K.M WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (5TH PART).

And we’re back! and we already have all of the ingredients that we needed for our story to take off, remember?

We had all of these ingredients:

  • A prison setting.
  • A selfless character inspiring new hope by achieving teamwork amongst criminals.
  • An antagonist who considers prisoners as inferiors and pins them against each other to profit.
  • A contest/challenge in which prisoners compete with the false hope of achieving freedom.

To add originality, we changed the original idea, keeping the core elements, and the result was something like this:

Our prison setting is in fact some sort of reality show in which participants live in a small town with their families. But they can’t escape from this town under the death penalty.

Our protagonist is a selfless and skillful person who get’s trapped inside this town, where he and other prisoners have to participate in a series of challenges, either to win or to survive, in order to maintain their families, to earn their food. Failing to do so means they must die, but a participant has the opportunity of choosing a family member to die for them, this will keep them in the game.

The one participant who wins all of the challenges can opt to become the new warden of this prison town and can even choose to free all of the participants (who are mostly criminals). But to do so, they all have to face the current warden of the town, a former prisoner who feels the need to punish criminals and who’s comfortable with his power position.

Now, according to K.M. Weiland’s theme template, we should move into the second key element of the first act, the story’s small introductory truth. Because all of the elements we’ve placed before this are part of the specific manifestation of the big lie. All of these previous elements feed a single idea:

  • Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

In this prison the only hope is to win the challenge, but the current warden will make sure no one wins so he can keep his job. So the hope that the situation arises is a false one, due to the fact that there’s no way the warden is letting anyone win.

So, what is the small introductory truth?

To answer this question, we need to start by stating our big truth and our specific truth, which were:

  • If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

The objective of the small introductory truth is to slowly open the protagonist’s awareness of the lie. This means that we have to find a way for our protagonist to understand that beyond the false belief that “hope can make you suffer and waste your life”, there’s a small chance of surviving, of being free once again.

If I were to guess, I would say that the protagonist has to accomplish something early on, something that wasn’t expected, maybe even something anyone has ever done before. By doing this, he would prove that the warden’s tight operation is not ready for him, that he can actually go beyond what’s expected, what the antagonistic forces are prepared for.

What can this be?

How about if the first challenge is impossible to beat, prisoners who participate can only hope to survive for a fixed amount of time. Let’s also say that this initial challenge is especially hard as it’s needed to kill many people at first, so the reality show rating quota is secured.

How about if the protagonist not only manages to figure out the challenge, but he’s also able to save as many people as possible. This would give us another important element in the story, all of the participants who listen to him are saved and all of those who don’t, those who fight on their own, are killed. Do you get it? this is the inception of the protagonist’s rise as the leader.

Okay! I think we have our small introductory truth. It’s comprised of the following elements:

  • An unsolvable puzzle challenge.
  • The almost certain possibility of dying for most of the participants.
  • The need for this to happen for the warden’s program to have a great start.
  • The protagonist skillfully solving this puzzle and the saving of many.

Now, to properly choose the correct puzzle challenge and especially how our protagonist is going to solve it, we first need to know him better. We need to understand who this person is, we already know that he’s a selfless and skillful person, yet we need to know specifics if we’re going to be able to tailor the challenge to him. And as you correctly guessed, that’s exactly what we’re going to do next time, when we dive deep into the protagonist’s backstory, we’ll create him, we’ll be at his side, we’ll understand why is him the only one able to win this prison town sick challenge.

Until that time comes… Good luck in writing!

K.M WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (4TH PART).

Okay! so now it’s time to build the plot of our story, are you ready?

So far we have two main elements that are going to help us in this endeavor. The first one is the thread of information that we managed to articulate at the end of our previous endeavor, you remember?

We managed to build our protagonist as a skillful and selfless person, who has fear of change, and so prefers not to attempt to change the destiny of things.

The second element is our antagonistic force, which as I remember was something like this;

A prison, ruled by a person who considers criminals to be less than ordinary men, not subject to the same rights or respect, especially from the prison guards he commands.

