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Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc: The Secret to Crafting Extraordinary Screenplays (Professional Media Practice) [Paperback]

Dara Marks
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Feb 2009 Professional Media Practice
'In the beginning there was Syd Field. Then came McKee and Vogler. Now there is Dara Marks. Marks has long ranked among the top screenwriting theorists, now her teachings are available to everyone.' Creative Screenwriting 'Offers fresh insights into screenwriting structure, enabling writers to hone their craft and elevate their art.' Prof Richard Walter, UCLA Screenwriting Chairman 'This is a book you can read with each script you write, as both guide and inspiration.' Lisa Loomer, Screenwriter, Girl Interrupted and The Waiting Room 'Destined to become a classic.' Scriptwriter magazine Inside Story offers the most important advancement in screenwriting theory to come along in years. This innovative method for structuring a screenplay is designed to keep writers focused on the heart and soul of their story so that plot, character and theme create a unified whole. Marks' method offers an easy to follow template for story construction, helping the writer to identify what the story is actually about: the thematic intention. It then uses the internal character development of the protagonist as a vehicle to drive the thematic intention and the line of action within the story.

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Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc: The Secret to Crafting Extraordinary Screenplays (Professional Media Practice) + Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: A & C Black Publishers Ltd (13 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408109425
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408109427
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 13.2 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 390,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Dara Marks is a leading international script consultant and has worked with most major Hollywood studios and many independent filmmakers. She is based in California and offers workshops, seminars and script development services.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"Inside Story" is probably the best book ever written on the 3-act structure, and highly recommended reading for any screenwriter. Dara somehow manages to push the 3-act structure beyond its natural limits and breathe life into the formula. The book's only weakness is her nearly fundamentalist 3-act worldview which makes some of the content prescriptive. Dara breaks down films such as "Romancing the Stone' and "Fugitive" and explains how they work and what doesn't - sometimes the cure is more driven by how Dara thinks the perfect 3-act film should look like than reality - I'd rather have a few films with a 'flawed structure' to mess up her perfect 3-act universe than every filmmaker following the tenets of this book. If you want to write a perfect 3-act film, this is the book for you; if you struggle with the confines of the 3-act play, you can still read this and learn a lot, especially from the way she connects the theme to the film's structure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well laid out and clear 7 Mar 2013
By Kim38
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dara Marks has produced a very good book on how to write a screenplay. Her critique of film amplifies what is good and what is to be avoided when writing. A must have book if you are wanting to write.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 4 Jan 2013
By mr m
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It will educate, influence and inspire one to start to writing. Most books are the same in way or another, this just makes everything applicable as if you were have a private class with a teacher would not only understands film but the human condition.
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2.0 out of 5 stars I only liked the explanation about the A 6 Sep 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Don't buy it. Save your money for the "Save the cat" books. This one is not worth buying it. I only liked the explanation about the A, B, C, conflict. The rest is not worth reading it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
89 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book on Character Transformation 6 Feb 2007
By J. Bland - Published on
Unlike most books on storytelling (I've read over 200 books on the subject), Marks doesn't spend most of her time rehashing and embellishing Syd Field's Screenplay, instead she turns her attention to some of the stickiest problems writers face --character growth, character flaws (because they seem to undermine rooting interest) and thematic resonance.

Part of what makes these problems sticky is that prior to Marks's theory, it was difficult to determine if these non-localized problems had been handled properly. Indeed, one didn't even know what questions to ask of the first draft.

On the other hand, it's easy to address localizable problems - is the hero committed to an external goal at the first act point, does the hero encounter escalating external obstacles in the second act, and does the hero succeed or fail in the third act's climatic battle.

As a script analyst for CAA, DreamWorks, and Fox, I've encountered hundreds of scripts with the same problem: the hero either doesn't have a clear character arc or the character arc is tangential to the climactic scene. (Writers often select an arc they can connect to the romantic subplot therefore they most often choose to have the hero move from fear of intimacy to embracing intimacy even when it's irrelevant to the thematic spine of the story.)

Though these scripts felt wonky, I was unable to diagnosis the above problem until after I'd read Marks's superlative book. Marks presents a simple test to determine if a character has a compelling arc - if the character could have engaged in the climactic battle at the beginning of the script, then the character hasn't grown or been transformed by the story's journey. In her lexicon, the character has only had a "really, really bad day at the office." This, of course, is enough if the external action is iconic and engaging (Apollo 13 - her personal whipping boy --, Predator) But the fact that one can craft marketable stories that don't display character transformation doesn't mean one ought to. If one does, it seems to me, it should be a conscious aesthetic decision - not technical laxity.

