Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Theme-Plot Integration Part 12 - Tom Clancy Action-Romance Formula

Theme-Plot Integration Part 12 - Tom Clancy Action-Romance Formula
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

---------Just a quick commercial first ----

Learn about weaponry to be included in the story-driven, cross platform, science fiction RPG Ambrov-X, taking my Sime~Gen Universe ahead into the Space Age.  Click this link to see an image.


You can sign up for the Newsletter on that page, or just "Like" the Facebook page:

News is posted on Facebook every week, and there will be more news in September.

Meanwhile, it's very instructive to watch how a project like this game (which incorporates many aspects of film writing) is created. I expect it will have nuances of Action-Romance, but keep in mind, as one of the authors of the novels (with Jean Lorrah), I have little to do with the real work.  Others are playing in my universe -- eerie feeling!

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Previous entries in the Theme-Plot Integration series:





So I re-watched the famous Harrison Ford movie based on the Tom Clancy novel, PATRIOT GAMES.

That's free to Amazon Prime customers, so go watch it.

There's a principle in skills acquisition as old as the Hippocratic Oath: "See One; Do One; Teach One" -- but works the other way around, too, Teach, Do, then SEE!!! 

When you've attempted to teach something, then after that DONE it again yourself, suddenly you SEE things you'd never seen before, or had seen but not understood exactly.

Here's what I learned from an old movie.

There is a whole NOVEL tucked up between the scenes of a Movie!

And in fact, that's actually how life works.  There are lots and lots of things going on between the things that happen, and when you assemble all the details of your life, you can find a pattern.

There's research that shows that people see patterns where there are none -- that randomized dots are assembled into patterns by the human brain just because we are pattern seekers.  We are emotionally invested in, and predisposed by survival lessons, to seek meaning in things, even where there is no meaning.

In other words, we impose meaningfulness on randomness because we prefer meaning.

With that clue in mind, a writer can arrange the PLOT EVENTS of a story (or more likely re-arrange them, during a heavy re-writing session) into a PATTERN that will convey a different meaning to each reader/viewer.

Or think of it this way.  We use fiction to project our inner preferences for meaning (theme = meaning; the moral of the story) onto what seem to be events in a "real" life.

Tom Clancy novels sold like crazy and all got made into top drawer, big budget, feature films because he found a way to arrange the events in his stories that allowed the books to be made into films, and even more people saw the films than read the books.

His method is an old, tried and true, tread-worn method that even you can learn and use, and if you do use it, you will eventually be stunned by seeing it in other people's works.

It works for readers and viewers because it does replicate real life.  See my posts on Astrology, especially the ones involving PLUTO TRANSITS.  Pluto transits are drama, and the events of Patriot Games are arranged to replicate Pluto transits.


METHOD: "rising action" is the technical name for this pattern.  Each bit of "Action/Violence" is bigger, louder, more personal or intimate than the last, all the way to the Resolution/Climax action.

In Patriot Games, it starts with Witnessing a drive-by assassination attempt. 

Then the principle action/hero (Harrison Ford, who else?) takes a hand in preventing the assassination.  But this first violent event is a Co-incidence.

 (see the correct use of co-incidence discussion



The loving couple with one child on vacation in London just HAPPENS to be on ground-zero of an attempted royal family assassination by the IRA. 

You can kick off a plot with a co-incidence, but you can't resolve it with a co-incidence.

So this first meeting of the two elements that will conflict to generate the plot is a co-incidence.

However, the THEME is revealed as we discover why this co-incidence is somehow providential or karmic.  Paul Ryan (Ford's character) is a teacher now, but he was a CIA analyst.  He retired, and is glad to be shut of the CIA.  He's happy and wants to get on with living a normal life.

But, as he says later, he just got MAD, angry -- field operatives aren't supposed to do that.  Bad form.  But he got mad, and dove into a situation he didn't comprehend.  He tackled one of the assassins, grabbed his gun and shot another assassin dead.  One got away in a getaway car driven by a long-haired redheaded woman.  The police rushing into the scene seeing Paul Ryan with a gun in his hand and a guy dead make the obvious assumption.

The royals in the car (there was also a bomb that blew up one car) obviously come down on Ryan's side of the story. 


At the trial, we find out that Ryan is getting a Knighthood out of his rescue.  And we find out that the guy who got put away in jail is the brother of the guy he killed.  These are tough-guys.  Ryan knows he's not shut of them. 

But he takes his family home, and goes on with his teaching life until, on TV, he sees that the guy who got put away in jail has escaped from a transport (we see first hand the tough-guys breaking the brother out of the transport Van and executing the escort - flames and blood.)