We can already see the conflict building in these two sentences, a selfless person against another who considers prisoners to be less than ordinary men.

As the two of them collide it is guaranteed that sparks are going to fly. Just think about it, our protagonist is bound to consider everyone as his equal, while the antagonist will surely engage others from a superior position, right?

Now, according to K. M. Weiland’s Theme template, our next step would be to define the first act, using the manifestation of the big lie.

Do we even remember the big lie?

Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

Okay, Weiland tells us that, at the beginning of the story, the big lie will manifest in a specific message that is either urging the protagonist toward the want (in our case; to escape from prison) and/or is presenting a direct obstacle to his ability to move towards the need and/or want.

Let’s take the first scenario. A message urging the protagonist toward the want. Now, we had previously talked about “to escape from prison” being the concrete want, fueled by a more abstract take on it, remember?

That more abstract idea for a want was something like this:

To find meaning in life.

Now, considering that our big lie is “hope makes people suffer and waste their lives“, which message emerging from it could push a skillful and selfless person, who has fear of change, and so prefers not to attempt to change the destiny of things, towards finding meaning in life by escaping from prison?

Let’s start by saying that, in our story, the destiny of things can be summarized as suffering and the waste of life through the false hope of leaving prison, right?

This means that the setting of our story is a prison in which a warden (main antagonist), a person who considers prisoners as livestock, has some sort of sick game or contest which involves the false hope of leaving, of achieving freedom.

This contest gives prisoners the manifestation of the big lie, a sort of sick version of hope that makes them suffer and waste their lives to entertain people and make the warden a rich person.

And I know, I know. This plot sounds a bit cliché. But before you go judging this freestyle version of plotting a movie idea, let me remind you that plot templates are often similar as structure and goal-driven narratives go, yet is in the execution where we will often find originality.

So, let’s try to add some of that sought-after originality, okay?

Our plot template would be something like this:

A skillful and selfless person, who has fear of change, and so prefers not to attempt to change the destiny of things, gets trapped inside a prison where the warden, a person who considers prisoners as livestock, has some sort of sick game or contest which involves the false hope of leaving, of achieving freedom.

In essence, what we’re saying is that our protagonist is a person who is inclined to accept his destiny because it allows him not to experience the fear that defines him, and that he gets trapped inside a prison in which staying or accepting his destiny will only get him killed, because destiny inside this prison is to participate in a contest where prisoners compete in such a way that they suffer and risk their lives, driven by false hope of winning the possibility of escaping from this place, just to entertain a lot of people and make the mayor richer and more powerful.

Now, to face such a challenge, many prisoners would opt for fighting by themselves, adopting an individualistic approach to the matter, kinda like the antagonist’s position, remember?

“Our protagonist is bound to consider everyone as his equal, while the antagonist will surely engage others from a superior position”.

So, we already know that, to win this battle, the protagonist is going to have to break this false belief expressed in the big lie, that hope makes you suffer and gets you killed, which is what happens when you participate in the challenge and it’s also the antagonistic approach, which permeates in all of the prisoners who fight by themselves.

No, no. The protagonist will face the issue with his own version of hope, which comes from his selflessness. He will aid others instead of hurting them, he will seek help instead of stabbing someone in the back, he will build a new movement, a new way of thinking, a new hope.

Okay, so with all these elements in our plate:

  • A prison setting.
  • A selfless character inspiring new hope by achieving team work amongst criminals.
  • An antagonist who considers prisoners as inferiors and pins them against each other to profit.
  • A contest/challenge in which prisoners compete with the false hope of achieving freedom.

Here comes the originality.

Let’s say that the prison setting is in fact some sort of reality show in which the participants live all together in a small town, even with their families. Problem is, they can’t escape from this town, trying so would probably mean being shot in the head.

Let’s also say that, to maintain their families, these criminals have to participate in a series of challenges, either to win or to survive. But here’s the twist, if they fail, they have the opportunity to sacrifice one of their family members to keep participating, but if the participant gets killed every member of the family dies too.

