Today we have a special crossover event between The Indie Film Hustle Podcast and The Bulletproof ScreenWriting podcast. Since I’m the host of both podcasts I thought it would be fun and educational to do these kinds of episodes every once in a while. Today’s guest is best selling author K.M. Weiland, the author of Creating Character Arc: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development.
K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY, NIEA, and Lyra Award-winning and internationally published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arc, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, the historical/dieselpunk adventureStorming, the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.
We dig in deep on plot, story structure and of course character arc. Enjoy my conversation with K.M. Weiland.
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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show KM Weiland thank you so much for coming on the show.
KM Weiland 2:58
Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Alex Ferrari 3:00
I know we've been we've been we've been trying to get this scheduled for a while. But we're finally here. And we're here to talk about something that a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers have problems with, which is character arc, and plotting and just general stuff. And I loved your book. And it's it's one of the you know, best selling books in regards to this. And that's why I wanted to have you on. So thanks for being on the show.
KM Weiland 3:26
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. It's great to hear that you enjoyed the book. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 3:30
Now, how did you get started writing in the first place?
KM Weiland 3:34
Well, I like to say that stories were my language, my first memory actually, as of myself up in a tree house, at a family reunion, making up a story. It wasn't becoming a writer really wasn't something that I saw as a career path. When I was young. I was very interested in horses, and I really thought that I was going to end up doing something with them. But they're just, you know, came this day, probably mid teens when I realized I rather stay inside and write, then go outside and ride. So for me really it was I was always making up stories. And it was just a natural progression of deciding when Dan, I'm going to write this down. So I don't forget it. And then you know, falling in love with the art and the craft of writing and storytelling as well.
Alex Ferrari 4:20
Now, why why do you write in the first place? Is it just something that you just can't get away from?
KM Weiland 4:28
I mean, that's a good question. It's something that I continue to ask myself actually. And there's there's always different answers. I think that writing is I mean, first and foremost, obviously, it's this wonderful source of self expression. It's a way of, of exploring life of trying to make sense and bring reason to, you know, this grand adventure that we're all on. And so for me, I've always been very much attracted to epic stories to the archetypal ism of that and Being able to, you know, take take our prosaic lives and be able to see the deeper, you know, archetypes and symbolism and transform that into the, you know, the delicious drama.
Alex Ferrari 5:12
Yeah, because basically life is a basically a journey, it's a story. And we are the archetypes. We are the, the protagonist of our own story. But what you do as a writer, what writers do in general, is just cut all the boring parts structured a little bit better. Would you agree?
KM Weiland 5:32
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, it's a common bit of advice that writers you know, you can't write until you've lived. And I think probably a sense a lot of writers are introverts. That's something that we struggle with, we have this tendency to want to do our living in the stories, but I definitely find, you know, the older I get, I'm seeing more and more the wisdom of that, that advice. And I think that we, you know, we learn our stories. But living teaches us how to write great stories. So it has to be this symbiotic circle of in developing both kind of both the inner and the outer lives if we're going to both if we're going to live worthwhile lives, and if we're going to write worthwhile stories,
Alex Ferrari 6:13
absolutely. I think as artists in general, you have to live a little before you can really create unless you're a prodigy, which there are few of them. There's there's few Mozart's in the world. Now, what is your writing routine.
KM Weiland 6:27
So it changes from season to season, it kind of feels like just whatever feels right, right now what I do is, I like to dedicate mornings to writing. So I'm not I am not a morning person. So when I say mornings, it's like 10 o'clock, got it. But brunch yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed, and you know, eat breakfast workout, take care of just basic email stuff, just to make sure that the, you know, the internet hasn't imploded on me or something. And then from a minute coffee, that's always the most important part. And then from about 10 to 1230 is kind of my dedicated writing time, I like to start by rereading what I wrote the day before, to just, you know, kind of to be able to correct what I've done, you know, to keep the copy as clean as possible. But also just get back into the flow, and the mindset of what I was doing the day before, and pick a good soundtrack and then just try to keep typing. I you know, I definitely found that when I say when I'm too concentrated on trying to make every word perfect, that I get so caught up in that that I never move forward. So even though I'm a perfectionist, and it's hard, I try really hard to get into that flow and just keep typing. That's kind of my monitor, just keep typing. And ironically, I find that actually I write much better, that there's actually less to correct when I can get into that flow state and just keep writing, rather than, you know, getting sucked into the procrastination of of rereading and tweaking every little sentence as I write it.
Alex Ferrari 7:58
Procrastination is one of the devils have a writer's existence, isn't it? Yes. Now, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see writers make when it comes to character and character development?
