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ARISTOTLE POETICS
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ARISTOTLE POETICS
FILMMAKING NOTES

The following will be Part One of a break down of Aristotle's Poetics. This is simply to speed up the process of learning how to create an award-winning (or at least entertaining) screenplay.

If your work happens to be read by a story analyst, it will be broken up into a coverage form that consists of the following: log line, brief, plot summary, comments, idea, story, character, dialog and production values.

Everything that is ever submitted will be boiled down into its bare merits, and then discussed. Your scripts path goes as follows: Your desk to a Story Analyst (who writes a quick summary), to an overworked Story Editor then to a busy Studio Executive. Keep this in mind, as the main goal is to reach the Studio Exec, however it must entertain the busy low-paid workers below him first, who also deal with hundreds of scripts weekly.

What is about to follow is not an academic study, but a breakdown of Poetics so you can quickly check back on important points. I would however recommend you purchase the actual book.

To start, you must have an ACTION-IDEA it says what the story demands and its soul purpose is to serve your story.

The ACTION-IDEA is really the foundation of the entire screenplay. A good movie expands an ACTION-IDEA into a full-length story. For example: JAWS is an idea about a man trying to stop a killer shark.

Your idea should be able to move listeners who merely hear it just as they would be moved if they saw an entire film made from your screenplay.

ARISTOTLE POETICS SAYS: Catharsis (emotional purging) is the whole point of dramatic storytelling. Your movie should take the audience on an emotional and psychological journey. It should point out the poignant truths of the human experience in either a big or small way.

Your task will be to take your simple ACTION-IDEA (that is cathartic) and develop it into a full-length screenplay, without loosing the essence of the original idea.

Aristotle never stipulates three acts, but he does talk about two distinct movements in a dramatic story: the complication and the denouement.

The complication includes everything that happens in the back-story that pertains to the plot, and continues through the opening of the movie until right before the change in the hero�s fortune occurs.

The denouement unravels all the plot action that got �wound up� in the middle.

For every action, there is a reaction. It is important to remember that the first cause of action must happen after the movie starts, not in the back-story.

A prologue connects the back-story part of the complication (e.g., what happened to the hero before we meet him/her) to the front-story (story after the movie starts) and otherwise sets the stage before the first cause of action happens.

The denouement must continue until the last frame of the film. It must also naturally unfold in a cause-and-effect way.

What gets wound up and unravels in the end must concern the hero�s moral conflict that developed during the story�s middle. It�s through the hero�s moral conflict in the denouement that the �theme� of the movie is stated. The theme should reveal a truth about the human condition that has been demonstrated by the story�s action.

To recap: The beginning of the plot action occurs soon after the movie starts with a first cause of action, which is a self-initiated, inciting incident that is a pure act of will nothing causes it or makes it necessary. This jump-starts the middle of the plot action, which moves forward through cause-and-effect, realizing the first movement of the drama, or complication. The middle, which naturally springs from the first cause of action, drives the story until right before the change in the hero's fortune. This change is the second cause of action which begins the denouement, or end movement. In the denouement the plot action that got wound up in the complication and that centers on the moral conflict of the hero unravels. As a result, the conflict resolves and a truth is gained, wherein lies the theme of the story. When the story is complete, the audience must know for certain that it has and that the plot action will not continue unless you want to rock a sequel.

Reality� is often quite boring and not dramatic enough to produce the kind of engagement and emotional response your audience is looking for � so spice it up a bit.

Viewers are going to allow your story to have a fair amount of �artifice� in its structure and design as long as it moves them. In fact, the action must imitate so effectively that the audience responds �imitatively� as well, as if to real events, their brains aroused to a state of action.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK SAYS: If a bomb under a table was to suddenly explode out of nowhere in a movie, it's not a great movie. That is, the audience needs to know beforehand that a bomb is under the table and that it is about to explode. This information actually puts their brains into a state of action by raising the tense dramatic question, When is the bomb going to explode?� That the characters themselves are unaware of the bomb engages the audience's attention and compels them to heightened mental participation in the story action.

Each scene must arise from the previous scene in a way that plays to the audience's mental participation and focus, and dramatic imitation of action succeeds in provoking an emotional response.

Write your screenplay to raise, develop, and answer one central dramatic question so that your reader or audience will stay hooked.

Here is a tip: there are two types of incidents that you can use in your screenplay, incidents of necessity and probable incidents.