Here’s the catch, the one participant who wins all of the contests can choose to become the new warden, and by doing so, they can choose the new rules of engagement, they can even choose to free all the prisoners.

So yes… the antagonist is a former winner!!!

I think we’re ready to try a logline now, what do you say?

It would be something like this:

A selfless and skillful person gets trapped in a prison town, where he will have to unite all prisoners to survive a sick challenge, involving the sacrifice of family members, to win his and everyone’s freedom.

That’s it for today, next time we’ll continue writing this story, which I have to say it’s becoming a true epic! We already have the introduction of the big lie, now we have to dive into the next part of K.M. Weiland’s template, the small introduction of the truth, which we already hinted at!

Until that time comes, good luck in writing!

K.M WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (3rD PART).

And so… here we are. And don’t be surprise by the ominous feeling we’re getting here, cause this time we’re diving deep into character development, probably the most painful and self reflecting part of the writing journey. Yes, it’s time to tackle the personal aspect of our story, about our protagonist and by consequence, of any other character in our roster.

It is time to talk about the Ghost/Wound.

But before going to crazytown, let’s make a quick recap of all the progress we’ve made so far, shall we?

First, we have our:

Big truth and character-specific truth:

If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

And…

Big lie and character-specific lie:

If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Then, we chose escape from prison as the thing the character wants, and, “to understand that his actions not only reignited hope inside him but also gave hope to others, shifting the balance of injustice inside prison” as the thing the character needs.

Now, to understand how a proper Ghost/Wound works, and by that I mean it works for our story, we have to think for a moment about the thing the character needs. If we have a character that has to learn that “his actions can reignite hope for him and also give hope to others” we’re also talking about a character that has lost hope in the first place, but also, a character that can inspire others.

Taking these two ideas we can say that our character has something special about him, something that can inspire others, but it seems that they can’t see this at the start point, given that they have to learn this truth as part of the story objective. So, let’s ask ourselves, which type of character has no hope because they can’t see who they really are. Maybe this character can accomplish amazing feats but fails to see value in himself, so much that they need to be put in a catastrophic situation to learn their true value.

Here’s where the Ghost makes its appearance.

Let’s define this value first, right? so we can talk about the same thing moving forward.

The Ghost is a motivating event in your character’s past that represents the moment and reason the lie first took root in their life. The lie you say?

Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.

What we’re saying here is that something happened in the character’s past that makes them believe that experiencing hope is a dangerous thing, so much that in having hope they think suffering and death are inevitable.

Let’s say that, as a young boy, the protagonist lived in a war zone, where his mother takes the hopeful decision to stay at home, while all the other families fled because she had the hope that her husband would return to them as promised and couldn’t leave him behind, because of hope. And so, father never arrived, by enemy soldiers did, effectively killing her and the protagonist’s sisters.

From this point forward, our protagonist holds the belief that experiencing hope will inevitably lead to suffering and to the possibility of being killed.

Now, this Ghost from our protagonist’s past has produced a Wound on him, and wounds need to heal. Before you go on asking how can a wound heal, and I tell you right now, the answer is right there in the proposition, let’s talk a bit about it.

So, What’s this Wound thing exactly?

A wound is an aftermath of experiencing the ghost, it is often expressed through some fear that the character tries to avoid at all cost. Because of the traumatic nature of this experience, the wound acts like a defensive mechanism that prevents the character from being hurt again, but it also prevents them to overcome the experience and have a better life, beyond fear.

It is expressed as a personality trait (or a group of them) that protects the character from being harmed and maintains some control over their experience. At the same time, the wound makes the character see reality from a distorted point of view that prevents them from seeing the truth.

In our protagonist’s case, the wound of having lost their family over hope, their belief that experiencing it can lead to suffering and death, can be summarized in “fear of change“. What do I mean by that, I mean that the character will prefer to accept things as they come, building a comfortable and protected life, free of risk or gamble, to actually avoid the need of experiencing hope for better things. As long as the character stays “imprisoned” in his own lack of hope, they will at least not experience any suffering and will avoid death.

