BPS 099: Screenwriter’s Guide to Plotting Stories & Theme with K.M. Weiland

Today on the show we have returning champion author K.M. Weiland. I wanted to bring her back on the show to discuss her new book Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter.

“Theme Is What Your Story Is Really About.”

Theme—the mysterious cousin of plot and character. Too often viewed as abstract rather than actionable, theme is frequently misunderstood and left to chance. Some writers even insist theme should not be purposefully implemented. This is unfortunate because in many ways theme is story. Theme is the heart, the meaning, the point. Nothing that important should be overlooked.

Powerful themes are never incidental. They emerge from the conjunction of strong plots and resonant character arcs. This means you can learn to plan and implement theme. In doing so, you will deepen your ability to write not only stories that entertain, but also stories that stay with readers long after the end.

Writing Your Story’s Theme will teach you:

  • How to create theme from plot and character.
  • Why every supporting character and subplot should enhance the theme.
  • How to prevent theme from seeming preachy or “on the nose.”
  • What to consider in identifying the best theme for any given story.
  • And much more!

Conscious mastery of theme will elevate every story you write and allow you to craft fiction of depth and meaning.

Enjoy my conversation with K.M. Weiland.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:20
I'd like to welcome back to the show, returning champion, Katie Weiland. How you doing, Katie?

K.M. Weiland 3:16
Good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 3:17
Of course, thank you for coming back on the show your first, your first appearance on the show about character arcs was extremely popular, a lot of people really, really liked it. A lot of people in the tribe really, really liked it. So when I saw that you had a new book out, covering theme, of course, I had to invite you back to Yeah, to chat about

K.M. Weiland 3:39
Character arcs and theme are two of my favorite subjects. So

Alex Ferrari 3:44
And you're new, and your new book is called writing your stories theme. Yes. And it just came out a few weeks ago as of this recording. So yeah, and it's already number one on like, multiple lists on Amazon already and everything. So yeah, it's exciting. It's always exciting to being on. Yeah, I remember when I get when you get that little, that little orange thing next, like number one bestseller on you. It's like the see like, so nice. Nice when you do that. So Alright, so can you define what a theme is? The theme of a story is for the audience.

K.M. Weiland 4:20
Yeah. So I think that's kind of like why I wrote the book. Because I think that there's a lot of ways that we can think about theme. And there are a lot of ways that people approach it, you'll have one person talking about it in this aspect when somebody's talking to each other in there. There's a lot of confusion, I think because of that, particularly about applying theme because some of those descriptions are not practical. Some of them are just very abstract. So you can have theme as just like a unifying idea of the story, something like that if you can have dramatic metaphors in which the story represents something. It's it's an example of something that is it's demonstrating from within, but for me the way that I approach theme in the way that I have found it most interesting and most practicable, is to think of it, to realize that really what it is, is the meeting of plot and character. And that, particularly when I was working on the character arcs book, it became really clear to me that when you're developing character arc, what you're doing is proving your theme. And this is true, ultimately, whether people are trying to impose a theme onto the story apart from the character arc or not, what your character undergoes, and how he changes with over the course of the story. That ultimately is what your story is about. And whatever, we'll call it a lesson, although I don't really like that, because it's very moral of the story. But whatever lesson that characters learning, whether it's existential or moral, or I mean, it can be very deep or very shallow. But that ultimately is what your story is putting out into the world and what it's positing about our reality, and that, ultimately, is the theme of the story. So if you can identify that, that through line, where your blood and your character come together, and also like harmonizes, this this debate we have between plot versus character, and which is better. Because together, they come together, and they create the theme of the story, and this beautiful thru line. And then of course, there's so much complexity that arises out of that, and how we're then able to, you know, bring in symbolism and bring in all kinds of layers of metaphor, to to really garnish kind of the theme as we go along

Alex Ferrari 6:32
To support the theme, if you will, yeah. Well, that they'll does every story have a theme?

K.M. Weiland 6:38
I believe, yes.

Alex Ferrari 6:39
I've been the bad even the bad stories?

