Monday, 28 April 2014

What if there is No Chase?

In my last post, Cutting to the Chase vs. Building to the Chase, I talked about how if you set something up, you should do it. You can delay it, but you have to do it. Now I'm going to tell you that you don't always have to do it. Just to muddy the waters. But to clarify if delaying the action happens for 10% of things set up, not doing them is closer to 0.1%. (Percentages estimated.)

The main tenet to follow is that everything happens for a reason and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen for a reason.

Thus if a character says he'll do something and doesn't early on, this clearly establishes him as the sort of person who doesn't keep his promises, is flaky, etc. Or things set up and not done might be a game in itself. I haven't thought of other examples apart from the following...


Sam Super, Ryan Millar and Peter More by Tatjana Todorovic
In the last entry, I mentioned how Shakespeare would love to build up action by having the character torment him or herself over it. I gave the example of Hamlet doing his "To Be" bit. Hamlet in the mentioned scene is contemplating the pros and cons of suicide, which he doesn't go through with. So, that begs the question do we always have to go through with what's set up even if we have made a big fuss about doing it? The answer is no, but you nearly always should. So there is another guideline we can consider...

If you set something up, you don't have to go through with it, as long as you have a compelling reason AND there are consequences of not doing it. 

This is harder to deal with from a conventional improv-training point of view. To not do what is set up. I agree, this should not be the norm. In fact it should not be the first offer that is not fulfilled because that initiates a pattern of not doing what is set up and is like the first example of a flaky character.

In fact for beginners, we should be wary as it is probably an example of the actor wimping, i.e. not wanting to go there. But it is okay on occasion for the character to "wimp" if there are consequences for this character or other characters by the inaction. So the event not happening should, generally, be marked as a point in time where a decision was made NOT to do it. It should come from a strong reason that compels one or more character.

A classic example of a story which includes something like this is Snow White. The huntsman is charged with killing Snow White. In most conventional improv terms, this means Snow White should be killed – we should do the deed and see what happens next. But in the story, the huntsman takes pity on her and lets her free. The pity is a compelling reason. And the consequences? Well, the whole rest of the story hinges on Snow White not being dead, otherwise it would be a story about a wicked queen who simply kills anyone more beautiful than her and then marries a wondering prince. Or maybe the tale of a huntsman who carries out a killing ordered by his mistress, and the effect that has on him.

The compassion shown by the huntsman heightens the cruelty of the queen and the innocence of Snow White. In a Fairy Tale it helps establish her up as the main character. And in terms of a hero's journey, she has undergone a near-death experience and been forced out of her ordinary world, which clearly defines her as the hero at that moment.

This is interesting, because from an 'unstructured' story point of view, the moment Snow White is not killed the story has the chance to fork into three possible broad paths:
  1. It is Snow White's story as the person who has lost the most and thus has the most to gain.
  2. It is the story of the huntsman who has now been shown to be compassionate, but has put himself at risk of displeasing so cruel a queen.
  3. It is the story of the wicked queen and this is almost certainly planting the seeds of her destruction.
 If this story was improvised, I do think it would more likely end up as (3) or (2) than (1) which is what the fairy tale actually is. Partly because these are the order of the strongest, most defined characters.

Not killing Snow White is not blocking as long as it's justified why the huntsman doesn't go through with it. The offer from the queen can be stated, "I want Snow White dead." It is a desire and desires and opinions can be contradicted by other players Рthey are allowed to have opposing desires and opinions. And as long as the huntsman agrees that the queen wants Snow White dead, agrees that the queen has ordered him to do so and that the queen is powerful and disobeying her is not something one should do lightly, not killing Snow White is "yessing" all that and adding that he himself has compassion and morality. In fact this acts to heighten the evilness and power of the queen. After all the huntsman didn't simply turn to her and say, "no way, Jos̩! That's just wrong." He is afraid of her and at least goes through the motions of going through with it. It all proves she rules the kingdom by fear.

Dizzy and the Pit Kittens by Catherine Gray.
As you can see, this can be complex to analyse, but not if you view it in terms of the wants of each of the characters. And at that moment (and for the rest of the story), the queen wants Snow White dead, Snow White wants to live, and the huntsman wants to do his job, but does not want to upset his own conscience. The huntsman, with his dilemma is, in a way, the focus of the story at that moment.

In fact, tragedy can often be seen the hero not doing something he ought to do, or doing something he has been warned not to do, which all leads to his demise. If the huntsman had killed the innocent Snow White after some moments of uncertainty, then this has all the makings of a tragedy whereby the echoes of that killing reverberate throughout the story until the tormented huntsman takes the life of the queen before turning the axe on himself.

So, to summarise...

If you set something up, nearly always do it. However, getting there can take time depending on how important or difficult it is. In rare circumstances, it might not get done as long as the character(s) have a compelling reason and its not happening is significant to the story.

That's enough complications. Please don't think about this during shows, but feel free to use it in the analysis of the stories you end up telling. Or don't use it, if you have a compelling reason not to. ;-)

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