Taipei Suicide Story (2020)

Just by watching the initial 5 minutes of Taipei Suicide Story, I got immediately unnerved and had to reach a search engine to look for information. There was a question in my mind that needed an answer right away…

Are Suicide Hotels a real thing?

Turn out they don’t, but the sole idea of them being so completely changed my perspective on life. I think this is one of those what if… that better showcases the current state of human affairs. And I have to be honest here, I think that they shouldn’t be real for the most part, at least not in such an open way. I think killing oneself is a grave mistake, especially given the plasticity of the brain and our capacity to reinvent ourselves over and over again. Does society fail to provide meaning to us? Of course, but at the same time we are part of society I think, we are agents of meaning.

So, what do any of these ideas have to do with Taipei Suicide Story? Well, a lot actually! But let me explain. This short film (at 40 + minutes this is hardly short but anyways) by writer/editor/director KEFF, his second film so far, presents us with a setting in which suicide hotels are a real thing. Many people go to these places and they are allowed to stay only one night, by the end of which they can decide either to kill themselves or walk away. Following the protagonist of the story, a receptionist in this hotel, we get into a procedural mood all over the place. Workers go about the rooms of the hotel “cleaning” the place, which means taking out the bodies. Our protagonist doesn’t seem too interested in any of this and this proves to be his downfall. Just at the beginning, he has a chance to “see the truth”, when a repented customer comes to him to deliver the keys to his room, having decided to “give life another chance”. You can guess how the protagonist responds to this; he doesn’t care.

I’m tempted to imagine what could have been about that customer after leaving the hotel…

But anyway, the protagonist has another chance at empathy when a coworker tells him that one of the customers has been staying in the hotel for over a week now. Pissed off at the bureaucratic problem this situation poses, he goes to take charge of it all. It is then that his life changes 180° after meeting the woman living in the room. Her situation is simple, she wanted to kill herself but then decided against it, but still, she doesn’t want to live either. So, her only choice is to remain in the hotel. Not knowing exactly what to do, the protagonist gives her one last night to decide, either she kills herself or walks away.

From here on, the two characters get to meet and spend a significant amount of time together, initially because the protagonist feels guilty because of his inconsiderate way of acting, which quickly becomes interested in the woman, who doesn’t say much about her life and is more curious about this man who lives as if there was nothing bad going on. Yet the protagonist’s answers offer little comfort to someone lost of meaning, as he talks about the positive aspects of being a nobody, a regular whatever guy with a whatever life. The woman clings silently to some melancholic feelings as she chooses her last meal and they part ways with some sense of hope, as they both seem to connect on a sentimental level.

Yet every hope dissipates when the woman unexpectedly asks for a razor blade, asking the protagonist to deliver it himself into the room. And it’s here that the protagonist ultimately fails, as he’s given a new chance to change the destiny of this woman, yet some inexplicable fear of commitment, or perhaps his own failure to grasp a valuable meaning to life, impedes him from making a choice that could have saved both of them.

The offering of a helping hand. You can guess how the movie ends, nothing too hard to understand. I absolutely encourage you to watch Taipei Suicide Story and admire the simplicity of its presentation, the nakedness of its truth, and the masterfully created plot that keeps you hoping for something maybe you could not deliver yourself. In a sense, I think no one can walk away from this movie unchanged.

K.M. WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (8TH PART).

Hi there, it’s been a while since the last time we went into this amazing prison story and the sick challenge. Last time we built the second act start, an aspect of the truth acting as an antidote to the specific lie (a moment of truth). This time, we’ll go forward into K.M. Weiland’s theme template to write the first part of the second act.

The trials.

But what happens in this part of the story?

The protagonist gains a growing awareness of the truth, meaning, everything it will take to achieve the goal.

  • So, the first question would be, what does it take to achieve the goal, in the sense of a learning process?

I think, given the story so far, the protagonist needs to understand that he won’t be able to do it alone and that to do it with others he needs to regain hope, to inspire others to follow him.

Now, let’s remember that the goal of the story is to win the challenge and escape from prison. Okay, so the first part of the second act comprises the lock-in (the moment the character decides to go into the plot, which was our last endeavor) and up to the mid-point, where the character experiences a halfway truth.