K.M. Weiland 6:43
Well, that's a good question. I think that I've always taken issue with this idea that people will talk about just a story. I think that's total baloney. Because ultimately, one way or another story is always saying something about our world. Sometimes it's saying it really well, sometimes it's not saying it very well at all, I think a big problem with a lot of stories that don't work, is they don't really know what they're saying. And so they're just kind of throwing out multiple messages. They're still saying something, but it's not a unified, cohesive and resonant kind of a hole. But yeah, I think every time you put a visual on the screen, every time your character says something, every sentence on the page, that's saying something. And within the patterns that arise in a larger work, you're always going to have a theme, whether it's well executed or not.

Alex Ferrari 7:35
So can we can I can I do like a couple of rapid fire movie titles and see if you can decipher a theme for me, just like her all the time. If you see no, I'm gonna try to choose some very popular ones. So any of the Indiana Jones is like, what is the theme of Indiana Jones? Because he's one of the more famous characters in cinema history.

K.M. Weiland 7:54
Yeah, so Indiana Jones is interesting, because he is a character that is typically seen not to have a character arc is very, very bond the same? Exactly. It's very episodic. And that's the way it was designed to be as like the old serial shows, Sherlock.

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Right.

K.M. Weiland 8:12
long time since I've seen those movies. I would say the first one, we definitely can see themes of responsibility. In the end, and the climax, we see how bad guys the Nazis are disregarding the Ark of the Covenant and are not respecting the history and the archaeology. And Andy does and Indy survives, and they die. So right there, I think even just in that we have a statement. You know, from the storytellers about what they think, you know, is is a truth. And inherent in that is a theme.

Alex Ferrari 8:47
So theme is basically like, I think you just said that clear word, this is a statement. So the storyteller is creating a statement for the world to understand through the story that they're writing, essentially. And that's what as a writer, you should start thinking about the theme or the statement that you're trying to make through character, which then termed goes into, through character plot, and then essentially theme and then I think, isn't theme essentially character and plot kind of?

K.M. Weiland 9:16
Exactly. Together? Yeah, I think a lot of there's this like misconception, I consider it a misconception that a lot of it was definitely something that I was taught a lot, or read a lot when I was starting out, it was basically like, don't think about your theme. Don't write a theme. Because if you do, one of two things will happen. Either you'll end up with this horrible moral of a story, or you'll end up you know, just trying to hammer this theme into a story and it doesn't fit and it's inorganic. And I think there's a lot of truth to that. But I think once you understand that theme just emerges organically when your plot and your character are working together. So I think yeah, it's really important and amazing when an author has a passionate statement that they want to make. But at the same time, I would be a little cautious of that, because you don't want it to end up, you know, being so moralistic that that's all the story is about. And it's the art of story is, is making the plot and the character arc and external metaphor or the theme. So you could use there many, many stories that never actually say what they're about. They never state what the theme is. But if they're really well done, then just simply through the scenes, the visual scenes through the characters and their interactions, and ultimately through how the characters have changed and what is decided, in the climactic moment of the conflict. The readers and the viewers get it, you know, we see very clearly what is damaged. I mean, Indiana Jones is a great example. Because we see it's very visual, we see exactly what is being said in this story. So like it or not,

Alex Ferrari 10:54
right, exactly. So just so everybody understands listening, so if you as if the author if we lived in an alternate universe, where I think there is a show called The the man, the man on the top castle or something like that, where the Nazis won, where the Nazis won, and Indiana Jones then would have been never called Indiana Jones, they would have called the Nazis are just trying to find some archaeological experiments. If that whole concept was switched, where then the bad guys win, the good guys lose. And that's just the way it's supposed to be. That's a statement by the storyteller stating that that's the way the world should be. That's the that's what they're trying to put out there into the world. That's the theme of the story. So and then it's up to you to believe it or not. So it's almost becomes a propaganda but propaganda. Now we're getting into another conversation where propaganda is all about point of view. And the point of view of the Nazis is that propaganda, it's a story, but from our point of view is like, that's just essentially perfect.