Going home from work, the IRA guys attack him, but he gets away after a fist fight.  He twigs to the danger his wife and child must be in, and frantically drives across town to catch up to them.

BUT - Paul Ryan is caught in traffic when a plume of smoke goes up in front of him.  HE KNOWS -- but he's at a distance from that action, after his minor, personal skirmish.  We saw the violence -- he didn't.

SKIP - wife and child in hospital -- skipping through most of the worry-scenes that most writers would make a novel out of.

OK, that's the last straw.  He goes back to his CIA job as an analyst working on catching these guys.

He twigs to the red-headed getaway driver woman being the key to catching these people.

STATE OF THE ART (at that time) gadgets and orbital photos let him launch a commando attack on a LIBYA training camp (Syria is mentioned - you should watch this movie and remember those years).

They get all but one of the bad guys.

The Royals that Ryan saved get invited to his house for a party celebrating his daughter getting out of the hospital.  HIGH POINT emotionally, all's good.  (Clancy signature for the turn into Act 3)

There's a rat in the house, and an attack from outside takes out all the security guards accompanying the royals while a murder happens inside the house. 

Paul Ryan's MONSTER IN THE HOUSE climax (see the SAVE THE CAT! books for the genre "Monster In The House") -- it's the hair-raising personal-space invasion element -- note how this movie goes from the distance of something happening to someone else that the hero voluntarily involves himself in all the way to his own house being invaded.  Clancy's formula is to start at a distance and approach the personal. 

But this isn't horror.  Ryan is an action/hero protecting those he LOVES.

The romance is happening outside the action here -- he was "courting" his wife in London, there's a scene where she tells him she's pregnant just before the attack that puts her in the hospital but she doesn't lose the baby, she hated the CIA gig and won't stay with him if he goes back, he goes back, NOW when the bastards invade her house she tells her husband/lover who has wooed her back into love that he should do anything he has to to get those bastards, and he does exactly that.

In the best action-romance the romance is the action.  Here they are separate but entwined, which is a Clancy formula.  The Romance is the sub-plot that adds emotional dimension and makes the bad guys misdeeds "personal" bringing out the heroism.

So the final action sequence is all about sneaking around a dark coastal mansion-sized house on a "dark and stormy night" -- climbing up into the attic and out a window and down sloping roofs, running for your life from a monster in the house. 

Meanwhile, the royal is trapped in the cellar and fighting more bad guys.

Paul Ryan fakes a getaway in one of the two (nice white against the dark waves) boats brought by the assault-group's, and the bad guys chase him as he drives the boat out alone, his family "safe" on shore. 

The bad guys Group is after the royal, to kidnap and hold for ransom, but the brother of the guy Ryan killed is after Ryan.  After a fight, Ryan kills the bad guy.


Remember we looked at dramatic use for Poetic Justice here:


In the hand-to-hand fight on one boat (which is on fire), the bad guy attacks Ryan with a zig-zag bladed boat implement, probably an anchor.  Ryan knocks it out of his hands.  They fight all over the burning boat, in the lightening lit rain, racing over the waves with nobody at the helm.  Then without Ryan's actually seeming to plan it, he finally hits the bad guy and the bad guy falls on the points of the anchor and is impaled -- hoist on his own petard -- poetic justice.

Meanwhile, the boat runs aground and the rescue helicopter (sent when the security guys with the royals didn't check in) spots the boat which runs aground.


House full of police and security, with Ryan, wife and kid wrapped in a blanket -- safe.  Bad guys all gone. 

Actually, that's a great place to start a Romance since he's got to woo and win his wife all over again.  She has to come to trust that he won't do this again -- next time coincidence makes him mad.

Watch that movie again, and note the CUTS -- and what you assume is happening between scene.

On a screenwriting Group on Facebook, I was in a discussion of methods a writer uses to CUT A SCENE -- scenes should be about 3 pages max. 

This movie is a great example of how to cut scenes to size.  SKIP!!!  Let what happens between be implied, imagined. 

Remember, above I mentioned that research on how humans project patterns onto random fields of dots?
The action-scenes in this movie are 'dots' - the SKIPS spaces between.  They aren't random or intended to be random.  If you're following the story, you know what happens between a car crash and the pacing the waiting room floor in the hospital scene.  But you know all that because you expect there to be a pattern to these events, and you know the template of that pattern (ambulance, police, etc).

But none of that "stuff" is actually there on the screen.  It's the pattern you are imagining and imposing on the dots.  Likewise, the pattern of dots I've shown you here, from distant and impersonal 'action' to up-close-monster-in-the-house-very-personal 'action' -- an ordered sequence -- is imagined.

Look at the movie and see what pattern you see in those dots.  But be especially aware of the spaces between the dots.  There are whole novels tucked up in there. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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