So, a good question to ask is…

  • What is the halfway truth?

Think about it as an antidote to the specific truth, which was something like this;

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

Considering that idea, let’s say that a half-truth can be suffering because of hope it’s called living, and it’s okay because it keeps you moving forward.

Now, how does the protagonist learn this?

There’s one element that can help us here, remember that people regained hope because of him and also that there are people that have been here a long time, these are the senior prisoners and they have information others don’t have, specifically, information on how to stay alive (but not how to win).

How about if one of these prisoners is his father, the one responsible for the family’s demise in the past. He’s also a senior prisoner and has much experience in “how to stay alive”, but not much about actually living. If we can make him change this perspective after meeting the protagonist and also sacrifice himself to teach this lesson to him at the midpoint, voila, we have our first part of the second act.

We have to understand that, up to this point, the protagonist has been reacting to the prison setting and the antagonist by exposing himself, he’s not thinking about escaping, he’s thinking about revenge. So, in a sense the character is not fighting to free himself because he has no hope for a better future, he’s trapped in the past. At the mid-point, we need the character to distance himself from that past and we’re going to use a mentor figure to make this happen.

At the end of the last chapter, the protagonist was beaten up by the guards as a reprimand for winning the first challenge. He also had his first encounter with the antagonist, who doesn’t recognize him and lets him go, underestimating him. As we already know, because of the protagonist’s win, people in prison town regained hope and started talking again. But, seeing the protagonist comes back harmed after his victory, a question is raised; who will have enough courage to maintain hope? At this point, we should introduce our mentor, which is also the protagonist’s father.

The important thing about this part of the story is that the protagonist enters a learning phase, by which he prepares and acquires the “tools” needed to complete the goal of the story.

  • Escape prison.

And we already established that what he needs to learn is:

The understanding that he won’t be able to do it alone and that to do it with others he needs to regain hope, to inspire others to follow him.

As we know from previous installments, the protagonist lost hope after his father failed to show up in a war situation, resulting in the death of his mother and sisters. Because of this, our protagonist now prefers a lonely life and keeps hope away from his mind, which gives him a “coldhearted” persona. But there’s more because this coldhearted persona has a positive side, it allows him to analyze situations rationally and find the best possible ways to face them. Problem is, being led by the specific lie, the protagonist is only half of his true self and he’s also not realizing his full potential.

To make him face the lie he’s been living all this time, we need to make him confront the source, the father, while also making him learn what it takes to win the challenge, to escape the prison. The way we’re using the father, as a senior prisoner, gives us these tools because the father has valuable knowledge about how the prison town works and also because, in a way, he’s the one that caused the wound of the protagonist. What’s interesting here is that the father also believes in the specific lie, “hope can make you suffer and get you killed”. This is the reason he has survived all this time; it may also be the reason he didn’t show up that day in the past. Yet, seeing his son accomplishing the impossible, actually winning the first challenge, makes the father change. Deep inside he can now see the truth:

  • Suffering because of hope it’s called living, and it’s okay because it keeps you moving forward.

This means that the attitude of living by the rule “hope can make you suffer and get you killed” is not actually living, and having survived in the past while losing his family, and even surviving now inside the prison is not actually living. He may not need to say this, but the father has made his choice, he will rekindle hope inside his son’s heart as a final testament of his own life, a tribute.

Now, to build the first part of the second chapter we need to keep in mind our main plot lines:

  • The protagonist is on a revenge path, guarding no hope to make it out alive if it means killing the man who destroyed his family.
  • The protagonist’s father wants to help his son to escape prison to pay for his past sins, having understood that his viewpoint on life is wrong.
  • The antagonist needs the challenges to go according to plan to remain on top of the organization and keep the status quo.
  • People in prison town have begun to recover a long-lost sense of hope.

Let’s start from the top.

