"Provides the tools for the way in, to understanding the complex architecture of screenwriting."
Victoria Wisdom, Literary Agent


March-April 2008 Issue

Creative Screenwriting's Review of Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc, by Dara Marks

In the beginning there was Syd Field. Then came McKee and Vogler. Now there is Dara Marks. Although Marks has long ranked among the top screenwriting theorists, her teachings were formerly only available to individuals who could manage to attend weekend seminars or afford one-to-one consultations. Now, thankfully, the publication of Inside Story makes them available to everyone.

Fortunately, you don't need to abandon your favorite guru to appreciate Marks's ideas or put them to work. They are not meant to overturn or replace previous theories but to expand on them, the way trigonometry expands on algebra. Marks offers a look at story structure from a new perspective: to be specific, from the inside out. For Marks, "theme" is not an optional item. Nor is it relegated to the place of secondary importance most screenwriting teachers give it. Rather it is where good screenwriting must begin. Once the theme of a screenplay is defined, it becomes the governing principle on which everything else is predicated - from the protagonist's character traits to the construction of the plot.

Of course there's nothing new about screenplays having both themes and plots but what is new - perhaps even revolutionary - is Marks' clear and detailed instruction on how to marry the internal story to the external one so that each creates forward motion in the other. Using examples from popular films, she tests out these theories, showing us why some films succeed while others with similar potential fail and why good films often fall short of greatness.

To fully absorb the ideas in Inside Story you'll have to relearn some basic terminology. The word "subplot," as Marks uses it, doesn't mean a subordinate story line, but rather a storyline that exists below the surface of the main plot. And the phrase "fatal flaw" owes less to Aristotle than to modern psychotherapy, being defined as an "old system of survival which has outlived its usefulness."

You'll also have to learn to visualize screenplay structure differently. Gone is the rollercoaster-style graph with its persistent rise toward the third act climax. Marks' "transformational arc" is more nearly the shape of a bell jar with its high point in the middle. It seems a bit strange at first, since we screenwriters are used to associating height with intensity and excitement and have a natural fear of losing our grip on the audience. But what the high point signifies for Marks is the point at which character has exhausted his ability to resist change, where he finally lets go and begins freefalling right into the "death experience" at the end of Act II. How can you get more exciting than that?

Writers of action films will especially benefit from Inside Story, because Marks spends a good deal of time explaining the difference between the surfeit of forgettable films in that genre and those that achieve "classic" status and spawn franchises. And guess what? The difference is not in the number of car chases or explosions.

Excerpt from Creative Screenwriting Magazine, March-April 2008 Issue

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