Indy Ploy
June 11, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Want to find a quote I heard recently about writing good characters. The idea was that a character should be really good at something, but constantly put upon, so that nothing goes their way. Indiana Jones was held up as being a perfect example.

I think this was on a screenwriting blog or possibly some writer's twitter feed. Or possibly a podcast? I just can't remember. Thanks for any help.
posted by mumblingmynah to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'd guess it was somebody discussing item 6 in this trending article (previously on the Blue).
posted by gauche at 10:29 AM on June 11, 2012

The blog Cockeyed Caravan is full of stuff like this. A great site.
posted by Philemon at 10:29 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not a quote, but the amazing has a great article on creating good characters by having them fail impressively. It cites Indiana Jones as a key example.
posted by Ziggurat at 10:40 AM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: I don't remember anyone in the thread gauche references talking about that point specifically.

This is a mashup of two bits of classic screenwriting advice. The first is that your protagonist should be Really Fucking Good at what they do (often abbreviated as RFG). The second is that you should keep throwing things at your protagonist so that they never get a moment of complacency. Now, of course, it's not so much that nothing should ever go right for them. There are specific points in the structure of a screenplay where you need to award your protagonist minor victories, otherwise you'll lose your audience. It's more that nothing should ever go smoothly. Victories have to be hard won, and there should be endless challenges to overcome.

I'm not sure there is any one classic quote that encompasses both ideas.

Failing impressively is not quite as canonical, though obviously can be an interesting approach.

It's said that if you simply CAN'T make your protagonist Really Fucking Good at something (because maybe the story is about a lovable failure, or something), you should "save the cat", i.e. show that the protagonist is ultimately a really good and likable person by showing them doing something altruistic. I don't know what you're supposed to do if your protagonist is an immoral loser. Maybe don't write that movie?
posted by Sara C. at 11:10 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Interesting point. It's true for Harry Dresden and nearly any gumshoe detective, Die Hard, Bruce Willis' character in The Fifth Element (may in fact be Bruce's forte character); not true for most police protagonists, who are portrayed as getting by with an effort - although the Dirty Harry/Lethal Weapon genre of cops who "don't play by the rules, so they get put on leave and ordered to stay away from the case" fit it.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on June 11, 2012

Yeah, I think the "save the cat" concept was probably invented for characters like Dirty Harry. They're not really good cops, because theoretically a really good cop would not be a violent and embittered loose cannon. So you insert a moment of them helping a rape victim or training a puppy or tipping really well.
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 AM on June 11, 2012

Response by poster: @ Sara C.: Perfect summary of the concepts I was looking for, thank you! I don't believe it was a classic quote, but rather a screenwriter/blogger encapsulating what you said in some pithy way.
posted by mumblingmynah at 12:11 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Well, I found 10 Screenwriting Tips You Can Learn From Raiders Of The Lost Ark rather easily, so I assume you could have too (there's also one on Die Hard and, *cough*, Crystal Skull). But those were from last year.

Maybe it was Indiana Jones and the First Rule of Writing Fiction?
posted by dhartung at 12:23 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ dhartung: You got it! The scriptshadow link was what I was looking for: points 2 and 3 under "The Roadmap to a Likeable Hero." The fact it was from last year is why I couldn't find it. I assumed it was from my recent browsing history.

Thank you!
posted by mumblingmynah at 1:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

TVTropes: "Pet the Dog"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:08 PM on June 11, 2012

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