As we remember, last time our protagonist came back to prison town after being beaten up by the guards. People had regained hope and now they can see, yet again, what hope really means in this place. So naturally, they walk away, scared even to help this man who helped them just hours ago. But there’s one person who doesn’t walk away… you guessed right, the father. He obviously doesn’t reveal his true identity immediately, he presents himself as an interesting party and inquires about the protagonist’s objective, even offering to help in achieving this goal. Now, because the father already knows about the upcoming events, he issues a warning, to win the next challenge, the protagonist will need more than himself, he will need a team.

I understand that this might seem a bit “plot-driven”, but I want to explain. At this point, I want to open the story by introducing different characters that can reflect upon the theme while showing interesting characterizations, to enrich the story. It’s also fair to assess that the protagonist has met some of these characters in the first round, he must have found some interesting characters there, especially the ones that didn’t go into the maze blindly. Let’s say he even has one or two in his mind already, added to the ones the father is thinking about.

And so, the day of the new challenge arrives and expectations are high. There’s a new tendency on social media surrounding the event, people are betting on the protagonist, and they want to see him succeed. This poses a problem for the antagonist because he can’t have another prisoner win. He goes hard on the guards, on all the people in charge of the event to make sure this time things go according to plan, yet at the same time, he has to maintain a positive attitude towards the audience and their desires, which forces him to lose control, thus changing the status quo for the first time.

As we know, the new challenge is about teamwork and the stakes are higher than ever. Will the protagonist achieve a second victory? I guess we’ll find out next time, as we’ll go into building this second challenge and moving the plot towards the midpoint of the story. Until then, good luck in writing!

Margo’s Shadows TV Series Project (4th draft)

“Even if an endeavor built on lies seems to get off to a good start, the truth will always prevail in the long run”.

Logline.

Margo, a world-class procrastinator, has a chance at success by stealing the shadows of the talented, taking their abilities but causing turmoil that forces her to assume major responsibilities which could bring about the end of the world.

K.M. WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (7TH PART).

Okay! it’s time for the seventh part of our series about K.M. Weiland’s theme template. And I think we have an amazing story in our hands.

Let’s make a quick recap of the things we have so far!

We have a protagonist, who is a selfless and skillful person. A war orphan who becomes a killing machine, a person who has learned to gain new abilities fast to survive. Because of exemplary achievements during the war, he’s awarded higher education and chooses a medical career as he feels guilty for killing so many people. Yet, something strange happens, he gains fame for being “coldhearted” as he approaches cases with a clear mindset, “if a person is beyond saving it’s better not to attempt a procedure“ is his motto, which expresses the lie he believes, that in hope there’s only pain and death.

Our doctor protagonist gets accused of letting a patient die in the operating room. Worst, this patient is actually one of the enemy soldiers that brutally murder his family in the past. Yet, he doesn’t go to a regular prison, he goes into a prison town where he and other prisoners have to participate in a series of almost unsolvable puzzles, in order to earn food for their families. Failing a puzzle means death, but a participant has the opportunity to choose a family member to die for them, this will keep them in the game.

The winner of this prison challenge can opt to become the new warden of the prison town and can even choose to free all of the participants. But, our antagonist, the warden of the town, is a former prisoner and a stone-cold killer who feels the need to punish criminals and who’s comfortable with his power position.

The people in charge of choosing which prisoners go to prison town don’t have the information about our protagonist being a former soldier. They only know that he’s a coldhearted doctor who left a patient to die.

Now, we also stablished the way in which the unsolvable puzzles run.

A network of courses of actions (or ways to achieve a specific result), but they’re placed in a way that’s confusing and dazing and can only be surpassed using high military skills and/or gaining a new ability really fast, while being coldhearted.

And we said that “being coldhearted” means that one has to pass on the initial impulsive feeling of doing something and wait, analyze and reflect, in doing so you find patterns that weren’t initially available.

Okay! So, in our last session, our protagonist proves his worth by analyzing the problem in front of him. A puzzle in which prisoners have to escape a maze using strange collars with decreasing numbers on them. As the familiar waiting on the other side of the maze rants against him, thinking our protagonist has left them to die, he figures out the puzzle and runs towards the exit, saving not only his life and his familiar one, but everyone else still alive inside the maze.