KM Weiland 8:12
I think this is something that I mean, obviously, this is something I think about a lot. It's been a focus of, of my own writing my own journey as a writer, and also the things that I teach on my website and through my books. But something that I have really been thinking about a lot lately, particularly in response to a lot of the big name movies and books that we're seeing right now is I think that, that we're seeing that one of the biggest problems that we see is a lack of realization, that character and plot are not separate, they are two sides of the same coin. And you cannot have one without the other and still end up with a an excellent story. Something that I harp on a lot, is cohesion and resonance. I think that benchmark of great fiction is something that presents both it's a story that is cohesive, it presents a whole that is all of a piece and it has it has something to say and that what it has to say is is one unified thought. No, that also good. Also, go ahead.
Alex Ferrari 9:19
No, no, go ahead. I didn't mean to cut you off.
KM Weiland 9:21
I was just gonna continue to say that resonance is part of that is again, kind of the flip side of that, in that you can have a really cohesive story where the plot works great. And the end, the characters all seem to belong within that plot. But if it's not looking deeper into saying something that's beneath the surface, you really miss out on that resonance. So in joining cohesion and resonance, I find that that pretty much begins and ends with joining character and plot.
Alex Ferrari 9:48
Now, I'm assuming you're a movie goer, you see movies, okay, so I'm assuming you watch Marvel movies and you watch Big fans, the big and the DC movies as well. And not such a big fan. Exactly. So I was gonna ask you, what makes Marvel what Marvel's doing whether people like it who listening who like their movies or not? They're doing something, right? Because it is resonating with an audience and a large audience at that. And a worldwide audience is that, whereas DC is not, and they arguably have more popular characters, you know, how did Black Panther destroy everything? Including the biggest stars? What? What happened there? So I don't know if you want it. I don't want to get into a Marvel DC battle here. But But just as on a story, character plot standpoint, what is Marvel doing so well, that DC just does not get other than obviously, the Chris Nolan, Batman's?
KM Weiland 10:44
I think that fundamentally, I think that Marvel started out with the vision for what it was doing in DC is kind of playing catch up at this point. They're trying to copy Marvel success rather than than creating their own vision for what they're doing. And I think that's fundamentally what's happened. Marvel, I mean, has certainly had many entries within the series that are not prime examples of great storytelling. Absolutely. But I think that overall, the what they've done is created an atmosphere where there's leeway for those mistaken entries. Because they've created an overall story where people are identifying and interested in the overall plot, and particularly what they've done with character, I think that they have done an excellent job, particularly with their primary their Cornerstone characters of Captain America and Iron Man. And I think that that what they've done is they have they've been willing to be really honest with these characters. I think the Captain America movies the last two Winter Soldier and civil war, particularly good example of this, in that they did, they did things with the characters that were not what you usually see in these kinds of movies. And I think that they did that from a place of honesty about who these people really are, rather than necessarily who audiences have been trained to expect their their action heroes to be.
Alex Ferrari 12:15
That's a really good point of view, actually, because I mean, that's probably why the Nolan Batman's did so well. Because we knew Batman, I mean, we all know what Batman is. But what he did with him, he made it a completely we we just got a different take on the character and a different perspective. And he acted in a way that we weren't expecting. And I think you're right, the the especially with Captain America, and with Ironman because arguably those are not top end characters in the Marvel Universe, they are now but in the you know, they're not Spider Man. They're not the
KM Weiland 12:47
NRA and great acting side, because I think they were both extremely well cast. Absolutely. They're not characters that on the surface, you look at them and you say this, yeah, audiences are just gonna love this person. You got a goody two shoes on one hand, and, and somebody who's an absolute jerk on the other. And yet we love these characters, the way the honesty and the empathy with which they've been portrayed is, I think, at the heart of why this series has been so successful in the long run.
Alex Ferrari 13:16
And what do you think the success of Black Panther was? Because unfortunately,
KM Weiland 13:20
I didn't get to see that in the theater. So I am not sure yeah, I didn't make it.
Alex Ferrari 13:26
How will you have to go?
KM Weiland 13:29
gators closed down? I live in a little one theater town and the theater is closed. So you're gonna have to wait for VOD, unfortunately.
Alex Ferrari 13:37
Well, it is. It is it is a phenomenal entry into the Marvel universe without question, but it did it did something right, because it actually outperformed the Avengers.
KM Weiland 13:47
Yeah, the trailers look fantastic. So I'm definitely looking forward to it. Yeah. So and
Alex Ferrari 13:51
I can't wait for Infinity War that I can't even imagine what's going to happen, but we're geeking out so let's move on. So, what do you how do you write a positive or and or a negative character arc for a character?
KM Weiland 14:08
So, I believe that the fundamental premise of story versus situation is that there is change involved something changes from the beginning to the end of the story, that something is usually the protagonist, although it can be the protagonist changing the world around him, but usually what we see is either a positive change arc, which has a happy ending or a negative change arc which has generally a unhappy or sad end.
