logan-2017-poster-2
Film, Thoughts, Writing

LOGAN Seven Point Plot Structure Breakdown

I loved this film. It might even be the second-best superhero movie of all time (the first being The Dark Knight, you spoon). It might, after I rewatch it, have taken the top spot of Best X-Men Movie from X-Men: First Class. It was filmed in New Mexico and my desert-rat heart leapt for joy. It was brutal, sad, uncompromising, and ultimately altruistic — just the way I like it. It was heavily focussed on character, each so rich by the time I left the theater, I felt I’d actually met them.

But you know what? I’m gonna talk shit about it. Because, in the words of a screenwriter I greatly admire, Allen Palmer, it wasn’t a transcendent story. There was no ecstatic agony. And I got a high-ass perfectionist quality standard. Logan was a great film — but not as great as it could’ve been.

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN

****SPOILERS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT’ READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE****

Start with the Resolution, (or as Dan Well calls it, the seventh plot point). Also known as the ending. I’m using the synopsis on IMDb to support memory.

  1. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Logan had nothing to do with the final climactic moment, that release of tension when the bad guy dies. Laura takes action, ridding our protagonist, Logan, of his agency right at the crucial moment.

Also, where was the devilishly difficult, character-driven choice for him to make? Before this, the last choice Logan made was to ignore that one kid’s warning and shoot all that green stuff up at once. No crucial choice there that pitted want against need. What about after that, when he gets sassy with Doctor Rice and then shoots him in the face? Definitely not a difficult choice, not crucial, no poignant want vs need — just a good laugh.

(Maybe you could argue here that when he shot up the green stuff, he was choosing between his want — being healthy and not dying — and his need — caring about those kids and saving them. But was his want really to be healthy and not die? I got the sense he was just looking for a good reason to end it all. The whole movie was basically: Logan really wants to die, so when we kill him later, you’ll feel like it was a kindness and not be upset with us.)

It isn’t enough that Logan sacrifices himself. Give him a devilishly difficult choice that reveals character and forces him to choose between what he wants, and what he needs — then give Logan, not Laura, the action at the climax! All Logan does at the climax is get impaled on a tree.

“Logan, this doesn’t feel like a transcendent climax!” “No, but it’s sad and brutal, and that’s mostly what we were going for.”

(There is another argument: maybe Laura was Logan shooting the gun in some way, a sort of proxy choice. This would mean that because Laura learned how to kill X-24 from Logan, and Logan gave her the adamantium bullet, Laura killing X-24 was actually Logan’s skill/ability. This is still a weak justification for removing agency and not including a devilishly difficult choice for Logan at the climax. Laura shooting X-24 was just a basic relief. I wasn’t crying like ‘oh the humanity!’)

Now let’s jump back to the Hook, point one. How the protagonist (Logan) started. This should be the opposite of how he ends (point seven).

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.

Now let’s do the Midpoint, point four. There are a lot of different definitions and schools of thought on how exactly the Midpoint should go, but I think it’s when the character is confronted with their fundamental flaw, and then forced, kicking and screaming, to admit it. This changes a person. For the rest of the story, the protagonist goes on having gained something, which they are threatened with losing later at the climax. It’s also when the true nature of the conflict is revealed. Midpoints are super important.

There are a few options:

  1. Midpoint Option A: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24. 

Here, Logan’s flaw is his rage, and his arc is about him dealing with the shit he’s done, the people he’s killed. Aka: Logan rages out too much.

  1. Midpoint Option B: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”

This means that Logan’s flaw and character arc is about him being emotionally numb and refusing love.

Let’s think about Plot Point 2 and different Resolution moments to figure the Midpoint out.

Plot Point 2 is the sixth point and the crazy-hot friend of Plot Point 1. PP2 is where we get the last bit of setup we need to lay out the final conflict, and where the protagonist chooses to move forward into Act 3. It’s the trickiest plot point to nail down. There are two options here too. Maybe we’re getting into separate-but-interwoven character and action plots?? I told you it was a good damn movie!

  1. PP2 Option A: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.

Main conflict: Bad guys attacking kids (we don’t know that shooting up is going to wear off super quick and fuck Logan up, so choosing to use all of it doesn’t do much to indicate conflict; important set-up though).

  1. PP2 Option B: Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.

Main conflict: Logan refusing love, estranging himself from his daughter.

We’ve got two pretty distinct plots going on here. Let’s list them out now we’ve got so many points ready (and I’ll just fill in the rest real quick).

Plot A

In a nutshell.