This time, we’ll discover how the antagonistic forces respond to this incredible act of skills and guts, as our protagonist immerses himself fully into our plot.

Now, as we said in our previous session, the antagonist’s objective for this first challenge was to kickstart the reality TV show. For that to happen, they needed a great number of deaths inside the maze. But our protagonist prevented this to happen by solving the riddle inside.

While taking the decision to solve the puzzle and win the first challenge, what our protagonist actually did was to make the decision to go ahead in facing the dilemma presented to him, effectively starting the plot and the series of events which will lead to an inevitable resolution. His first win also represents the end of act one, as our character prepares to immerse himself fully into the conflict.

So, where to go from here?

According to K.M. Weiland’s theme template, we’re now entering the second act of our story. This time, we have to design the next step in our journey; “an aspect of the truth acting as an antidote to the specific lie, a moment of truth“.

As we came into our story, especially thinking about our setting, we have been surrounded by a powerful idea, that having hopes of surviving the prison town’s reality TV show leads prisoners to suffer and die while facing the sadistic challenges presented to them. In a previous session we also included the idea that the warden is completely against letting anyone win, because doing so would mean him loosing the power position he holds.

Let’s explore this idea, let’s say that prisoners, especially senior ones, already know that is impossible to win. Yet, they fail or don’t care to convince new members that is better to just survive, rather than to attempt to win. These senior prisoners have also become extremely efficient at surviving, they don’t care about winning, and they may even use newcomers to gain precious insight as to how to stay alive.

As such, we have two kinds of prisoners:

  • Newcomers.
  • Senior prisoners.

Now, our protagonist’s heroic feat has to have shaken more than one of these senior prisoners cages, right? Why is this so important? because one of them can become a powerful ally, a mentor even. Why is this so important? Remember our truth:

  • Hope gives people a reason to live.

Our protagonist still doesn’t have any hope for him, but his amazing victory has sent ripples of hope across the prison town. Families have started talking again, conversations now include a key element; there’s a possibility of winning this thing.

And what is that in a nutshell? Hope!

And what about our protagonist, what happened to him after winning?

As our current step indicates, this is the moment in which he makes the decision to fully immerse into the conflict, and as a result, he also fully immerses in his inner conflict between lie and truth:

  • Truth; If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.
  • Lie; If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.

So, let’s say that, after his victory, prison guards take our protagonist backstage. Not for a congratulation party, but to beat him up for ruining the first episode of the TV show. And you know what else, after the beating he gets to meet the prison warden, who’s eager to face the man who made a mockery of his plans. As the two characters meet, a shocking revelation transpires. The warden is no other than the senior military officer that ordered the killing of our protagonist’s family. Let’s make it worst, he was the one who first pulled the trigger. And even worst than that, he enjoyed it.

As the warden interrogates our protagonist, trying to understand how a simple physician was able to decipher and win the first challenge, our protagonist makes the utmost effort to keep his emotions hidden, inside he’s bursting with anger and murderous intent, but outside he remains calm. He doesn’t stop gathering information, doesn’t stop searching, grinding for an opportunity. Because of this, the warden makes his first mistake, he underestimates our protagonist’s capabilities, effectively letting him go after checking that the whole thing was just a stroke of luck.

The guards bring our protagonist, all beaten up, back to his house in prison town for all to see. Prisoners and families, both newcomers and senior ones, have had the day to taste the sweet nectar of hope. But, watching their new hero in this shape, how many of them will be strong enough to keep it?

Guess we’ll have to wait for the next time to know! One thing is certain, our protagonist has not given up, in fact, he now has a powerful reason to face the challenge ahead, the possibility of vengeance.

And with that idea, we end this chapter of our journey through K.M. Weiland’s theme template. Next time, we’ll be facing the first part of the second act, the trials phase, where our protagonist will gain a growing awareness of the truth. Until that time comes, good luck in writing!

K.M. WEILAND’S TEMPLATE TO CREATE THE BACKBONE OF A STORY USING THEME (6TH PART).

It’s time for the sixth part of our series on K.M. Weiland’s theme template. So, what do we have so far?