Alex Ferrari 14:35
So can you give me example of to to those arcs from from some so
KM Weiland 14:41
positive change arc? One of my favorite examples, from classic literature would be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and negative change The Great Gatsby thing about negative change actually is there's there's more there's more variations of of the negative change than we see of the positive. So we Have a disillusionment arc, which is something we see in the Great Gatsby, which is actually very similar to a positive arc except that what the character learns is not necessarily a positive truth. And we have a fall arc, which is where a character basically starts at a bad place and ends up in an even worse place. And Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is a good example of this. The Star Wars prequels with Anniken Skywalker, there, yes, here or there? It's an example of
Alex Ferrari 15:31
an example of many things not to do. But yes. He definitely starts off in and ends off worse. Absolutely.
KM Weiland 15:38
Anyway, so. And then we also have a corruption arc, which is where character starts off in a good place, this classic negative arc or character starts off in a good place and ends in a bad place Godfather Breaking Bad example.
Alex Ferrari 15:52
KM Weiland 15:53
I haven't seen that either. But yeah, that would be my impression of what I've heard about it. First of
Alex Ferrari 15:57
all, you need to stop this interview right? Now go ahead and watch that show. I can't they're Breaking Bad. Got it, you've got to watch Breaking Bad for God's sakes. So that's so so how do you do so any tips on how to write like a good positive or the negative?
KM Weiland 16:13
Okay, so the, the key to any change arc is that you're looking at a, a swivel between a lie that the character believes, and a truth that he's either going to find and be positively transformed by, or that he's going to reject and therefore be negatively impacted and changed by his inability to absorb this truth. So the character in positive arc, the character is going to start out believing a lie. And this lie is on some level going to be a survival instinct. Something has motivated this in his past that has led him to believe that he needs this lie to survive, to be able to claim his self worth or you know, just to survive in an environment that enables this line. And then over the course of the story, you know, the conflicts going to enter his life and create situations where he's going to be forced to recognize that this lie is no longer viable, slowly, it's going to become less and less effective for him in a forcing him into this place where he has to face this truth, which is, should be always a painful truth. Because if it's not, why hasn't he absorbed it before. So it's very much a story about, about sacrificing the easy things that we we hold on to that enable us and prevent us from growth. And reaching out for the powerful truths that may be difficult, but in the end are going to be very freeing and allow us to move on and deal with our flux in a way that is empowering. And then obviously, negative arcs are, are basically the opposite of that, in that the character ends up with a worse lie in a worse place than he started out.
Alex Ferrari 18:04
Is there an example in movies that you can think of a character that has that lie? I can't, I'm trying to rattling my brain to find one. But I mean, a perfect example, just as a human beings like, oh, I don't, I don't, I can't talk in front of people. But yet, that's the lie. You tell yourself not to go on and become an author and have speaking engagements, and so on and so forth. Because that's the lie that's safe, it keeps you it keeps you protected.
KM Weiland 18:30
Yeah, absolutely. I actually did an interesting exercise a while back, where I kind of used the positive arc format that I use and looked at my own life, and the things that I had accomplished as a writer, and, you know, starting out from this place, these lies that we believe, you know, as that I believed as this this shy, introverted little writer who didn't even like talking on the phone. And, you know, having to confront that and face that over. You know, I mean, it was there were challenges or difficulties and painful moments, but being able to look back and say, Yeah, I experienced this positive change in this, this embrace of a, of a truth, you know, an empowering truth of courage and, and freedom in a sense. And so it was, it was very exciting to be able to actually look back and see a complete arc in my own life because we're experiencing them over and over, in our own lives, many different ways.
Alex Ferrari 19:24
And in many different areas of our lives without question, and I think that's one of the reasons we love. We love stories as much as we do because yeah, basically us
KM Weiland 19:34
exactly. As far as a movie example, since we're talking about Marvel I, despite its many problems, I have to say I I really like the first Thor movie, because I think that it is a good example of this. This beautiful change arc that happens you know, he's he's, he's an extreme example, because he starts out in this extreme place. Yes, you know, of arrogance and complete harmony with understanding, you know the truth of the world around him and what people needed. And then this really lovely arc in which he ends from a place of realizing that rather than, you know, forcing war on somebody that he's going to go to this place of self sacrifice. So I really like that as a very obvious example of a positive change arc.
Alex Ferrari 20:19
Yeah, and Iron Man in Avengers, he sacrifices himself. And that's something that he is a character does not do. Yeah, exactly. Now, what makes a good villain because that is one problem. If we're going to go back into the Marvel world of Marvel's having problem with, they have not had a lot of great villains in this, in my opinion, and most of the people who troll the internet. So what makes a good villain in your opinion?