After reading Marks's book, one will understand how to do something remarkable - create a character that changes in front of the reader's/viewer's eyes. With this power, the writer can then decide whether a given work requires a character that transforms or would be better suited for a static character(Marks herself gives two instances where static characters are preferable -- Groundhog Day and Forrest Gump).

Marks argues each of us tend to hold onto calcified ways of being (our fatal flaw) until we decide to embrace change, moving toward the borderland - "a place where new consciousness is beginning to dawn, the place where we emerge from darkness into light." More than her insights on craft, Marks's book provides a lens through which we can view our own need/inability to change, for our characters face the same problem we face as writers and human beings.

I read the following with tears in my eyes: "If we chose to rise to the challenge, then we will inevitably engage a new part of our inner being in the struggle. As a result we expand and grow toward the fullness of our true nature. However, if we run from or avoid the challenge, we will remain stuck at the same level of existence - doomed to continually re-engage the same challenges until we finally rise above them or are destroyed by them all together."

Having shown the importance of character transformation, Marks goes on to connect character flaw to thematic resonance. In the same way writers lacked a method for depicting character transformation before Marks, they also lacked a method for embodying themes in story. Thankfully, Marks provides a method (I know methods aren't sexy, but when intuition and luck fail, a method is exactly what one needs!) that connects her insights on transformation and character flaws to illustrate how writers can make their themes "material, visible, and discernible."

In short, Marks provides a breathtakingly practical approach to some of the thorniest elements of storytelling- elements that before her seemed beyond formal analysis and resistant to practical solutions. Like Aristotle's Poetics, McKee's Story, Truby's Anatomy of Story, Freeman's Creating Emotion in Games, Marks's Inside Story is indispensable.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL Book! 19 Mar 2007
By SIP productions, Gillie - Published on
I am a professional screenwriter who has written 16 scripts over the past 12 years, each with a different method. For example, one script took 4 days and another took three years and let's not even mention the whole re-writing processes. I finally realized that in order to create more quality stories effectively I needed to create a method that would work each and every time I write. Dara's amazing book revealed to me how.

While reading the book I sold my first feature script entitled "Of Boys & Men". The movie starring Angela Bassett, Robert Townsend, Victoria Rowell and Faison Love is being filmed in Chicago this month. The re-write process was arduous to say the least but once I began applying Dara's thematic structure to it, the story went from good to great. Needless to say, everyone loved the revised script including Executive Producer and Star Robert Townsend who told me he is singing my praises. My writing career is officially launched!

I have now created a method, my method, to be used EVERY time I develop a new story using Inside Story techniques and am actually revisiting all my completed works to improve them as well. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc changed my life and my writing in the process. Thank you Ms. Marks!
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INSIDE STORY: A TRANSFORMING BOOK 27 April 2008
By C. J. Singh - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
[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
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Screenwriting Book I've Read So Far 18 July 2008
By Jack B. Nimble - Published on
It's hard to describe books like this to other writers without getting a dismissive look and claim that texts like this are simply paint-by-numbers methods that are, in their eyes, cheating.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. This book is a blueprint to the dramatic engine, but it forces YOU to create and supply all the moving parts.

I've ready my fair share of screenwriting books over the years. For me, this has been the most helpful. It has helped me refine a process that I can now apply to any story I choose to undertake.

Can't recommend this enough.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Works! 30 Jan 2010
By Larry Chambers - Published on
Because I'm basically lazy and because I had attended one of Dara's programs I didn't think I needed to read her book. Boy was that a big mistake. I have been struggling with writing a memoir for 15 years. Let me explain I'm not a star struck hopeful writer. I make my living as a writer and have 50 published books to my credit, but I would get busy and set the one book I wanted to finish aside. Then by chance I revisited her book, thinking that just maybe I really didn't understand my theme. So I sat down and read Inside Story - The Power of the Transformational Arc in one evening then revisited my story and saw all that the problems that kept stopping me were easy to fix; Becuase my theme was off center I kept going off in the wrong direction.

After studing her suggestion I rediscovered my book's theme - that truth supports life, and that which is false destroys it. My subject was really about surviving family shame. I had it about growing with dyslexia. Once I understood my external goal (survival) I then had my plot. Once I uncovered my internal goal (validate my intelligence) I had my subplot. Once I saw my protagonist needs then I was able to define the conflict of my story and suddendly everything just dropped into place.
If you are reading this review Dara - thanks a million! I didn't get any of this from Robert McKee Story seminar that I have taken twice and who I had considered the master.
Larry Chambers - [...]
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