Screenwriting Meta View: Life before FADE IN

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
  • Separation
  • Initiation
  • Return
  • Life after FADE OUT

The middle three come straight from Joseph Campbell and his articulation of the Hero’s Journey:

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The other two derive from the experience of writing screenplays. This week, I will look at each of these five passages.

Today: Life before FADE IN.

You, as a writer, have to believe something. Something quite specific. That your story universe exists. Your story’s characters exist.

As most movies deal with the journey of a Protagonist figure, let’s work with that.

Your Protagonist has been alive their entire life. They have had a lifetime of what we call backstory. All those events and experience have influenced who they are and what they’ve become.

As a result, your Protagonist has developed, among other aspects of their psyche:

  • Beliefs
  • Behaviors
  • Coping skills
  • Defense mechanisms

In their life up to FADE IN, they have managed to cobble together a survivable existence. In fact, they may even think they are living the good life.

But in almost every case, they exist in a state of Disunity.

They have an Authentic Self, a True Self, aspects of their psyche they are unaware of, avoiding, or suppressing. In one way of looking at your story, the very reason why the Protagonist’s adventure emerges is precisely to compel them to engage their True Self, even if they resist it at first [Reluctant Hero].

Driver in the movie ‘Drive’

Their life leading up to FADE IN has been one in which they have settled for how they exist. Heroes don’t settle. Heroes go for the gold and in most instances that means tapping into their Core Of Being and transforming into a New Person, the persona they were meant to be.

In their lives leading up to FADE IN, the Protagonist has been making do. But they have a sense of discomfort, whether they are conscious of it or not.

That discomfort is their Authentic Self pressing upward into their consciousness, striving to see the light of day.

The Protagonist can never discover their Core Of Being unless they leave the comfort of their Ordinary World and venture forth into their personal Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell called that Separation. We will consider that tomorrow.

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