KM Weiland 20:47
First of all, I think it's important to differentiate between the idea of a villain which is a amoral term, and antagonist, which is not antagonists have no moral alignment within the story. They're simply someone who is opposed to the protagonists plot goal, they're an obstacle that's getting in the protagonist, soy, and presumably vice versa, the protagonist is getting in the antagonists way. So you don't necessarily have to come out of story from this idea that oh, the protagonists, a good guy, morally speaking. And the antagonist is a bad guy. morally speaking, obviously, often we we let we resort to that, like that archetype for many different reasons. But I think it's important to start from realization that just because someone is an antagonist does not mean that he is morally incorrect. And I think that then frees us up to understand the role that an antagonist plays within a cohesive story form. And that is someone who is a foil for the protagonist, not just on a plot level. But if you're going to gain that resonance that we talked about, it has to be something that also is a foil for the protagonist thematically within that character arc, as well. And I think that's where we see the Marvel movies kind of going awry with their antagonists, in that very few of them are really good examples of antagonists who matter to the protagonist journey, they're just kind of tacked on so we can have what fights either plot their plot points, if you will plot devices. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 22:23
And I always find that the villains that believe in a, in another story, they wouldn't be the villain, or they wouldn't be the antagonist because their point of view, it's just their point of view, whether they're doing it to an extreme or not, I always find those villains who have good, good intentions, but are doing it in in a an extreme way. I always find to be, you know, good. Villains are good antagonists, because they're, they don't mean bad. They're just they're they just trying to achieve a goal. But something happened to them in their in their life or their journey that caused them to be a little bit more extreme. from an outsider's point of view, from their point of view, they don't find it to be extreme. That's it's opposed to the twirling of the mustache guy on the on the railroad tracks, which a lot of times antagonists turn into.
KM Weiland 23:15
Yeah, I totally agree. I think that one of the most important exercises that a writer can do is trying to look at the world from their antagonists point of view, you know, really get into this person's head and give them a viable argument. The medically for why they're doing what they're doing, to the point that they should be able to be in a conversation with the protagonist, who's also stating his viewpoints, and be able to present such a convincing argument that they're this close to convincing not just the protagonist, but preferably the readers or the viewers as well. So that you're thinking, Hmm, he's got a point. And I think that that is, it's the key to really dimensional fiction, because that's how life is right. And also the key to getting the, the reader or the viewer to really, you know, ask themselves the hard questions instead of just saying, oh, yeah, I believe the protagonist. He's the good guy. Of course, he's right. But when you're able to create this kind of dimension, and kind of play devil's advocate, with your antagonist, you have the opportunity to get people to ask really interesting questions about the world and about their own lives.
Alex Ferrari 24:24
Right, exactly. And that's why I think, Civil War I love so much because arguably, Iron Man wasn't the bad guy, or the group wasn't the bad guys. There was that other guy who was, again, a weak villain who kind of like put them all together. But but there was two point of views. And you were either Captain, you were there on TeamCap or TeamIronMan. And it was very, you know, I was a tip cab guy. I completely agreed with him. I didn't agree with what Iron Man was trying. But but it was just very good example of point of view.
KM Weiland 24:56
Yeah, I totally agree. It's like you say the bad guy in that movie was entirely a plot. And the reason the movie still work. The reason it was interesting was because we had this interesting dialogue between characters, both of whom we actually cared about. And so we could understand where they were both coming from, without assigning moral alignment necessarily either one
Alex Ferrari 25:16
exactly know what you do if your character has no arc, you've written a story with a character with no arc, what do you do?
KM Weiland 25:24
Okay, another important distinction, I think that needs to be made at the beginning of that is that a lot of people think my character doesn't change. Therefore, there's no arc in this story. Sometimes that's true. But sometimes it's not. Flat arcs are actually just as viable and sometimes even more powerful a story arc as our change arcs. And what happens in these stories is that there is still a story of change. But what happens is that the character, the protagonist, starts out the story already in possession of the main thematic truth. So he's already got a handle on, you know, pretty much a handle on whatever's whatever's the central question of the story is, and then throughout the conflict, he is able to use that truth to transform the world around him. So it's a world that believes the lie, and the protagonist is able to transform that world, and essentially, quote unquote, give them the truth. Again, Marvel example, Winter Soldier, the second Captain America movie is a good example of this.
Alex Ferrari 26:25
And again, not everybody in the story, antagonists and protagonists have to change. If you look at Shawshank Redemption, the warden is the warden. At the end as he was at the beginning, same thing goes for the for the guards, they don't, they don't change at all. The only people who change are the other guys. And some of those characters don't change either. I mean, only Andy and red really change?
KM Weiland 26:49
Yeah, I think it's that's a question I get asked a lot is do all my characters have to have character arcs? And the short answer is no, because you go absolutely bonkers. We try to give everybody
Alex Ferrari 26:58
can you give an example of a movie, or a story that everybody changes? Like,
KM Weiland 27:03
just the thought of it's exhausting? It's a lot. But I think you know, and that's the one of the reasons it is exhausting is that optimally, you want every single arc in that story to be thematically pertinent, that it ties in to that same central lie or truth in in a related way. So it you don't want you can't just throw Oh, he this guy has a line, this guy has a different line, throw it all into the same story and expect it to come out and work. You want to build, you know, these character archetypes into a cohesive story form where they're all commenting on different facets of that the magic truth. And some sometimes the comment is, this is what happens when you don't change. This is what happens when you stay static. The warden in Shawshank is a great example of this, you know, it's, it's, you know, I think we could look at that and say, well, that's not such a great thing when you're not open to accepting truths and allowing your life to be transformed.
