30 Days With Aristotle And Me

The Famous Greek Philosopher Helps Me Finish My Screenplay…In One Month?

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Day Seven – Thinking

November 16th, 2009 · No Comments · Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, Day Seven - Thinking

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters I’ve read one chapter per day from Tierno’s book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters. Some of what I’ve gleaned is new to me despite my years of writing and reading dozens of screenwriting books.

Perhaps the biggest tidbit I’ve learned is this: “The perfect Plot, accordingly, must have a single, and not (as some tell us) a double issue.” (Aristotle’s words)

The author’s explanation:

Aristotle argued way back when that using subplots was a bad technique in dramatic writing, and it’s STILL a bad technique in screen writing…Abandon the concept of sub-plots.

A bold statement that runs contrary to anything I’ve seen or heard before.

What the author – and Aristotle – seems to prefer is all activity leading to and pointing to one major theme and one primary person: the protagonist. So, sub-activities, perhaps. But not sub-plots.

The author calls the theme that runs through and defines the movie the ACTION-IDEA (always in all caps in the book). The author writes:

ACTION-IDEA, or “mission statement,” is really the foundation of the entire screenplay. Aristotle teaches us to think of ACTION-IDEA as the IDEA of a story. Aristotle is fanatical about the need for our stories to be about action, about action that is larger than life itself and greater than the persons who partake in it. Your ACTION-IDEA…must be a simple summary of a story, strong enough so that why it’s expanded into a complete screenplay, it will hold and move an audience.

Examples of the author’s ACTION-IDEAS, followed by two more quotes from his book:

ROCKY – ROCKY desires to be more than a bum from the neighborhood and tries to accomplish this in many ways. He gets offered a chance to fight the champ APOLLO CREED, and decides he only wants to last fifteen rounds to prove he’s not a bum. He trains for the match and does last fifteen rounds.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY – Professor KEATING inspires young students to live for their dreams, which causes them to start a poetry society. One boy, NEIL, defies his FATHER and takes up acting, then kills himself when he’s transferred to military school, which causes KEATING to get fired. The boys stand on their desks and honor their teacher as he exits.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB– Five stereotypical high school students, a BRAIN, an ATHLETE, a BASKET CASE, a PRINCESS, and a HOODLUM, are sent to Saturday detention. After initial tension and arguing they open up to each other and discover each has similar alienations, problems with parents, and difficulty living up to their stereotype. This day changes each of them, causing them to realize that they are not that different from each other.

GLADIATOR – MAXIMUS, a brilliant Roman general, refuses to honor COMMODUS, and is sentenced to die. He escapes execution, and becomes a slave, a star gladiator, and returns to Rome to avenge the murder of his family by COMMODUS. He kills him in the arena after being mortally wounded in the back by him, restoring Rome to the senate as he dies.

Quote from book: A simple plot expressed as an ACTION-IDEA will galvanize your screenwriting.

Quote from book: The lesson Aristotle teaches us is this: make your ACTION-IDEA the driving force behind every scene and the subject of your story. Make your main character take the lead in such a tight unified plot action, which is both logical and compelling.

Interesting stuff.

I’m not sure how to apply what I’ve read. But I do know it’s uniqueness has sidetracked me somewhat as I assimilate the new information. ACTION-IDEAS I get. They’re brief summaries, sort of like expanded loglines. But other aspects of the author’s interpretations of Aristotle’s Poetics leaves me with my mouth agape.

So all I can do is close my mouth and get back to writing.


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