Now, what type of character traits can encompass a character that’s experiencing fear of change?

  • They will choose to not get involved emotionally.
  • They will not have an opinion on things that can cause backlash.
  • They will prefer enclosure.
  • They will not be as open as to trust others.
  • Etc.

Are you getting the idea? Okay, as you can see, a ghost from the past produces a wound that the character needs to overcome to have a proper life. Until then, they will keep suffering on their own accord, which summing up an external conflict and goals to achieve can make up a real recipe for disaster.

But, do not despair yet, because not everything is lost for our protagonist. Remember that at one point we talked about something special about the character? because the truth is that our protagonist can inspire others, to give them hope at the same time they discover it for themselves.

Now we’re talking about the Basic Action, which is also thought about as the “character’s weapon“, an ability or set of personality traits that have a positive impact and that can help them achieve their goal towards the truth.

And you know what’s the most incredible part of this Basic Action/Weapon?

Most of the time, the protagonist has it but, because of the Ghost/Wound/Lie situation, they can’t see it in themselves. That’s why they need to go through the ordeal that the story proposes, to understand their true value, to change the perception they have about themselves.

In our case, what could be the Basic Action of our protagonist?

Maybe this lack of hope leads them to be selfless, maybe even brave or painfully honest. Maybe lack of hope gives them a clear perspective on human affairs, the information they could use to achieve things. Maybe a life without hope has to lead them to be skillful not to rely on others.

To keep our story going, let’s say our protagonist is a skillful and selfless person, who has fear of change and so prefers not to attempt to change the destiny of things.

And that’s it for today! Next time we’ll use all of the information we have so far to start building our plot.

Until then, good luck in writing!

K.M Weiland’s TEMPLATE to create the backbone of a story using THEME (2nd part).

Okay, so last week we managed to find our story foundation using the theme template, remember? And making the effort to keep these ideas in mind while moving forward will make a ton of difference in the end product, I promise you that.

So, let’s continue!

But first, let’s make a quick recap of our previous endeavor, shall we? What we have so far is:

Big truth and character-specific truth:

If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

And…

Big lie and character-specific lie:

If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Let’s think about our statements for a moment. Because, as we said before, contained in these sentences lies the conflict in our story. What we have here is a struggle between two POVs about the same idea, HOPE.

Does hope give you a reason to live or is it just an illusion that leads you to waste your life and suffer? This is the core movement of our narrative, solving this question is the goal of the protagonist’s journey and the reason for his change.

So, if the answer to this question is the goal for the character, that’s another way of talking about their want, which is our next step in K.M. Weiland’s theme template.

The thing the character wants

This one is a tricky fellow.

Theory indicates that the want is a representation of a larger, more abstract desire (e.g., to be loved), but it manifests as a concrete plot-based goal for the protagonist.

Remember our previous question?

Does hope give you a reason to live or is it just an illusion that leads you to waste your life and suffer?

Now think about it, what kind of person would be questioning themselves about these things? Let’s say our protagonist wants to find meaning in their lives.

Now, to find meaning in life is an abstract, larger desire. Let’s try to bring it down into a concrete plot-based goal. To do this, we need to at least know a bit about the setting of our story, because, at this point, we’re talking about actual plot elements.

Now, where do we find more specific information about our story if we haven’t written anything plot-related yet? As you remember, we do have a piece of specific information, our character-specific truth, and lie.

  • Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice.
  • Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.

Some elements are already talking to us about the setting of the story, words like injustice or killed talk to us about the genre, about tone, right?

If our abstract, larger desire is to find meaning in life, using John Truby’s levels of desire lines we can land on our plot-based goal:

Desire line                                       Plot-based goal

Survive                                              Escape from prison.

Take revenge                                   Kill who wrongfully accuses you

Achieve something                        Achieving changes in the legal system

Explore a world                               Travel against all odds

Catch a criminal                              Stop the person destroying your life

Find the truth                                  Clear your name from false accusation

Gain love                                          Find love against the wishes of society

Bring justice and freedom           Liberate people from injustice

Save the republic                            Over-throne a corrupt government

Save the world                                Defeat an alien invasion.