Alex Ferrari 28:01
And, and it really is a key point of character is that lie? Is that that lie and getting to a truth at the end of it? Is that the kind of like the arc, if you will, like you've got that lie to you, you believe. So you've got to break through that lie, to get to what the truth is of who you are as a person as a, as a character in this story.
KM Weiland 28:23
Yeah, totally. It's, it is a, the this I like to look at story, to me story is ultimately about theme, it is about the character's inner journey. And the plot in order to be cohesive to that the plot is basically a metaphor, an externalized metaphor for that inner journey, in which you're dramatizing the this internal conflict in an external way. And obviously, they they influence each other the internal conflict is going to drive the external conflict. And the things that are happening in the external plot are going to force and catalyze the change that this character is, you know, struggling against, and the beginning of the story. And then is, you know, slowly as the story continues coming to this place of realizing that yeah, this is really hard, but I have to do this, if I'm going to, you know, improve as a person and reach any place of, of inner freedom.
Alex Ferrari 29:20
So basically like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, for hope, the New Hope, he basically has the lie that he's just a farm boy, and he needs to stay to help his aunt and uncle. But you know, a movie or two later, he's a Jedi.
KM Weiland 29:35
Yeah, the original Star Wars trilogy is a great example of an arc over the course of this of a series in that you there's distinct pieces of Luke's journey in each story, you can distinctly see how he's changing. I mean, even just go look for screenshots from each of the three movies. And you know, the way he looks, his the expression on his face, the way he's dressed, the way he looks in each movie is is The obvious progression of who he is.
Alex Ferrari 30:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. With aqua and I think it's probably one of the the classic examples of the hero's journey and the story structure and all that stuff. What's your what's your vibe on the hero's journey? Is it? I mean, I know, I've spoken to a few people who who've said, like, look, the hero's journey is great, and you can literally attach the hero's journey onto any story. But it's not necessarily the end all be all.
KM Weiland 30:36
I would agree with that. I think that the hero's journey is totally viable, tremendously insightful and very useful. But I don't think that it is. I don't think it's necessarily as useful a structure for creating character arcs, you know, across genre and without formula as certain other systems. It's something that's definitely influenced my work, but it's not something that I follow religiously.
Alex Ferrari 31:03
And what can you just name a couple of other systems?
KM Weiland 31:07
Well, the ones that have been particularly formative to me, I'm a novelist, but actually the ones that have been most formative for me have been screenwriting books. So I'm sure you're probably familiar with a lot of these. Syd fields, screenwriting is a huge one. John troubIes anatomy of story was one that I've gotten a lot
Alex Ferrari 31:24
out of just got just this, John John was just on the show a few episodes ago. He's amazing. Yeah,
KM Weiland 31:29
he's great. I absolutely love his stuff. Robert McKee story. That's another one that I think is just fantastic, and dramatica dramatic. I mean, that is a really heavy system to get into. But it offers a ton of really interesting insights into archetypal stories
Alex Ferrari 31:44
dramatically. You mean the software?
KM Weiland 31:47
It is a software, but they've got a book as well. Oh, which I definitely recommend. Okay, great.
Alex Ferrari 31:52
Now, what are some keys to creating that unforgettable character?
KM Weiland 31:59
I think that, you know, primarily, you're starting from a place of the character arc, because this is telling you how the character informs the plot. And hello, plot informs the character. And within that, you're getting that dynamic sense of change, which I think that is foundational to unforgettable characters. But from there, I think that several things that you can think about to help you develop characters are number one, you're looking for dichotomies, you're looking for things in your character that, on the surface don't quite line up. Jason Bourne is one of my all time favorite characters, because I think he is a brilliant example of this. You know, here's this guy who's a killer, you know, a total, quote, unquote, mindless killer. And yet he is arguably one of the most decent people that you're ever going to find in a movie. And I love I love that I love that. That decency juxtaposed, you know, against somebody who is a murderer, basically,
Alex Ferrari 32:58
what it's like, but it's not his fault that he's a murderer, of course, in the way that he's been put in the story.
KM Weiland 33:04
Actually, that's going to be my second point in that, I think that another key to dynamic characters, is that it always has to be their fault. Whatever is happening to them, they should not be a victim, at some level, they have to be responsible for it. And I think that Jason Bourne is responsible for what's happened to him, because he made the choice right to let them turn him into that color. So and that's what haunts him that that's the guilt that haunts him through the entire series is, you know, I I did this, I let them do this to me.
Alex Ferrari 33:37
But even though in the beginning in the first movie, he's a victim of his own decision.
KM Weiland 33:43
Isn't Yeah, that's the point. He's a victim of his own decision. And so there's, there's a level of responsibility, you know, rather than just fobbing it off and saying, Oh, well, somebody did this to me, poor me. But like, oh, my gosh, I did this to me, I have to, you know, face this, I have to deal with it. And that's like a catalyst for change.
