The Hollywood Formula is the formula that professional screenwriters use to keep their stories tight, emotional, and, obviously, formulaic. Though I have directed you to the podcast that first taught me this formula, I doubt many of you have listened to it, so I shall describe the formula again here. I did not make this up.
The Formula centers on three characters: the protagonist, the antagonist, and the relationship (or dynamic) character. The protagonist is the main character, and he wants something material. He doesn’t simply want happiness; he wants that specific puppy as a pet, which will make him happy. He doesn’t simply want to be rid of the Ring; he wants to destroy the Ring by throwing it into the Cracks of Doom in Mordor. He doesn’t simply want to get away from his uncle’s home; he wants to join the Rebel Alliance/Varden/class at Hogwarts.
The antagonist wants the exact opposite. He wants the protagonist to forget about the puppy and settle for, perhaps, a ratty stuffed animal. He wants the protagonist to stay in his hobbit-hole and let his minions murder him in his bed, and to never destroy the Ring. He wants the protagonist to stay right where he is on Tattooine, Carvahall, or No. 4 Privet Drive. This, too, is a material thing. In some places, the antagonist is an evil warlord bent on destroying the earth. In most places, however, the antagonist is an unexpected person.
The relationship character usually isn’t the love interest. The relationship character is a side character who accompanies the protagonist on his journey. This character usually has something wise to say, but the protagonist doesn’t want to hear it until the very end.
The story is finished when everything resolves: the protagonist has achieved his goal, the antagonist is defeated, and the relationship character and protagonist have reconciled (usually with a “You were right!” scene). According to the podcast I already linked to, the closer together these events are, the stronger the film.
That’s just setup, though. The real fun is mapping out the progression of the story. Continue reading “The Hollywood Formula”