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What's It About?

Banes at 12:00AM, Feb. 16, 2017
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ACT 2 - The Premise

It's about a guy who…

When we try to decide with our friends about seeing a movie, or surf Netflix for something to watch, or try to sell people on a movie/book/story we want them to experience, that's what we have to tell them. That's what a story hinges on. The Premise!

It's also the “Break into Act 2” where the Protagonist sets off on their path.

This is also generally what we're allowed to say and not be accused of “spoiling”. Sure, some movies or books are better with no foreknowledge at all, but as a general rule, we give the “break into Act 2” to explain to people what something's about.

And if we're writing something, this is how we explain it to people. I'm slowly figuring this out.

We don't describe the opening scene or the character's backstory in excruciating detail. People will quickly be put to sleep. We don't talk about the “low point” the character reaches or the moving final scene. That would be spoiling.

Once on the Duck, I talked about loving a certain scene in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Then I rewatched it and realized I'd cited a scene that happens in the last 60 seconds of the movie. Oops!

What we do is say “it's about a guy/girl who…”

I must admit, I don't break down all my stories this way. But the ones that end up working have usually been figured out, structure-wise. The “break into 2” is also where the Hero's world is turned upside down, compared to the life we've seen throughout Act 1.

It's about a poor lad who finds a magic lamp and is granted three wishes!
(Jurassic Park)

It's about a cop who's trapped in a building overrun by terrorists and strikes back!
(Home Alone)

It's about a teenager who is cursed by sex and will be violently murdered by a monster if she can't “pass the curse” to someone else!
(Ghostbusters)


The Break into Act 2 is really the second big “tentpole” or “turning point” in a story. After we see the character introduced in their “regular life”, something will hit them, a Catalyst that turns things in a different direction (in classic story structure I think this is “The Call to Adventure” or something).

This is the proposal of the client in a noir mystery, or the middle-of-the-night knock on the door in horror movies like The Strangers or Vacancy (gawd, I need more modern references).

After that is a delay, as the Hero hems and haws a little bit or we learn the “rules” that will be at play if the Hero goes forward.

THEN is the Break into 2. The hero usually makes some kind of decision at this point. That's what sets it apart from the earlier Catalyst.

The farm boy resolves to leave his home: “I want to go with you…and learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
(Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down)

Two ill-suited cop partners head out to solve their big case together
(Bum-Busters 2, 3, and 4)

–that was a line for you, ozone!

The Break Into Act 2 is not a montage, although a montage sometimes follows right after. This is the training montage in sports movies, or the “new relationship” montage in a romantic movie.

Even an episode of a series will have a “Break into Act 2” moment. Even COMMERCIALS have it. It's one of the essentials of story. One that I don't think I've ever talked about. And now I have!

Does this make sense? What are the premises for your favorite stories?

comment

anonymous?

KAM at 6:03AM, Feb. 17, 2017

Ozone - A girl and her mecha. ;-)

usedbooks at 7:39PM, Feb. 16, 2017

Much harder to do with your own work. Comparisons are an outside-looking-in situation.

ozoneocean at 7:05PM, Feb. 16, 2017

Pinky TA: ahhhmmm... I have no effing idea. It's a mess.

usedbooks at 1:26PM, Feb. 16, 2017

@Kim & Banes: I think because series are so long and changing, it is easier to compare them to things the person you're talking to is familiar with. I recently watched two Hulu series that were recommended by my sister. She described Lucifer as "Castle, but with the devil" and Miranda as "British Bethany" (a friend of ours). -- You know, it would be fun to do that with DD titles. I think I have.

Banes at 8:08AM, Feb. 16, 2017

@KAM - hahaha! Exactly!

Banes at 8:08AM, Feb. 16, 2017

@KimLuster - If I can sound like I know what I'm talking about, eventually I actually will! XD ...that's the hope at least... And I agree with you about comparing a story to other things to help explain it. That's a good method! "It's Annie Hall meets The Human Caterpillar!" ...Or is that 'Centipede'?

KAM at 6:44AM, Feb. 16, 2017

It's that one where they almost get off the island. - Archie makes a date with two girls on the same night. - Batman fights an evil clown. ;-)

KimLuster at 6:22AM, Feb. 16, 2017

Great article! You really sound like you know what you're talking about!! :D When I describe a story, I'll often mention an existing story/event the listener might know about and add a qualifier. The Expanse: 'It's like Game of Thones, but in Space!, or, for Game of Thrones itself (for history savvy listeners): 'It's like the War of the Roses, but with fantasy stuff and everything turned up to 11!'

Banes at 5:41AM, Feb. 16, 2017

@used books - ha! Good point - I wouldn't even try with most anime! I think a really good logline could capture the mood as well as the basic premise. That would be sophisticated indeed - and a good idea to figure out if one were writing a screenplay to sell, or a web comic or web series to promote!

Banes at 5:38AM, Feb. 16, 2017

@ozone - yeah, part 6 was a standout!

usedbooks at 5:15AM, Feb. 16, 2017

Although, my favorite descriptions try to capture essence/mood rather than plot. I tell people Lupin III is basically Bugs Bunny if he was a human cat burglar.

usedbooks at 5:13AM, Feb. 16, 2017

Interesting. Makes me think of TV Guide descriptions. Btw, never attempt to explain the premise of an anime or Jrpg to someone. You will sound insane.

ozoneocean at 12:20AM, Feb. 16, 2017

Fascinating! 😁 That's so true! I recognise that in films and stories in general. I don't know if I do that in my own comics because my writing is so neophyte though... Loved the movies references! Bum busters 6 was the turning point in the series though, totally reinvented the genre.


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