Alex Ferrari 34:03
And that's so much more interesting. Exactly. The victim like, oh, they did this to me, or they did that to me. And I'm just dealing with the world. It's no, you it was your choice. And now you've got to deal with it. Now, when you're going about structuring a plot, how do you actually kind of put it down? Do you put down do outline? Do you put down, you know, road roadmap, like a roadmap to the end and fill things in between? How do you actually do structuring a plot structure?
KM Weiland 34:33
So my approach to plot structures is basically the classic three act structure. I divide each of the acts into I divide the book into eight, basically, and go from there. But what I do and what I think I'm a big proponent of outlining my book, outlining your novel was kind of how I got started in doing the whole writing instruction thing. So I'm I'm a huge on outlining. And I think what I've seen from people, those who knew art and outlining and everything resistance to the idea is that they're often coming into the idea of outlining and structuring, through this notion that they're just going to sit down and fill in the blanks on their structure into I have an outline. And that's, that's kind of soulless, and it's boring. And then you have to, you know, somehow figure out how to apply this skeleton to this story that you're going to create. So my approach and who and I think that this is a really important way to approach either outlining or structuring. And that is, you have to get a holistic view of the story first. So I enter outlining through basically a very stream of conscious process where I like to write longhand in a notebook. And I just kind of dump out everything that I know, or sense about this story. I look for plot holes, and I'm asking questions to kind of fill those in, until I start getting a more rounded view of the story. And when that happens, I then have a rounded enough view, to kind of be able to again, begin saying, oh, okay, well, this is going to be my first plot point. Here's the the moment of truth at the midpoint, where the character is going to start his shift from being focused on the lie to being more focused on the truth. And I can just, you know, start pick, instead of, instead of looking at the structure and saying, Okay, well, I need a midpoint. So this can be my midpoint, I'm instead throwing the story onto the page, and then kind of looking around and saying, Oh, this is the midpoint. So I am, I'm taking the story and putting it fitting it into the structure, rather than using the structure to try to engineer a story. And then obviously, that will help me find you know, the parts that are missing that I need to fill in the blanks. But I find that a much more holistic process than starting with the structure and trying to, to create a story that's perfectly structured, rather than letting it find its own structure.
Alex Ferrari 37:00
Got it. And and that's a lot of missed. That's a mistake I've made in the past. And many, many writers have made it as they take that Hero's Journey model, and then it just starts slapping things in it just kind of like you're jamming everything in there and not letting letting everything breathe.
KM Weiland 37:14
Yeah. And it's not as fun either. It's not as as subconscious and holistic. So it's I just find it's not nearly as fun as doing it the other way.
Alex Ferrari 37:22
No, do you find that too many writers today are not taking enough risks with their work?
KM Weiland 37:29
I think yes, I would say yes. Overall, I think that there's this sense that they want to take risks and that they're, they're trying, but that they don't understand. It's kind of like the I always say that the the only rule in writing is follow all the rules, unless you're brilliant, and then break them. But you know, we have to in order to do that, in order to reach that level of brilliance, where we're able to take these risks that take us beyond the normal story conventions, we first have to start with that foundation in what those rules actually are, what story theory is, and why it matters. Because if we don't understand that, then we're not able to make educated decisions about where to vary from it, or where to experiment with it. But at the same time, I definitely feel like particularly in screenwriting, I would say that there's this just this, you know, this, it's it's the, the Save the cat syndrome, you know, call it Yeah, where you have this great beat sheet, and then there, you're following it so religiously. And again, I think not too holistically. And as a result, you end up you know, with something that really doesn't seem fresh, or original, it's, it's someplace we've all been there before, you know, probably dozens or even hundreds of times. So even though it may be well structured, it may be well written, it just doesn't feel fresh. And I think there's a big difference between following a beat sheet, or imposing that beat sheet on a story idea, and allowing a story to holistically find that structure, because it well find that structure, because that is what we as humans resonate with, as you know, a story arc that we can connect with.
Alex Ferrari 39:24
Now, what are a few secrets to telling a good story, in your opinion?
KM Weiland 39:28
I think everything we've talked about pretty much back to that. I think that I think honesty is key. I really believe that to tell a story that is worthwhile. That is more than just surface entertainment. And I think entertainments great I mean stories have they start and then they're if they're not entertaining, then forget about it. But as a viewer and a reader I want more. I want something that is going to tell me something about life. If that is going to make me think about myself, I do not want to be preached at, but I want an honest experience of character that allows me to see the world from someone else's perspective. And the only way that's possible is if the author is, first of all, being honest with themselves, about their lives is is, is leading a life of, of self discovery, and is trying to, you know, have their eyes wide open to what that means, and is then able to bring that honestly to the page is not censoring themselves, you know, out of fear of being judged, or whatever. But learning how to bring that in an authentic way that informs the characters in the themes.
Alex Ferrari 40:43
I think last year, there was a great movie example of that was Logan, which is such a Amai, one of my favorite movies of the year. And I think should have been nominated by far but it was a perfect entertaining, yet made you think kind of movie in a large way.