Incidents of necessity always happen after a given cause of action and propel the story forward. For example, if you had come home and found out that your house was broken into and robbed you would always call the police.

Probable dramatic incidents also cause the story to go forward but are only likely to happen. They aren't incidents of dramatic necessity, in terms of how the characters view their own actions.

A tight plot need not to be like a predictable row of dominoes knocking each other down. It's more important that the incidents that form the plot have either a probable or necessary relationship to each other and cause the story to move forward.

ARITSTOTLE POETICS SAYS: [The plot should have] its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole, for that what makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.

Make your ACTION-IDEA the driving force behind every scene and the subject of your story.

Effective plots are unified they have single, not a double �issue�. No sub-plots. All the action, no matter how many characters are running around performing sub-actions, is related through either probable or necessary cause and effect.

While an audience can automatically get the setup, there are details about this action that an audience can't assume. The audience needs to derive information about the specifics of what�s causing the characters action, and this information comes from other characters.

Whatever information isn't universal must be able to be deduced from the story through events in that story world, even if this information comes through sub-actions.

The actual incidents of the story must convey the nature of what�s �causing� the character�s actions: You have to �show it� not just tell it.

END NOTE: No sub-plots, only sub-actions driven by a single issue and thereby connected to the hero�s action, all of it ultimately forming ONE COMPLETE ACTION.

It�s important for the audience to understand the emotional meaning of the action for the hero, which, to be moving, must be connected to a strong, single desire of the hero�s soul.

AGAIN, the ACTION-IDEA, or plot, must always be in your mind�s eye when you are writing scenes. In every molecule of the story you can sense the simple ACTION-IDEA because the plot is evoked in every scene. The whole is always in each of the parts.

ARISTOTLE SAYS: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be made of a certain definite magnitude.

Scenes don't add key plot incidents, but they do add emotional depth, meaning, and magnitude. You add scenes to make the ACTION-IDEA have more emotional impact on the audience. The plot�s magnitude grows when all the organs or scenes are working together to give life to the simple living plot.

Aristotle mentions that there are four �species� of dramatic story.

Complex: The kind where a plot builds to a moment when the hero�s fortune goes from extremely good to extremely bad instantly (or the opposite), based on a discovery or recognition. The recognition involves a switch from extreme ignorance to knowledge.

Tragedy of Suffering: Aristotle teaches us that all good tragedy has suffering, and most good dramatic movies contain a certain amount of intense physical or mental suffering. or both.

Tragedy of Character: These films are more interested in developing the nuances of characterization and relationships in a loosely plotted way that emphasizes personality and character traits.

Spectacle: Movies of spectacle are very abundant in today�s cinema. Spectacle refers to the effect of the visuals, that is, the costume, the scenery, actors and sound.

ARISTOTLE SAYS: The poet's aim, then, should be to combine every element of interest, if possible, or else the more important and the major part of them. This is now especially necessary owing to the unfair criticism to which the poet is subjected in these days. Just because there have been poets before him strong in the several species of tragedy, the critics now expect the one man to surpass that which was the strong point of each of his predecessors.

Feel free to try and mix up all four, but don�t feel obligated to do so.

Epic movies might rely on spectacle and visual effects, as well as flashier editing and sound design, but also take place over long periods of time. They are grand and sweeping, depicting not so much an everyday reality but an exaggerated reality or fantasy.

The best tragedies take place over a single day. This makes the plot events more intense, giving the change in the hero�s fortune the greatest magnitude and the audience the biggest rush.

Aristotle tells us to keep improbable deeds (unrealistic ones) outside the play (in the back story). But this doesn�t apply to the epic film.Even with this extra play-room , epics and dramas share certain structural requirements:

ARISTOTLE POETICS SAYS: The construction of its [epic] stories should clearly be that of a drama; they should be based on a single action, one that is a complete whole in itself, with a beginning, middle, and end, so as to enable the work to produce its own proper pleasure with all the organic unity of a living creature.

This even goes for pulling an epic story from history and dramatizing it for the screen.

ARISTOTLE POETICS SAYS: A history has to deal not with one action, but with one period and all that happened in that to one or more persons, however disconnected the several events may have been.

In an epic story, you can have multiple story lines but they must all have the same end and resolve the same issues.

And that's the end of the first third of this breakdown.

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