K.M. Weiland 11:53
Yeah. And I think that's a really good example, actually about point of view in that you we could, we could, and we have many stories that do not end well, that seem to be positing something that most of us would completely disagree with. But because of the way it's done, you know, it's done with irony. We understand like this, this is not like, this isn't literally what the filmmaker or the the writer is saying. But they're using irony to kind of say the exact opposite. Whereas in other stories, it's completely on the nose. And like, yeah, Nazis are great. That's, that's, and that is, you know, where we get into the whole thing of propaganda.

Alex Ferrari 12:29
Right? Well, I mean, so I mean, just using the movie, like Thelma and Louise, I mean, it does not end happily. I mean, they do not, they do not ride off into the sunset, they kind of do, but not in the way that we normally and I think that was also a beautifully twist that they did, they did lit they literally did right off into the sunset. But unfortunately, spoiler alert off a cliff. So but the themes in that movie are so powerful, and and and that story are so powerful. And so it, and it's I mean, it is pretty on the nose. I don't know, how would you like I mean, I'm assuming you've seen Thelma and Louise. Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's, it's on the nose. But it's, it's not though. I don't know. What do you think?

K.M. Weiland 13:13
Well, I was gonna say that, I think that it's much easier to do themes that are not on the nose, when they don't end, happy, happy. It's not to say Happy Endings don't work or aren't resonant. But when everything works out, you know, when the hero is the shining Knight of truth, and he's completely rewarded for this. It doesn't resonate, it doesn't ring true. And so I think in a movie, like Thelma and Louise, which ends tragically, there's this resonance, because there's also there's also a triumph. There's also a heroism in the way it ends, because they, they end in alignment with the story is truth, even though it also is, you know, the end of their lives and therefore a tragic end story. So but I think that's a that's a really important point. Actually, it's not that you can't end happy endings, well love happy endings. But it's important that that happy ending when you if that's what you're doing is earned, that the the character, whether they, you know, have represented the thematic truth throughout the story, or they've come to it in the end, that it hasn't been easy, because I think we all resonate with that, because in our own lives, it's not easy. And we kind of resent it when the hero is just like, everything's just super easy for him. And then he can shake his finger at us in the end and say, See, that was the truth. Everybody should do this. And we resent the authors as well. We resent when that happens. And then I'll use one of the movies I bring. I bring this movie up a lot because it's such a powerful story. Very popular story. Not powerful, but very popular story in the Zeitgeist of the world right now are the Avengers in the whole Marvel Universe, where I'm assuming Did you see the last Avengers the Big Bang game one,

Alex Ferrari 14:58
okay. So and again, If you don't no one's seen it, please stop the recording because I'm going to give you a couple of spoiler alerts here. But the end of that movie, it could so easily just been a normal. The good guys beat up the bad guys, there's no there's no risk. There's no no one no loss, no nothing. But yet, in that they they created not only a little loss, massive loss where Tony Stark essentially sacrifices himself because the the obstacle was so large that someone had to die. And that made that resonate so much more than everyone sitting around eating trauma at the end of the movie, which work which worked fine for the first Avengers, but not so much for the last one, because they had built it up over time someone had to die in order for this to work. And so would you agree?

K.M. Weiland 15:47
Yeah, totally. Um, I was really psyched that basically they brought the story to an end, you know, even though supposedly, supposedly, it's going to continue in other movies, they brought that story to an end. And that's something that I find is very problematic. And serial fiction, whether it's, you know, TV series that just go on and on and on, or things, you know, potentially like the Marvel Universe, there's no end. And if there's no, no, there's no, there's no meaning, ultimately, because you're not saying this is what the story is about. And also, it's really hard, like you say, to ramp those stakes and say, this matters, if there isn't an end, and there aren't consequences. So yeah, I that was something. I mean, that series is a whole big Marvel fan. But I mean, it was, like you said it had its problems. It wasn't a seamless presentation by any means. But I was very happy and very impressed with what they did by bringing it full circle in that final story in a lot of ways, first and foremost, for bringing it to an end. But also, I just thought it was just fantastic how they brought it for full circle, how to begin the very first movie, we go all the way back to Iron Man ends with him saying I am Iron Man. And then we get to come all the way to the end. And it means something completely different. In the beginning, it's totally egoic. In the end, it's totally self sacrificial. So I thought that was very powerful, a very powerful example of why we need to bring stories to an end.

