Monday, June 17, 2013

How To Structure a Story Around a Large Problem, Step 11: The Spiritual Crisis

The Conventional Wisdom:
  • What’s marks the transition from the middle to the end, or from “Act Two” to “Act Three”?  Why is the hero now ready to solve the problem the right way?  Most storytelling gurus are vague on this point.  Joseph Campbell focuses on the “special weapon” and/or “elixir” found in the cave, but more often than not, that should read metaphorically…
What Human Nature Dictates:
  • …because the real secret weapon is self-knowledge.
  • The easy way tends to end in a disaster and loss of safe space, but trying again the hard way is no guarantee of success.  In fact, it often leads to yet another failure.  The difference is that, this time, our eyes are wide open, and we can see why we failed.  Now, we have to face the factor within ourselves that’s causing these failures.
  • On a Freudian Journey (a change arc) the spiritual crisis is the point where heroes realize they need to change.  On a Jungian journey (an individuation arc), this is the point where heroes realize that they have to be true to themselves.
What Writers Should Keep in Mind:
  • This is the usually the point at which the hero replaces his or her false goal with a true goal, and his or her false philosophy with a corrected philosophy.
Examples of Spiritual Crises:
  • The couple realizes that divorce just isn’t fun anymore in The Awful Truth.
  • The couple decide that they’ll probably split up in Raising Arizona.
  • After admitting he’s not Italian, Dave in Breaking Away visits his father’s quarry and admits he’s not really a stone cutter either.
  • Andy in 40 Year Old Virgin freaks out about selling off his action figures.
  • The heroes of Blue Velvet and Donnie Brasco realize how far they’ve fallen when they each hit a woman.
  • The heroes of Alien and The Fugitive realize that they’ve been betrayed by the people and institutions they believed in.
  • The Spiritual Crisis is quite literal in Witness when the cop and his Amish crush finally kiss.
Notable Exceptions (But Don’t Try This At Home):
  • Perpetual exception James Bond has no spiritual crisis in Goldfinger, but it’s notable that he does force Pussy Galore into a crisis of conscience at this point in the story.  This is similar to many TV shows, where the main character can’t change much, so he or she frequently helps the guest star go through a change arc.
  • In some rare cases, heroes have the spiritual crisis early: Hiccup in How To Train Your Dragon has his in the first act, and Sheriff Brody in Jaws has his at the midpoint where he gets slapped…
  • …even more rarely, they have one late: like Taylor in Planet of the Apes who doesn’t abandon his hubris until that famous last shot.
Next: Proactive Pursuit of the True Goal...

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