Exploring the duality of a screenplay narrative

The chapter ‘Exploring the duality of a screenplay narrative’ in Craig Batty’s Movies that Move Us: Screenwriting and the Power of the Protagonist’s Journey deals with the two main driving story ‘types’ that should make up a screenplay – the inner (emotional) and outer (action) stories. He analyses how these paths are dealt with by authors such as Egri, Vogler and McKee, and comes up with some definitions of his own, trying to pin down some absolutes in texts he considers to be too vague.

I have to admit that I found this chapter something of a slog. Batty was trying to say something which seemed fairly obvious and relatively self-explanatory, but in doing so seemed to feel the need to nit-pick over semantics in some of the classic, most well-regarded (generally speaking) authors and books on screenwriting over the past few decades.

Nevertheless, I did agree with (what I believe was) the overall sentiment of the chapter, which is that there needs to be both an outer (physical) and inner (emotional) story within a screenplay to make it emotionally connect with a reader and so make a potentially successful film. There are far too many films that rely purely on the physical story (not pointing any fingers, but you know who you are, Michael Bay…) and have lost sight of the fact that it’s the human connections – the weaknesses, conflict and ultimate growth – in characters that makes films connect more with an audience.

I can see where he and McKee are coming from when they say that ‘character is structure’ and ‘structure is character’. There should be twists and turns along the way as the character changes and grows, and this would generally take place along the beats usually set out within the screenplay’s structure. Yet saying that ‘character is structure’ and vice versa makes it sound so mechanical. Human emotions don’t always work like that, no matter what analyses of films deem to be the most successful. There definitely, though, needs to be rise and fall in the dramatic action along the emotional story as well as the physical – where would the ‘all is lost’ or ‘despair’ beats be without an emotional undercurrent pinned to them?

I entirely agree with the illustration of a stone in a pond: ‘if the stone is the inner fabric of character, then the rings taking shape arc the drama’s plot; they form as a reaction to the decision made – action driven by emotion’. The action should drive the emotion, and the emotion should therefore drive the subsequent action.

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