We have a protagonist, who is a selfless and skillful person, trapped inside a 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 winner of the challenge can opt to become the new warden of this prison town and can even choose to free all of the participants. Our antagonist is the warden of the town, a former prisoner who feels the need to punish criminals and who’s comfortable with his power position.

In our last session, we established the second major element of the first act, our story’s small introductory truth. Which 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.

We’ll also retrieve the first major element of the first act, the manifestation of the big lie:

  • Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

Which in our story is comprised of our setting, the prison town, and our antagonist, the warden, who offers false hope in the shape of a sick challenge.

Now, we need to design our unsolvable puzzle and the grand scheme of the prison challenge. But, to do so, we first need to understand our protagonist, because if he’s going to be able to skillfully solve this challenge, we need to give him the tools and abilities to do so.

So the question is… Who is our protagonist?

As always, let’s start our development by bringing forth all of the information we have available. We know that he believes that hope can make you suffer and get you killed and that this belief comes from witnessing the death of his mother and sisters. We also know that his wound is fear of change, with the following traits:

  • Chooses to not get involved emotionally.
  • Doesn’t have an opinion on things that can cause backlash.
  • Prefers enclosure.
  • Doesn’t trust others.

Lastly, we know he’s skillful and selfless and that these character traits are his primary weapons.

Now, let’s think for a moment. What type of person, who by the way is an orphan, develops the ability to show talent or adeptness (which is the definition of skillful)? I want to detain myself in the word adeptness, which means to gain an ability without difficulty. This means that our protagonist can learn and execute new abilities, perform learned abilities and overall learn at a staggering speed.

If we consider the fact that he’s an orphan, this means he has had to be competing with other kids from an early age. So, let’s say that after losing his family in a war situation (you can check that part here) he had to survive on his own, effectively escaping from enemy lines. Not only that, but being an orphan, our protagonist had to enlist in the army and return to fight the war. Imagine our hero coming back home, to the place where enemy soldiers killed his family, just because they had the hope of their father to come back. This has to be an iconic image in his mind.

So, what happens after the war? We have an orphan killing machine, a person who has learned to gain new abilities fast to survive. Let’s say that, because of exemplary achievements during the war, he was awarded higher education. He chooses a medical career as he feels guilty for killing so many people. Yet, something strange happens, he gains fame for being “coldhearted” as he approaches cases with a clear mindset, “if a person is beyond saving it’s better not to attempt a procedure“. You see what is happening? here we have the manifestation of the lie the character believes, that in hope there’s only pain and death.

Now, let’s toss our protagonist into the story.

How? Let’s choose our inciting incident!

How about this?

Our doctor protagonist, who has a coldhearted reputation, gets accused of letting a patient die in the operating room. Why? because this patient is actually one of the enemy soldiers that attacked his family in the past. Did he do it? Did our protagonist let his enemy die to take revenge for the death of his loved ones? We don’t know yet, what we do know is that a court finds him guilty and sentences him to prison. Yet, he doesn’t go to a regular prison, he goes into this prison town. This means that for the small introduction of the truth to be established successfully, we have to design the draft of participants blindly. What do I mean by this? the persons in charge of choosing which prisoners go to prison town can’t have the information about our protagonist being a former soldier. They only know that he’s a coldhearted doctor who left a patient to die.

And so, we already have plenty to design our unsolvable puzzle and the setting of the challenge, right?

We know that, in order to defeat the first stage we need:

  • To learn a new ability really fast.
  • Need to use some high military skills.
  • Need to be coldhearted.

We also know that our protagonist’s first objective is not only to win this challenge but also to save as many people as possible.

Military people usually learn abilities by procedure, this means that they mentally break a problem into small pieces and go about them in an orderly fashion. So maybe the challenge involves a series of steps. Taking into consideration that the overall objective of the story is to escape prison, let’s say the challenge objective is also to escape, this gives us the setting, this challenge is a maze.

So, what’s a maze?

There are two definitions we can use. A “network of paths” and  “dazed and confused“, in both cases the idea being “to find the way out“. Now, this is the interesting part, because of the word “path” which stands for “a course of action or way of achieving a specified result“.