Okay, for the sake of simplicity let’s choose “escape from prison” as the thing the character wants, so we can move into our next stop in K.M. Weiland’s Theme Template!

The thing the character needs

As the character goes through the plot and execute actions to conquer obstacles in their way to the goal, they will also learn some truth about themselves. This is what’s often thought of as the thing the character needs, which is to understand/change/overcome some aspect of their own lives.

Ultimately, we’re talking about an understanding of the truth (specific to the character) but it’s also usually represented by a more concrete and specific outer-world objective.

In our story, the thing the character wants is to escape prison, as they do so (or try to, anyway) they will inevitably face some harsh realities about themselves. What if they have to leave someone behind to achieve a certain goal? What if they have to betray an ally? In their drive to gain the thing they want, the protagonist will come to understand the limits of their morals, how far are they willing to go. In doing so they will eventually come to terms with some deep truth about themselves that will change them and their lives completely.

So, how can you choose the thing the character needs? In a way you already have it, yet it’s expressed as an outer idea. Yes, it’s the character-specific truth.

  • Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice.

But, how can we express this idea in a way that speaks about our character and give us a sense of the plot?

Let’s recollect the information we already have.

What do we know about the character?

Well, we know he’s in a positive arc (refer to the 1st part of this topic if you didn’t read it here), which means they will start the story in a negative position, given by the character-based lie:

  • Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.

Okay, so what do we know about the plot? As we stated before, the setting of it is a prison, and the thing the character wants is to escape from it, right?

So, what truth can a person, who deep inside believes hope can get you killed, need to escape from a prison, from which they were unjustly imprisoned?

Taking into consideration that our theme revolves around hope, and that the character-specific truth is “hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”, we could say that the thing the character needs is:

  • To understand that his actions not only reignited hope inside him but also gave hope to others, shifting the balance of injustice inside prison.

Thus, making their last movement towards escaping, inevitable.

As we will see in our next session, the thing the character needs still needs some fine-tuning and we will use the Ghost/Wound to do so. Until then… GOOD LUCK IN WRITING!!

K.M Weiland’s TEMPLATE to create the backbone of a story using THEME (1st part).

I’ve been studying story structure for some time now and I have to say, this is predominantly in screenwriting theory, that almost all the time, the learning process focuses on two aspects, the character’s main goal, and the plot. Current writing methods and available courses tend to revolve around the protagonist and their journey. Seems obvious, right? But, taking this route don’t be surprised if you end up with a series of disjointed events happening to someone for some reason.

Why is this? You may ask, well, I would say it’s mostly because there’s a misunderstanding about what the theme is and what is its impact on the story as a whole. Put it simply, the theme is everything, the characters, the events happening, even the decoration in the walls is a reflection of a core idea, repeating itself infinitely and giving the spectator a sense of “patterns” appearing again and again, talking to them about an idea the author is trying to convey.

Now ask yourself, but be truly honest about it… How can your story resonate with the audience if you don’t know what you’re talking about? Because you may come up with a plot that “makes sense”, especially if you’re reflecting on movies you’ve already seen. Maybe you’re telling yourself “I feel this is talking about something”, you may even feel there’s a pattern here and there, that’s great! But are you really in command of what’s going on? Are you discovering something intuitively or are you designing something like a creator?

Is there any way to be sure?

Of course! That’s the whole reason we’re talking about this, and K.M Weiland is here to give us a hand. In her book “Writing your Story’s Theme” she presents to us a template which we can use to figure out our story, but not using plot beats or prefixed structures, but by choosing our theme and using it to figure out these patterns, because these patterns are glimpses of the truth, we, as authors, want to convey.

So, let’s dive into this template as we also try to come up with a story to support the idea that it works!

The template goes like this…

Story’s Big Truth (main theme)

Your core theme idea is expressed as a premise. The universal principle of the story.

