[The oddity "by Dara, Ph.D. Marks" above was generated by the amazon review system, not me]
"INSIDE STORY: The Power of the Transformational Arc" by Dara Marks, Ph.D., is unique. I know of no other craft book that has as much power to transform the storyteller's craft-knowledge as well as the storyteller's self-knowledge.
Dara Marks introduces the transformational arc of character as "the challenge to grow and evolve as we face the trials in our life. ... In the film industry and in the literary disciplines, this concept is widely used to indicate the need for interaction or interrelatedness between plot and character development. ... It is a second line of structure that is wrapped within the structure of the plot. It is, quite literally, the story that is found inside story" (p 6).
The book comprises two parts, five chapters each: "Laying a Strong Foundation" and "Building the Arc of Character." The book's highlights, chapter by chapter, are as follows.
1. In the Beginning: The Word. "Story is not the passive experience we perceive it to be. Instead, it is as essential an activator of our internal development as any experience we have in real life" (p 18). Well, some stories more than others. The author extols "Star Wars," "Goodfellas," "Tootsie," and for a negative example cites "Apollo 13."
2. Plot: Lights, Camera, Action! "It is the theme that makes our writing meaningful. It opens up the story's inner value system, so that writers can make conscious connection with what the story really wants to communicate to them and through them" (p 27). "Whereas the plot carries the line of action, the subplot(s) carry the emotional and thematic content" (p 34).
3. Character: Getting to the Heart of the Matter. "The protagonist is the character who not only carries the external goal of the plot, but also the internal goals in the subplots" (p 61).
4. Theme: Defining Intention. "The actions of the protagonist serve the function of expressing the theme" (p 74). "Theme is based on what a writer believes and believes in. This is the writer's unique voice, distinctive point of view, and, above all, what is personally valued" (p 75). Although Dara Marks doesn't use the terms premise (Lajos Egri, Syd Field) or the moral premise (Stanley Williams), that's what she means by her term "thematic point of view."
5. Fatal Flaw: Bringing Characters to Life. "The fatal flaw is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness" (p 114). "Identifying the fatal flaw instantly clarifies for the writer what the internal journey of the character will be" (p 116).
6. Inside Structure: Swimming in the Deep End. "There are three primary plotlines in a story: a plot and two subplots. In the film industry, the plot is referred to as the 'A' story" (p 158). The 'B' story is the subplot "where the internal conflict is developed" (p 160). The 'C' story is the subplot where "the relationship conflict" is developed (p 162).
7. Act I: Fade In. "Utilize the first twenty pages of your script to clearly set up the conflict in all three storylines" (p 192). At page 25 of the script introduce a turning point, "an escalation of the conflict that turns the story in a new and unexpected direction, substantially raising the stakes for the protagonist" (p 200).
8. Act II -- Part One: What Goes Up. "As things continue to worsen and become more frustrating, the ego strength of the protagonist will begin to break down. This is part of the essential function of exhaustion: Where there is a breakdown, there is potential for something new to break through" (p 232). "At the midpoint of the 'A' story something happens that shifts the external action out of resistance and points the protagonist toward resolving the conflict of the plot" (p 235).
9. Act II - Part Two: Must Come Down. At page 75 of the script, introduce the second turning point. "Think of the second turning point or death experience as the moment when the protagonist feels he or she has lost everything --especially all the gifts that came with the internal shift of consciousness at the midpoint" (p 264).
10. Act III: Down and Dirty. "If the second turning point is going to effectively push the protagonist toward a transformational experience before reaching the climax, then it is critical that the third act be the biggest challenge yet" (p 285). Finally, comes "the place in a story where the protagonist will be pushed to surrender those aspects of him- or herself that don't work anymore" (p 287). "This leads to a decision by the protagonist that is the pivotal event of the entire story. I refer to this as the transformational moment, because this is where the protagonist decides his or her own fate" (p 295).
Epilogue: "Great stories never really end; they take up residence inside us and live on in our thoughts, conversations, fantasies, and dreams. They are also a powerful influence over our beliefs, values, opinions, and perceptions" (p 325). Agreed hundred percent.
The book lacks a bibliography. The acknowledgments page begins with gratitude expressed to "my mentor, Dr. Linda Seger." But what about Syd Field's pioneering book "Screenplay," which popularized the paradigm of three acts with two plot points and a mid-point? (Linda Seger's "The Art of Adaptation" does list Syd Field's books, so that's indirect acknowledgment, I suppose.)
INSIDE STORY cites seventy-five films in all. The second chapter introduces three films, to be analyzed as case studies in the light of concepts explained in each subsequent chapter. The case-study films are "Romancing the Stone," a romantic comedy; "Lethal Weapon," an action thriller; and "Ordinary People," a character-driven story. Additionally, the book presents detailed analyses of twenty-seven films and briefly comments on forty-five more.
I would have liked to see at least a few international films discussed such as Satyajit Ray's "Devi" or Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding."
Five shiny stars to this book.
-- C J Singh