Category: Story Analysis

Not only is Wonder Woman likely to be the best superhero movie of this summer, it may well take its place within the pantheon of truly great mythological sagas, reimagined for the big screen. It’s a coming of age story, it’s a love story, AND a story of female empowerment that goes beyond cliches. Add to all this, its heroine is a kick-ass beauty of rare panache and vulnerability. So this movie has a LOT going for it even before we get to the deeper levels of meaning which get me excited.

First, a little exposition. Our Wonder Woman, the Princess Diana of the Amazons, comes of age on a secluded island of female warriors, Themiscrya. Although they have been training for thousands of year, the island exists in total seclusion from the world, shrouded in a protective fog that has kept them untroubled by the modern world. Although they have been placed there by Zeus (as a kind of reserve army against the re-emergence of evil in the world) the story borrows heavily from Biblical lore – in which the father of all Gods banishes his son Ares, the god of war, over Ares’ jealousy of man (Zeus’ newest creation). If this sounds like Satan cast out of heaven, it is! Which I guess makes the Amazons either demigods or angels, depending upon your mythology. The point is: Ares is out create evil in the hearts of men and turn them against one another. And the Amazons are charged with stopping this. But apparently, they’re a little too well secluded. They’ve lived without men, they’ve lived without war or trouble of any kind. And young Diana comes of age, schooled to await a great destiny, yet having no idea what it might be. Like many a young prince or princess before her (Siddhartha, to name one) she longs to reach beyond her mother’s protection. She longs to fulfill her life. (more…)

Next month (April and again in June) I am teaching a class in Story Analysis at UCLA Extension. Teaching has given me a chance to revisit some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 20+ years of screenwriting, and foremost on that list are the principles of CHARACTER.

“A story starts with a character”

– Frank Daniel

Although screenwriters and many development executives tend to focus a great deal on concept and plot, every story is about SOMEONE. Even if that someone is a dog (Marley) or a pig (Babe) or a robot (Chappie) it is a story of someone’s transformation. Because transformation is what great stories are all about.

“I started here. I believed such-and-such. Something unexpected took me away from all that. It forced me to do what I had not done before. It forced me to become who I was not before. I am not the same person now, I am new.”

This basic story, what Joseph Campbell called the mono-myth, is the template that underlies every well-composed drama: The going out, the adventure, and the return as someone new, someone changed.

Whether that person’s transformation is one of character, or of circumstance, or fortune, or understanding –  (more…)