“In the end, the Hero is a transformed individual.”
In writing a screenplay, we go into the story. That’s critical in order to connect with the characters and immerse ourselves in the story universe. But we also need to balance that by stepping outside the story universe and take a meta view of the narrative.
I like to do that by thinking of five ‘passages,’ broad movements in the Protagonist’s or key characters’ experience. Those are:
- Life before FADE IN
- Life after FADE OUT
“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit to the monomyth.” — Joseph Campbell
There is Life Before FADE IN, whereby all the characters in the story, but particularly the Protagonist have lived out their lives 24/7/365. That is what writers call backstory. The more we immerse ourselves in and understand those events and dynamics, the better we can know our story’s primary characters, and the story itself.
There is Separation. That assumes we set up the Ordinary World, all the key characters, narrative elements, psychological forces at play. Then something happens which acts as a Call To Adventure. Reluctant or willing, this sets the stage for the Protagonist departing the Ordinary World and crossing the threshold into the New World.
There is Initiation, a series of tests and ordeals, equal parts forcing the Protagonist to shed old behaviors and beliefs, and incorporate authentic aspects of their psyche evolving into a New Self. This middle part of the journey is a powerful experience that contributes mightily to the character’s metamorphosis.
There is Return, where the Protagonist goes back home, physically and/or symbolically, but before that can happen, the Hero must endure a final struggle, one almost always tied to their conscious goal. As Campbell says:
The final test…
To demonstrate whether the Hero has learned his lesson or not…
The process has purified him to ensure that he hasn’t become part of the Other World — but will he succeed?
In most movies, the Protagonist does succeed. Yet typically, the story is not finished. There is one more movement.
Today: Life after FADE OUT
The Hero returns home with some booty, an elixir, the source of power from the Other World, i.e., treasure, Holy Grail, knowledge, gold, love, wisdom, humility.
In the end, the Hero is a transformed individual.
Part of this movement is about celebration, a confirmation of the Protagonist’s victory and metamorphosis.
Part of it can be about the sharing of wisdom by the Protagonist to characters on the home front.
And part of it is directly for the moviegoer’s benefit: To know everything is going to be all right.
So when the movie hits THE END, credits roll, and the viewer exits the theater, they have a sense of how the character’s lives will be after FADE OUT.
In this series, we have taken a meta view of the screenwriting process. It’s one way to think about the Protagonist’s journey, especially helpful in the prep-writing process to wrangle narrative elements into a coherent whole… and throughout writing and rewriting a touchstone for the psychological and symbolic meaning of the story.
For Part 1: Life Before FADE IN, go here.
For Part 2: Separation, go here.
For Part 3: Initiation, go here.
For Part 4: Return, go here.