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.
  2. PP1: Laura shows up after Logan finds Gabriela dead at the hotel.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24.
  5. Pinch 2: They bury Charles. Logan rages out.
  6. PP2: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.
  7. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Plot B

  1. Hook: Logan is rough and distant to Charles, an old friend physically unable to give Logan love (which Logan would probably reject anyway).
  2. PP1: Logan tries to leave Laura behind but it doesn’t work out.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”
  5. Pinch 2: Charles dies.
  6. Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.
  7. Laura saves Logan, but it’s too late. She calls Logan, “Daddy.” Logan feels love. He’s happy to have a daughter. He dies.

I both think these plots are valid (as in, they’re clearly in the film), and that they both suffer from the same weak character choices. Logan is such a strong character and the dialogue and acting were so good, so realistic, it’s almost difficult to see the flaws in the story. But in both plots, what dilemma does Logan struggle with? What does he choose between? If it was supposed to be a big deal that he decided to go save the kids from a bunch of armed men intent on enslaving them as child-solider-lab-rats… come on. Not a big deal. Did anyone actually worry he might decide to leave them behind? No difficult choices in this film, except maybe when Charles pressured Logan into staying with the nice ranch family, but Logan gave in super easily and not at all like he actually cared very much.

One more thing. We were haunted by the Westchester incident with Charles the whole movie — then he just remembers it suddenly while sleeping, pretty much out of nowhere, promptly has a realization about himself and Logan, and dies. The realization itself was powerful, but it was too left field. In the original Logan script, they were planning to shoot the Westchester incident as a prologue scene, but took it out because it made the movie too much about the death of the mutants and not enough about Logan. I agree the as-is opening is great, but they shouldn’t have deleted the Westchester scene entirely — they should’ve moved it!

Imagine we are with Charles as he remembers. We live through the panic with him, see the friends he just murdered, see Logan horrified at being the only survivor. We wake up with him back in the present, experience this realization about Logan as Charles does, then — HOLY FUCK! He dies. My chest is tightening just thinking about it. I would’ve sobbed like a little baby. As it was, it was still awful, shocking, the worst… but I wasn’t moved as other films have moved me. I didn’t cry.

Do you agree with my analysis? Did I miss something? Tell me what you think! Discussing movies and books like this is basically my all-time favorite thing to talk about, so let’s go!

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dragonflight
Inspiration, Writing

Four Tips On Writing Well

I’ve been flirting with the idea of authorship my whole life. One of the reasons I never addressed it ‘seriously’ was because I’ve always felt writing to be something you simply do, as opposed to something you study, or someone you are. It would be great to be able to say, “I am a professional writer,” but from what I can tell no one gets to that point by crawling up that corporate writing ladder, snapping up promotions and qualifications to add to their resume, making themselves more attractive in the cut-throat writing market. No one needs a resume to apply for the Writer of Stories I Make Up position. They just need to write.

Explaining that ‘just’ has turned out to be the most challenging, liberating, soul-searching adventure of my life so far.

I’ve been writing seriously for two years now. I think I’m hovering at Beginning-Intermediate actual author level – I’ve managed to write a 160,000 novel, a feature length screenplay, and a handful of short stories, but I’m still not done revising anything and I haven’t even started looking for a publisher or agent. Fledgling, basically – dedicated hobbyist. But I’m slowly getting there.

These four tips are those I have found to work in my own experience, but I wouldn’t say that they are my own. They are an amalgamation of those I’ve found from a hundred previous writers more talented than I.

be clear

I saw a Buzzfeed quiz  (http://www.buzzfeed.com/jarrylee/hemingway-or-childrens-book#3a7nsit) a few weeks ago where you had to guess whether a sentence was from Hemmingway or a children’s book. I think it was meant to be mocking, but instead it illuminated one of the great and overlooked qualities of a good storyteller; the ability to clearly communicate. Like some children books, Hemmingway took brevity and clarity to the point of elegance. He embodied (as all great authors embody to one degree or another in my opinion), one of Mark Twain’s best quotes: Brevity is the source of wit.

Stephen King – especially in On Writing but also The Stand, Pet Cemetery, and The Gunslinger, among others – has taught me a huge amount about writing the last few years. It’s almost gotten to the point where when I get to a difficult part, or I feel that awful excuse that is writer’s block creeping up, I think, What would Stephen King do?

King took prose down from its high horse and into the rut of slang and every day understanding. I grew up thinking I had to write books like The Lord of the Rings, in ‘high speech’, because that’s just the way books were written. King drilled in the fun of writing from you gut. He cussed when I was expecting poetry, and turned the most mundane moments into magic. He was always easy to understand and used high speech only when high speech was necessary.