Alex Ferrari 17:12
And also, I mean, and we want to talk about the magic. I mean, well, comic books, specifically the Marvel comic book characters. They are I mean, the themes are so they, I mean, Stan, you know, God, rest in peace has created some of the most memorable characters in human history, essentially, and but their themes are extremely powerful. And I think that's one of the things that resonates so powerfully with, with, with people around the world, every one of those, and it's not stories that have themes, but I feel that the characters have theme more, because there's a theme attached to Spider Man, and to Hulk and to Fantastic Four and two x men, x men is racism and stat being a loner and standing out, Spider Man is being a young kid just trying to figure things Hulk is obviously anger, fantastic for his family issues. But they're but their themes associated the character, can you attach themes to characters? I mean, obviously, you can. But what's your take on that?

K.M. Weiland 18:09
Yeah, and I think that's actually that's a great way to bring it back to plot and character. Because and honestly, the whole Marvel if we look at the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know, through that story arc, there's a bazillion different plots going on, everybody's got their own plots, you know, every movies got its own plot. And really, at the end of the day, it's not the plots we remember, you know, we don't we don't think about Oh, that was such a great plot. And in, you know, that particular movie, because most of them weren't, a lot of the plots were very problematic. And a lot of

Alex Ferrari 18:39
like, I could remember that when you said that I'm like, which of the plots I remember, like winter soldier was really good Winter Soldier is probably one of the best. And there's like a handful of like, plots that I remember, but I don't remember the plots as much.

K.M. Weiland 18:50
Yeah, you remember the characters. And I think that it's exactly because theme is so rooted in character. And the story, the series works as a whole overarching, because that does have a plot that has a unifying plot in which everything kind of works together with fantasy as the antagonist. Which is another good point about how antagonists pull together the plot, which is why a lot of the individual movies had their problems with plot. But yeah, it's the characters theme is inherent in the character arc. It's inherent in the the internal conflict between the Matic lies and truths that happen on a character level. And you can stick you know, themes onto the surface of a plot and say this plot is about why war is evil, or whatever. But if it's not happening inside of the character, if you're not just feeling that struggle, then you're really going to struggle to execute a meaningful theme that is going to resonate with with viewers or readers.

Alex Ferrari 19:51
Now, what is the thin yet thematic principle?

K.M. Weiland 19:56
Okay, thematic principle is basically a term for any iteration of theme that you find in your story. So it's the unifying idea, though, when you are trying to figure out what is my theme. And you're, you know, looking at like, well, it's kind of about this. And it's kind of about that the thematic principle is going to be your through line. So that is something that once you identify it with us, once you identify what is at the heart of specifically the protagonists, character development, that is going to become that the magic principle for the story, and is something that you can then kind of use up as a plumb line to measure all the other little elements and decide is this working? Is this supporting the theme is approving the theme? Or is it just kind of extraneous and really telling a different story altogether?

Alex Ferrari 20:42
Now, how do you prevent theme from becoming a little bit on the nose or preachy? Because that I mean, we've all seen movies, or read books that are a little bit on the nose a little bit, like, stop preaching to me so much, and just tell me a story?

K.M. Weiland 21:00
I think that's a good question. Because I mean, so many of us, you know, if we're, if we're interested in theme at all, it's probably because we really are passionate about certain topics, and we want to be able to comment on them or share our views in some degree. And honestly, that's a, that's a tricky thing to do, and the medium of fiction, because when you are on the nose, when you say this is the way it is, this is what I think and you should think and do. It doesn't never go as well. Um, but I think one of my favorite ways to look at this and it isn't explicit. But one of my favorite kind of rules of thumb, is to think of it as if stories are not there to answer to provide answers. They're there to ask questions. And I think this is most powerful when the author himself is asking the question, because I mean, we all have our ideas about how we think things should be or how things will turn out if this and this happens. But I think when when the author him or herself really inhabits that question, whether they think they know the answer or not, and explores it from within the drama of the story, you know, throws the characters into the plot, and lets events start happening. You to really explore that you have to get down on the ground and get down and dirty and really question your own beliefs about things. Otherwise, the characters do not ring true. And I've always said that if you don't like you're not almost convinced, by your antagonists point of view, then you're not writing him, right. And your theme is probably going to come across very one sided. I think the most powerful themes are the ones where the protagonist, and to some degree, the author, and to some degree, the readers have a serious question about what about the worldview that's being presented? Is this working? You know, is this really how it's going to be because of the sacrifices that are involved in the the moral gray areas and all of that? I think Sam Raimi is speaking of Marvel I think Sam Raimi is versions of the his original two Spider Man movies first to get a really, really great job of this really explored the consequences of heroism and responsibility and, and I mean, we really see that even in the second one were Peters like completely questioning do I do I even want to be Spider Man, this stinks, I don't want to do. And that really flies in the face of kind of the surface. obvious way to go about, you know, being a heroes great. This is awesome. If everybody wants to, you know, have a need. That was a very powerful exploration of that subject.