So, the first challenge is…

A network of courses of actions (or ways to achieve a specific result), but they’re placed in a way that’s confusing and dazing and can only be surpassed using high military skills and/or gaining a new ability really fast, while being coldhearted.

But the thing is that being coldhearted to face the challenge ultimately means saving many. Do you feel some reminiscence now? Remember that our protagonist was accused of letting a patient die because of his coldhearted persona. What better way to test this idea in our first act than by making him face the same ordeal in our challenge! Not only to make him give us a clue as to what really happened in that operating room but also to state our main theme, that “hope gives people a reason to live” because he will become that hope by saving others.

Okay, let’s design our challenge!

As we already know, defeating the challenge gives the protagonist the possibility to save others. This means that solving the maze gives others the ability to do so themselves by understanding what needs to be done. We also know that you can die trying to solve the puzzle, but you can hope to survive because there’s a fixed time limit and that the objective of the challenge is to kill as many participants as possible to make the first round a successful one.

One key element that can help us now is the “being coldhearted”, which means that one has to pass on the initial impulsive feeling of doing something and wait, analyze and reflect, in doing so you find patterns that weren’t initially available.

These patterns reveal a course of action, meaning you find the rules, which are simple but are hidden.
So, there’s initial misleading information that makes people act without thinking, maybe some time limit.
Let’s say that there’s an overall 2 minutes count to finish the maze and each participant has a collar with a 10 points meter that activates once you’re inside the maze. The initial misleading information is that, if the prisoner can’t finish the maze in the 2 minutes, the person waiting on the other side of the maze, a loved one, will die.

There’s an urgency to act, but also that doing so is a mistake.

The 10 points collars are activated once you enter the maze, so the protagonist hesitates before entering, he takes the time to analyze the situation while others rush inside, he’s trying to find the hidden patterns. But his loved one on the other side of the maze thinks he’s going to stay there, him being cold-hearted and all, right? Let’s amp this idea further. If the prisoner abstains from entering the maze they can live, and the person on the other side dies.

Also, as long as you keep having points you can move, if points reach 0, the collar in your neck explodes and you die. Initially, no one understands what makes you lose or gain points, yet after a while, those who were looking instead of rushing see some patterns emerging.

This means that a good decision would be to find a way of keeping points while moving forward.
So, there’s a pattern to be found on the floor.

Stepping on certain terrain takes points from you while stepping on another type of terrain gives you points.

Now, there’s only one particular combination of steps that ensures getting to the end of the maze. But it’s so hard to accomplish that, in the event of someone doing so, every participant gets saved.

As such, all possible results are as follows:

• If the prisoner stays out of the maze, the familiar at the other end dies.
• If the prisoner runs out of points inside the maze, they die.
• If the prisoner reaches 1 point and stays put, he survives but the familiar dies.
• If a person gets to the other side before time finishes, all participants are saved. (This has never happened).

And so, as the other participants desperately rush inside the maze, activating the collars and impulsively stepping on the different terrains without understanding what’s making them lose points. While collars explode and people’s heads are severed, our protagonist stays put, he only watches in silence, focused on emerging patterns, learning.

Things are such that he can even listen to the voice of his loved one on the other side, as this person believes our protagonist has left them to die and lashes out by giving a hurtful speech against him. Yet he’s not deterred by this, with each passing moment things become clearer, and at the limit between the remaining time on the clock and the amount of time needed to solve the maze, he obtains the correct pattern of steps and rushes into the maze. As other participants, now without more than 1 point left get stuck before getting to the end and having to listen to the cries of their loved ones, he goes forward against time and odds, managing to get to the endpoint just as the clock reaches zero.

Effectively winning the first challenge and saving all the remaining participants.

Okay! man that was some difficult work! but it was worth it because now we understand the mechanics of our challenge in this prison town and we know a lot more about our protagonist. Next time we’re moving forward with the story and with K.M. Weiland’s theme template. This time, we’ll discover how the antagonistic forces respond to this incredible act of skills and guts, as our protagonist immerses himself fully into our plot.

Until that time comes… Good luck in writing!

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!