Example: Hope gives people a reason to live.

As you can see, it works best when you establish it as an intentional statement.

Story’s Big Lie

The flip side of the coin is the opposition to the big truth.

Example: Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

Now, as you can see, by choosing these two general aspects of your story, a theme expressed as a Big Truth and a counter theme expressed as a Big Lie, what you just did is define the conflict in the story.

This is important because, from this point forward, every time you’re thinking about conflict…

  • Characters you choose and their involvement in the story.
  • Character dialogues.
  • Plot beats.
  • Setting
  • Etc.

You have to keep in mind the decision you initially did with the Big Truth and the Big Lie. If, when adding something to the story, you’re not talking about these core elements, you’re drifting and wasting time and space.

Okay! Are you getting the idea? I hope you do. Let’s bring our initial statements back for a moment:

  • Big Truth: Hope gives people a reason to live.
  • Big Lie: Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

The template continues with…

Character’s specific Truth:

It’s any of the characters you choose a specific version of the Big Truth, and it’s specific regarding your story.

Example:

Main character’s truth:

“Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

Character’s specific Lie:

This is one of the most important elements of your story, period. It is also known as “the lie the character believes”. It branches from the character’s ghost/wound and it’s the seed of their want, which is the pillar of the plot and the antagonist and the setting. So yeah, this may be the most important information you’ll use to build your story, so treat it as such!

But hey… ease up a bit on the pressure, is not like you’re putting all your life at risk by choosing, right?

Remember the Big Lie?

“Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.”

Normally, the relation between the protagonist and the antagonistic forces depends on the type of story you want to convey. From a character POV there are only three types of stories:

  • Positive Arc Story
  • Negative Arc Story
  • Flat Arc Story

We’re not going to talk about them at this point, let’s just state that according to our main character’s specific truth, we can infer that we’re dealing with a positive arc.

So, if we’re dealing with a positive arc, we have to start our journey from the polar opposite, from a negative place.

Now, what could be the negative of…

“Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

                                                                          Maybe…

                                                                                         “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Look closely…

The relation between the Big Truth and the Character’s specific truth is stated like this:

If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.

Now, let’s do the same with the counterpart.

If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

Great! We’ve already designed the core idea behind our conflict, the engine upon which all of our decisions and plot making will be based.

Next time we’ll continue our exercise, using Weiland’s template, to go deeper into our story, building upon this strong foundation and moving into more specific details that slowly but surely will help us deliver a powerful story, keeping our theme always in the back of our head as guidance in this treacherous journey of fiction writing.

A QUICK REVIEW of the 4 most important CHARACTERS in a STORY.

Thinking about the theme of a story, there are many ways to go about finding and choosing the characters that will traverse the plot in order to shape our premise through their respective arcs. So, what better than to review the 4 most important characters you’ll ever use in storytelling to wrap up this whole character/theme chapter.

Let’s do it!

But, who are these important characters we’re talking about?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • The sidekick
  • The love interest

Now, let’s quickly review them one by one, first we’ll go about those who we’ve extendedly discussed in previous entries, so we’ll just briefly discuss them.

  1. THE PROTAGONIST: represents the main thematic principle, meaning that their emotional journey, which is also the main engine of the story, culminates in the realization of the thematic truth.
  2. THE ANTAGONIST: Represents the flipside of the protagonist’s thematic principle.

Okay, so we already knew a lot about those two, but what about the others?

Let’s see!

3. THE SIDEKICK: Proves the value of the protagonist’s thematic principle, mostly through reflection, which is important because of its differences from the protagonist and makes a strong argument as to why the protagonist has to fight and win.

4. THE LOVE INTEREST: Functions as an impact character, someone who guides the protagonist. They do this by symbolically rewarding (drawing nearer to) or punishing (drawing away from) the protagonist, depending on how aligned the protagonist is with the story’s truth.

That’s it!

And just to give a proper ending to this topic, let’s remember that characters often work not towards a real solution but to a perceived solution. Also, characters frequently grapple with a problem that is ultimately recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.