Alex Ferrari 23:39
Yeah, I mean, because you're right, because everybody's like, everybody wants to have powers, but everyone, that's what what made Stan so amazing, is that he gave superheroes problems. like Superman never had any, you know, like issues with his relationships. You know, at the beginning, you know, Batman was pretty wonderment like he's like, you know, and Wonder Woman did dead and Aquaman did that. But when you got into the Marvel, I mean, you got spider man who had pimples I was dealing with, you know, being a nerd at school, like, oh, like everybody else has dealt with at one point in their life or another and gave it in giving those problems. That's, I think, what made those characters so they resonate so much, even to this day, and that's why I guess the popularity of the MCU so much, is because even the creator even like me, man, like you Guardians of the Galaxy. When Adam and Guardians of the Galaxy came out I was like, Wow, man, they are just scraping like the butt like and nobody wants to see a man movie. And yet Ant Man was like an amazing heist film. It was just like a fun heist film almost. It was just it's it's it's remarkable. But you also said something earlier regards to antagonists bringing together the theme. Can you kind of delve into that a little bit more like using let's say Thanos as an example because Santos was such a an overarching He was only this the true villain in two, two movies, right? It was the last two Avengers. He was that he was the actual villain, where he always was kind of like, you know, he was the puppet master for the first eight years or something like that. And then he just showed him He's like, Well, apparently no one else is gonna get it done. So I'll show up and take care of it. But how how does a character like Daniels kind of bring together the theme of that whole overarching, first 10 years of the MCU?

K.M. Weiland 25:27
Well, I think, to me, the the best entry point to that question is really to look at how the antagonist kind of defines the plot. And obviously, as we've been talking about plot theme character, they're all they're all three sides of the same thing, basically. So you can hardly talk about one without talking about the other. But the antagonist is, as the obstacle that is opposing the protagonist in the story, he's what creates the conflict. So no antagonists no conflict, no story, the protagonist, just, you know, goes straight to finish and gets $200 or whatever. And so the, but the antagonist is, as we all get that, so yeah, there's a horrible bad guy out there in the distance that we know is gonna show up and be the big boss in the climax. But if that antagonist isn't consistently what is opposing the protagonist throughout the structure of the story, then ultimately the story, it just, I mean, at its best, it's still kind of works. But it loses that deep cohesion and resonance because the protagonist is off doing other stuff. He's, you know, dealing with other antagonists. And I think we see that again and again, in the Marvel movies, it's like the the antagonist is is kind of the subplot. He's off doing whatever shows up for the big battle. And most of the time, it's more interesting personal problems that are actually the plot of the story as we like Iron Man to immediately comes to mind.

Alex Ferrari 26:53
You are like, I mean, like Black Panther had a great antagonist, he has a, there's a handful of really good villains. Very few, though, I want to say probably like, five, out of all the movies that were like, holy cow, these are really good. I mean, I think warmongers actually going to get his own spin off movie. Really, I heard, I heard, I heard through the geek, the Geek vine, that, that he's actually gonna get his own spin off. Because he was, he was just the opposite side of the coin of Black Panther. And he arguably was, was right. And in regards to what his his point, his world point of view was even Black Panther agreed with him. He just didn't agree with how he was doing it. But he agreed with it. That's what made it so amazing, because the hero is not supposed to agree with the point of view of the villain. But yet you're like, Look, you're right. You know, things were bad, but you just can't go around killing people. Yeah, I

K.M. Weiland 27:49
think that Black Panther is actually a good example of kind of both sides of the coin. And that structurally, it struggled with the antagonist a little bit it had some issues with the antagonist, being there throughout the story. And being you know, he kind of doesn't show up until I want to say like, halfway through almost really, like he said that the build dead, the setups.