Another author I love and admire who is also clear and direct, if in a very different way, is Cormac McCarthy. He has the ability to pull you into sensations and almost-feelings that I had been sure were indescribable before, but he is only able to do this because each sentence builds in a clear, easily-understood way. He is, simply, communicating – and sometimes his particular form of telepathy is so strong and clear it becomes poetry.

On the other end of the spectrum is J. K. Rowling. I don’t think the clarity inherent in her writing style needs to be explained, but hers were ‘children books’ that are literary masterpieces and accessible to everyone, not ‘just’ children – and it isn’t only because of their adventure and heart and theme, but because of the joy and ease with which they are read.

My writing has improved exponentially since I took this tip to heart. I cannot stress the strength and importance of clarity enough – so I’ll let some actual authors do it for me.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. LEONARDO DA VINCI

Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.” C.S. LEWIS

Don’t say, “she said mincingly,” or “he said boisterously.” Just say, “he said, she said.” JOHN P. MARQUAND

Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity. STEPHEN KING

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story. TOM CLANCY

work hard

Mark Medoff told me in high school that I must write every day for ten years “before anyone beside your mother will want to read your work.” He was very firm on that, and I saw that he believed it and that it had been true for him. Perhaps it has also been true for all the great authors and playwrights – I’ll have to ask them.

Medoff also told me, with a sort of ruthless detachment: “Excuses do not exist. No one cares.”

It was a modification of Yoda’s old, “do or do not – there is no try,” but it hit me hard in a way all those other platitudes had not.

No one cares if you have been sick, or tired, or stressed. No one cares if you have writers block (whatever that’s supposed to be). No one cares if you are too busy to write as much as you would like, or if your car broke down or a loved one died or whatever else happened that kept you from writing. Ultimately, those are all excuses.

And, most importantly, no one cares even if you do write. Someday, maybe, someone will. But I know I will never get to that point assuming anyone cares about what I’m doing along the way.

Stephen King, Mark Medoff, and thousands of other writers have stressed not the importance of inspiration, but the importance of diligence. They made it clear to me that it wasn’t some sort of magic thing a few people possessed, a skill with a fickle muse. It was hard work, day after day after day, trudging it out and then editing, editing, coming up for air, grabbing a few knives, plunging down and ripping it apart again.

You have to be diligent. Relentless. And persevere.

Writing is a wholetime job: No professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules. ANTHONY TROLLOPE

You must find teachers and train on your own. You must create your own schedule and force yourself to stick to it. Reading becomes both an excuse and a homework assignment. Writing becomes a task, a task that requires constant practice for it to become a skill, and like piano playing or flamenco dancing or any other hardly won skill, there are days when I just want to throw my computer or journal out the window and cry. And, like any other hardly won skill, there are moments when everything comes together and I can feel the transcendence as mere task becomes art, and hours pass in a few moments of exquisite creation.

All the hours and days and weeks of struggling up that mountain is worth the vista at the summit. I just have to keep going, step by step, word by word, every day.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA]

have fun

The thing I love most about Stephen King’s writing is his passion. It bleeds through every sentence and paragraph. Even if I don’t end up liking the story very much at the end, the journey is what I love. I can hear, taste, smell, see the joy of true craftsmanship on the page the same as he felt while writing it.

I think the same is true of all other great authors. Writing well is hard, writing at all takes time, and if you are willing to give so much of your life to something most people won’t ever care about, you have to need it. It has to be as much of a requirement and a compulsion as stretching at the end of a long road trip.

For me, the time I spend writing is holy. It is my first priority. I recently went nearly four months without writing anything but blog posts and journal entries, and when I finally started writing a story again, it was like… being free of a heavy load I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying.

Your passion, whatever it is, is a sacred thing. Treat is with reverence and importance, cultivate it, and enjoy it.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you. ZADIE SMITH

There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted. WASHINGTON IRVING

Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. A.L. KENNEDY

finish what you write

Starting things is easy – finishing them is hard. But if you don’t finish them, they are nothing. Simple as that.

I have yet to finish anything I’ve written. But someday soon I will be able to say that I have.

Lastly, here is a collection of the books that have taught me most about writing – and happen to have also made me who I am. I highly recommend just… reading them all.

If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Sometimes I know what I believe because of what I’ve written.

J.K. ROWLING

Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers. 

WALLACE STEGNER

by hand in downtown . Almost exactly what I've always hoped my life would be. I am so grateful to be where I am doing what I'm doing. Today is 10 months with the boy, and I'm  for that too. I wish I could bring all those I love and miss here with me, but something restless inside is finally growing calm, and the  and clear calm I'm starting to know is worth the homesickness. I didn't realize the parts of me that were unhappy until they disappeared.

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