|Inside Story by Dara Marks is a book that can help you to write stories with real emotional depth and impact. It’s aimed at screenwriters but the advice can be applied to any story of any length. The transformational arc refers to how your characters change over the course of a story. But it’s not just change for the sake of change – it has to be meaningful change.
The key to creating meaningful stories is to understand how character shapes action, and how that process influences story structure. In other words, the external action of the story must be driven by the internal needs of the protagonist. If there’s no connection between the inner world of the main character and the plot, then your audience or readers won’t care what happens and the story will fall flat.
Dara Marks identifies three building blocks that make up the transformational arc: plot, character, and theme. You might think that plot and character are pretty central to your story, but it’s actually the theme that’s most important.
Plot reveals what the problem or conflict is and where the action takes place, while character focuses on who is trying to solve the problem. But theme provides the understanding of why this problem and the actions of the characters are relevant. It’s theme that makes your writing and the story meaningful and gives purpose to the actions of the characters.
To reveal theme in your story it must be attached to the actions of the protagonist, not just talked about in dialogue. The theme sets up the obstacles that the protagonist must overcome in order to achieve the inner goal of transformation. In most great stories, this transformation deals with recovering or healing lost parts of the self and returning to a state of wholeness or balance.
This means your protagonist must begin in a state of conflict within themselves or with their circumstances. This is revealed through the fatal flaw – a way of acting that goes against their best interests. In other words, the character needs to change but either doesn’t want to or isn’t aware they need to. It’s their resistance to change that drives the story. So the fatal flaw usually embodies a value that’s opposite to the value of the theme.
For example, in Dead Poets Society, the thematic point of view is the idea of seizing the day and taking control of your life. The internal goal for the characters is the need to be true to themselves, so their fatal flaws need to reflect the opposite value – to be false to themselves.
You can use this method of inverting the value of the theme to create characters and situations that provide endless creative possibilities for stories. The book gives plenty of examples from movies to show how it works in practice, and uses three films in particular to dig deep into how story structure works: Romancing the Stone, Lethal Weapon, and Ordinary People. It also goes into great detail about how the transformational arc works with the classic three-act structure.
But Inside Story isn’t just about writing stories; it’s about discovering more about yourself and why you write the way you do:
Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc is an essential book for all writers, whether for screen, stage, or novels. Working with this method will help you to express your unique point of view through your stories and infuse your characters with depth and subtlety. If you want to write great stories, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.
Discover more about the book and read an extract here. Or read my notes from Inside Story on the 3-Act Structure here.
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