Alex Ferrari 28:07
Yeah, that that kind of set everything up, right,

K.M. Weiland 28:09
anyway. But he's also a great example of what I was saying about how we need to be almost convinced by the antagonists point of view. And when that happens, you get that really is like the generator of all of this potential for amazing change within the protagonist. And when the protagonist starts changing, or any character but particularly the protagonist, that's where a theme is generated, because it can't help but just spontaneously emerge from what's happening from the events in the story.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
Well, yeah, like, I mean, Thanos his point of view is like, Look, everything's overpopulated. We need it, we need to thin the herd. I mean, again, rough conversation to have, do we agree with the concept of like, Yeah, all the resources are being taken away. And there are too many, you know, creatures in the war in the universe and things like that. But you can't just kill everybody with the snap of a finger. So the point of view is, it's like not, it's not, that's what I think always find a good villain to be in a good theme for a villain is the the twisting of the mustache character sucks. Oh, there's just horrible. They just like, oh, he's just being bad. Because there's no point I've just been, we've been watching a lot since we've been locked up a lot of old movies, again, a lot of old shows again. And and when you see a villain, you're like, oh, that villain has no point of view, and it's dead. The whole movie dies. The whole the whole story falls apart when the when the there's no real strong point of view. But when the villain does have that strong and you write theme just kind of just just flourishes right out of that, because it has to there is no other way. It has to be there. Yeah, it's like the protagonist, you know, comes in and says, you know,

K.M. Weiland 29:45
this is the right way to do it. And then as soon as the antagonist comes up with a convincing argument, why that's not so it's just the the protagonist is kind of like, Oh, well, Plan B, I guess. There is no plan B and so then all sudden, there's like, genuine You know, character development, story development, unexpected, you know, original events that come out of that because it is so genuine in that the author or the storytellers are really, you know, having that discussion with themselves. Like, Oh, well, maybe maybe my hair was not as bright as I thought he was. What does that mean? and all kinds of interesting things come out of that.

Alex Ferrari 30:23
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, thematically a film series and a character like James Bond, James Bond, original James Bond pre Daniel Craig, what is the theme of those movies? You know, woman eyes, drink a lot of alcohol, then just kill people and distract and indispensability.

K.M. Weiland 30:42
Like, like any of the ones before Daniel Craig, but of course, I'm familiar with the gist of him. I don't Yeah, see that? That, to me is an example of every story has a theme, but just because it's saying something doesn't necessarily mean that it's having a positive influence on the world. Right,

Alex Ferrari 31:05
James? Because James Bond, honestly, before Daniel, once because, you know, of course, I always consider Casino Royale, probably the best James Bond movie, in my personal opinion. Yeah,

K.M. Weiland 31:13
I really like that.

Alex Ferrari 31:14
I mean, it's just, it's a masterpiece in that genre. But But he he was a character, he had a character arc. James Bond never had a character arc before. Like, you know, Sean Connery, his car, you know, and Pierce Brosnan, they were the same dude, from the beginning to the end, they never really changed. They just kind of went along, not even the people around them changed. I mean, maybe some of the, the female toys that he used along the way, like the bond girls, which is so out of date, and but that for the time that it came out, it was it was it but you go back and thinking like this is not a message that kind of resonate. Now, if you just forget all about the message, just enjoy the ride, then I get it, it's a ride, and you're going along. So he's the good guy is going to stop the bad guy, but it's not really deep.

