Yves Lavandier’s book Writing Drama currently rates as the absolute favorite of our book reviewer Jack Brislee.
To give you the opportunity to delve into Lavandier’s amazing knowledge and insight, we will be publishing a weekly excerpt from the book.
Measuring up the obstacles
If the obstacles are too weak, the protagonist will be able to achieve his objective too easily, we will rapidly become bored and the story will not be credible. If they are too strong, the protagonist will be helpless and the story pointless.
Who needs to go to the cinema or the theatre to learn that a five-year-old child cannot repair a computer? Or that, as in Reservoir Dogs, a policeman who is bound to a chair, tortured and drenched in kerosene is powerless to escape? In short, the obstacles must be such that the protagonist can realistically hope to overcome them.
the spectator should be torn between hope and fear:
hope that the protagonist will succeed, fear that he will fail.
If we compare the obstacle with a wall, it must be as high as possible while leaving open the possibility of being scaled.
The point is that the spectator should be torn between hope and fear: hope that the protagonist will succeed, fear that he will fail.
The series 24 provides a good example of this balancing act. The protagonist, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), has to overcome a forbidding series of obstacles but succeeds thanks to his own resourcefulness.
The long climax of Lagaan, presenting a cricket match between Indian farmworkers and British soldiers, also swings brilliantly between success and failure, now giving rise to hope, now to fear.
Numerous other examples could be cited, both at the general and the local level, since one of the most basic characteristics of any successful work of drama is that it achieves a correct balance between the strength of the obstacles and the ability of the protagonist to overcome them.
successful drama achieves a balance between the strength of the
obstacles and the ability of the protagonist to overcome them.
This is why it would be wrong to suppose that this is an issue only in thrillers. A chamber movie, Take My Eyes, alternates superbly between hope and anguish in its story about a couple faced with the problem of domestic violence. Moreover it does so with hardly an ounce of violence, a considerable achievement at a time when more and more films resemble snuff movies.
Similarly, in Hotel Rwanda, the protagonist (Don Cheadle) does everything he can to save a thousand Tutsis who have sought refuge in his hotel, the scales tipping back and forth constantly between hope and fear.