KM Weiland 41:00
Yeah, I, I love what I call pop movies. You know, the comic book stuff. I mean, on the surface, they're cheap entertainment. Right? They're sleep people and spandex running around. You're done. Right? You know, when they look a little deeper as Logan did in and are honest about the characters. I think that that mix of entertainment. And depth is is just fantastic. I think it's, it's one of the best things in storytelling.
Alex Ferrari 41:25
And it's also in all honesty, what we kind of strive for, because if you can tell a story that's honest and deep and but doesn't have the kind of it has all the steak but no sizzle. Yeah. And then Hollywood is basically all sizzle and no steak. Yeah. If you can combine the two. Yeah, that's when like Wonder Woman another if we're going back to the kind of comic book movies, another one that had a deeper understanding of things Black Panther, when you see it, you'll understand as well. Yeah, I agree with you, 100%. Now, this is a question I have for I'm going to ask for all of us writers out here. Any tips for dealing with writer's block?
KM Weiland 42:04
I think that writer's block, that is something that it always has a cause. And I find that vastly encouraging because if you can find the cause, if you can ask the right question, then you'll find the answer. In my experience, it's either it comes down to two different kinds of blocks. One is a story block. And one is a personal block. If it's a story of luck, it's usually you're just you're stuck. You know, something's not working in the story logically, it's just not making sense. And you're not able to progress it. And that's definitely the easiest one, because you can sit down. I like, again, I like to do work longhand in a notebook. And I just started asking myself questions. Why isn't this working? You know, what is? What is the problem here? And just trying to follow that back to the beginning. And, you know, find a solution. So that's, you know, relatively easy because you can work your way through it and, and find an answer without any problem. Personal blocks are a little harder. This is you know, something going on in your life.
Alex Ferrari 43:01
The lie the truth, right? Yeah, exactly. You're
KM Weiland 43:03
too busy working on your own character arc. But yeah, you're you're going through something difficult in your life, you're depressed, there's, you know, yeah, you, you've experienced the death of a loved one, something like that. Got it, or something much less dramatic. I mean, health can definitely have an effect on that. And in those instances, again, I think it's really important to identify, you know what the problem is, instead of, I think, say, Oh, I've got writer's block, that's not the answer, you know, that that's not helping you, you have to go deeper and find, oh, this is why I'm totally unmotivated right now. And then you have to evaluate whether it's a legitimate excuse, you know, if you're just being lazy, because you're scared to deal with the page will you know, then then you have to deal with that. And I'd say get back to writing. But if it's something else, you know, if you're going through a legitimate difficulty in your life, if health is a big issue, then I would say be kind to yourself, you know, there's, there's a time and a place to crack the whip and get to writing. And there's a time and a place to step back and concentrate on yourself and your life and not subject yourself to you know, the guilt that is associated with the idea of writer's block.
Alex Ferrari 44:13
One of the great movies about writer's block that I've ever seen was adaptation. Did you like that movie?
KM Weiland 44:21
Have I haven't haven't seen the whole thing so I've been completely able to comment on that. Well,
Alex Ferrari 44:25
okay. All right.
KM Weiland 44:28
add to the list,
Alex Ferrari 44:29
add it please add it to the list. I mean, but Breaking Bad seriously, I mean, stop it. Now um, and what can I ask you? Why do you think stories are so important to our society in general today? Why is it mean so much and today's you know, I can understand when back when there was nothing to do other than hunting gather. But in today's world, why is story so important still
KM Weiland 44:52
think the story is hardwired into who we are as humanity. I think it's something that we we've we have crave at every juncture in history and will continue to crave. I think that you know, it's it is a expression of self actualization. So I think it is particularly important pertinent in today's you know, society, we live in a first world country where, for most of us survival isn't an issue, you know, it's it, we have easier lives than arguably, anybody, any other generation in history. On a physical sense, our physical needs are completely met. And that gives us a lot of time and space to address the deeper needs of life, self worth, self purpose, you know, what, what does it all mean?
Alex Ferrari 45:40
Look, like when the Greeks had slaves basically, back in the day, and they think that and they just sit around thinking deep thoughts. Yeah,
KM Weiland 45:46
exactly. And I'm not saying we're on par with that.
Alex Ferrari 45:50
But by far,
KM Weiland 45:52
I think it gives us time to, to need to find, you know, answers. And I think story is such a great venue for that. Because number one, it's it's very non threatening. On a certain level, it's something that we do for enjoyment. It's an easy way to connect with, you know, our fellow human beings. But it also when it's done well, is something that, you know, gives us insight into who we are, you know, as individuals, as people into our history into our future. And I think that those, those are big questions, and they're questions that we all want answers to. And story is one of the best ways that we find those answers, not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level as well.
