagonist is needed so the audience can identify with them, and therefore be more involved with the story.

  • What are the needs of the protagonist? – Sebastian’s overall need is to stop the war but within the confines of the story he wants to escape the situation he is in alive.
  • What is the protagonist capable of doing? – In his circumstance not much aside from either giving up or trying to hold off the Vietcong as long as possible, this adds to the tension of the film as we are unsure if he will survive or not
  • Have you generated empathy, or a sufficient level of interest in your protagonist? – Yes, empathy is developed through his dialogue at the beginning when he talks about wanting to stop the war, also smaller devices will be used like the placement of a family photo on his desk.
  • Do you know everything you need to know about your protagonist? – Yes, the audience is aware he is a radio presenter, has a family and wants to stop the war. The only issue will be trying to portray the fact that he is an ex-sergeant whose past deeply troubled him, however the ending where he breaks down could allude to this.

The Protagonists Goal – The goal is the reason for everything the protagonist does.

  • Is the goal important to the protagonist? – Sebastian’s goal of getting out of the bunker alive without anyone dying is important to him, as it will A. determine the fate of his life, and B. determine the fate of his mental health (which comes crashing down at the end)

Interesting Obstacles – Interesting obstacles which the protagonist overcomes are needed to sustain the audience’s attention.

  • Are the protagonist’s obstacles interesting? – Yes, a standoff which builds up tension to a climax makes for an interesting story line. The obstacles Sebastian has to face hang his life in the balance which is enough to retain the audiences’ attention.

The answers for these questions gave me a fuller understanding of my protagonist’s goal and story line. By using Jones’s principles I can move forward to develop my story into a step outline, one that will form the foundation of my script.

Jones, T. and Patmore, C. 2012. Getting Started in Short Film Making: Expanded and Updated Edition for the Digiatal Generation. 2nd ed. London: Apple Press


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