Alex Ferrari 46:42
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
KM Weiland 46:51
That's interesting. I actually just wrote a post about that. A couple months ago, I was reading a really great anthology called light the dark, which asked many, many different excellent writers. What what was their formative influence? Basically, why did you become a writer, and I'm reading this book, and and, you know, they all have these blind dancers, which they probably thought about for a long time before they wrote the post, but it was just like, they immediately knew what their response was. And I'm going, I don't know, you know, what was my influence? So I got to thinking about that. And kind of just thinking about the stories that I'm repeatedly drawn to the stories that I'm interested in writing, which again, or are very much this epic, archetypal approach to drama. And there was a book when I was probably I'm going to say eight or nine that my dad had actually read to me. And you know, looking back now I see it, it was this completely crazy pulpy, melodramatic romance that was written in the, in the 1700s. About William Wallace, it was called the Scottish chiefs. And it was really interesting, I just pulled it off the shelf. And I'm like, Okay, well, I'm gonna write about this book. And I flipped open to a passage that I remembered and was just shocked by this, this book that I just kind of randomly chosen is the book, and this passage that I kind of randomly turned to you. And within that passage, it was about the death of a brother in arms in the middle of that, and it was like, This is my writing, this is everything that I write about. And so it was kind of just shocking and interesting to realize that whether that book had actually influenced everything that I'd written afterwards, or whether it was just an example of something that I continue to resonate with, it was very interesting to kind of look back on that, that did of my childhood.
Alex Ferrari 48:42
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life or not the film business, obviously, in writing or in life?
KM Weiland 48:51
Well, that's that is an interesting question. I'm going to say. I think that I think it's been the idea of being kind to myself, I think that it's something that we see in people in general, but particularly, I think, in writers, there's this self flagellation, this, this constant sense that we're not measuring up that we're not writing isn't any good. You know, what we're trying to say also, we all suck. Yeah. Yeah. And I think a realization that, number one, we're all in this together. And we all felt that way. So, you know, it's really not a benchmark. And, um, but also just realizing that it's a journey, you know, it's life is not so much about the destinations as it is about the journey. Oh, yes. And that's true in life as much as it is in the actual writing process.
Alex Ferrari 49:41
Now, this is going to be part of the toughest question of all three of your favorite three of your favorite films of all time.
KM Weiland 49:47
Oh, gosh. Okay, well, number one, it's got to be the great escape. That's my all time favorite movie. I Oh, we watch it every year. I'm Gladiator. Oh, Definitely movie and I'm gonna go mastering Commander for the third one wow
Alex Ferrari 50:03
master commander now that has not been on the list before on the show. So yeah, I
KM Weiland 50:08
love that movie. Um, Patrick O'Brien, who wrote the Aubrey madron books on which that is based is an absolute genius as far as I'm concerned, and the movie is one of the best adaptations of A, not just a book, but of a series that I've ever seen.
Alex Ferrari 50:22
Very cool. And then where can people find you online?
KM Weiland 50:27
Okay, so my writing website is helping writers become authors.com.
Alex Ferrari 50:32
Okay, that's it. And of
KM Weiland 50:36
course, you have many books that you can find all on the
Alex Ferrari 50:39
website, and you have many books that you've written and all that stuff. And we'll put links to all of them on the show notes. Katie, thank you so much for doing this. It has been an absolute pleasure talking shop with you. It really was.
KM Weiland 50:50
Absolutely, it was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 50:54
Katie was an absolute pleasure to talk to and I learned so much about character arcs and plotting, story structure and all sorts of other things. I love hearing different. You just different people's point of view on story. Because, again, there is no absolute way everyone has their own path to go to, but listening to different people's stories. Different people's way of telling stories, helps you develop your own and what clicks for you and what works for you. So again, Katie, thank you so much for being on the show. If you want links to anything that we talked about in this episode, including her books, and anything else you has to offer, head over to indie film hustle.com, forward slash BPS 012. And that's also for the indie film hustlers listening to this podcast as well. I hope you enjoyed this crossover event. Like I said before, I'm going to do this every once in a blue moon. But I think it's a lot of fun. And if you have not if you're first of all, if you're an indie film Hustler, and you have not signed up for bulletproof screenplay, please head over to screenwriting podcast COMM And sign up and subscribe on iTunes. And please leave us a good five star rating would really help us out a lot. And if and vice versa. If you are a bulletproof screenplay listener, and have not signed up for the indie film, hustle podcast and are interested in filmmaking, and all every single aspect of filmmaking other than screenwriting, please sign up. It's really a lot of fun as well. And head over to filmmaking podcast.com and you can sign up there as well. And as many of you guys know, last week, I was sick, I was sick all weekend. I'm still a little bit nasal, as you can kind of hear in my voice. But I'm here getting you out the content that I have to get you guys out every week. But I only did one episode last week for each app for each podcast. So this week, I will be back on regular schedule as well. But thank you for all the well wishes on Twitter and Facebook. It truly, really helped and I really appreciate it guys. So as always, keep the hustle going. keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon and keep on writing no matter what. See you soon guys.
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