K.M. Weiland 32:03
Yeah, and I think that's fine to a point. But that's why I say there's no such thing as just a story is anything that you're bringing into your environment that is becoming a part of your own, you know, view of the world and your own reality that's changing you in some way or another, you know, whether you're it could, it could be conscious, it could be not. So I think that's a great example. I haven't seen those movies. So I'm not I can't directly comment on them. I've only seen the Daniel Craig ones. And but I think it's a great example of how mindless entertainment is never actually harmless entertainment. There's always something that is affecting your view of the world.

Alex Ferrari 32:43
You know, you're absolutely right, because like, like mindless video games and things like that people are like, because video games are stories, and we're telling a story with the video games, you're just performing the story yourself. But a lot of times those those stories and those kind of mindless movies or mindless shows, they there's something coming through it sometimes it's not good. And it does, it does have an effect on people, whether that be ultraviolence whether that be massage and whether it be you know, the Nazis you know, any of those kinds of things. It's as storytellers we have a very big responsibility. With especially if you're given the platform of and millions and millions of dollars to make a movie or show. We have a big responsibility. And the creators have a big responsibility to what I love what you've been saying this a couple times that deposit. What are you depositing into, you know, the statement you're making, you're depositing this into the world's narrative. Now, that's a very powerful statement. And I love that you said I might actually steal that. Because it's, it's true every time you you tell a story, you're depositing it into the library of the human experience that might live for a long time, I might just fall off to the into the wasteland. But it is extremely important that you know that you have that you have this responsibility. Would you agree?

K.M. Weiland 34:10
Yeah, totally. That's something I'm, I'm very happy you said that, actually. Because that's something I'm really passionate about. Just in that, I think there's so much entertainment is so available to us now. And it's so easy for people to create it. You know, we're and I think that's great. I mean, I think storytelling is a deeply important thing for anybody to do that. It's it's very powerful. Just on a personal level, never mind if you're actually able to, you know, share that with other people. But I think we are able to share what we're creating more and more easily with people around us. There's just so many platforms, and it's so easy, you know, in easy to you know, get out there and have an audience and most of us do it because it's fun. It's entertaining. It's fun, you know, and we just want to, we think we just want to entertain other people. And that's fine to a point. But I do think we have to truly recognize the responsibility of what we're doing. Stories are, it's one thing to say, this is my view of the world, I want you to believe it. It's another thing to write a story about it, particularly a relatively well crafted story, which ultimately is a subliminal message. You know, most people are not conscious of what they are of the truth that they're receiving, through stories. If the themes are really well done, nobody's saying them, but they're there and just the same, they're being proven, you know, through the reality of the story through the visuals, and the events. And I, I believe very strongly that it's deeply important for artists of all stripes, but particularly storytellers, in this context, to recognize that, you know, the power is yours to do what you will with, but be conscious of it. Because there is no such thing as just a story. Even if you're the only person who reads it, it's still affecting you. It's changing you. And insofar as it changes you, it's going to have a ripple effect that changes the world around you.

Alex Ferrari 36:07
It is arguably one of the most powerful things that the human, the humans have created a story because it is a story can change a person's perspective point of view, it could go bad, or it can go. Good. And that's also relatively speaking, like I always tell people, you know, Hitler didn't wake up every morning thinking he was the bad guy. He woke up every morning like I'm doing God's work, like, you know, that's that was, that was him as a villain, you have to think that Darth Vader is not sitting around going. So add? No, he had, it's always about a point of view. And but it is, we as filmmakers have to think that and i and i know you've probably seen this as well, when you read stories, by first time writers or young writers, that that's not there, they're not thinking that far ahead. In regards to the story of how this story could actually affect people, they're just trying to get a story written that that's hard enough, let alone like, Oh, god, you're gonna throw this responsibility on me now that I have to, I have to like, Oh, my God, what? Like, I have a loaded shotgun, and I'm walking around with it like, no, look, look, yes. But don't worry, you're not going to kill anybody with a story, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully. But but it is a responsibility, but you don't see that. And only when you start seeing like the Masters work, then you start seeing the just weave theme in so effortlessly, characters almost so effortlessly, that you just go Okay, so when you start reading Shakespeare, you know, that dude, or you start reading, you know, even current day masters like Stephen King, or JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series, like you start looking at the stuff that they did and how they wrote it, it's just, but the themes just pop so heavily in all of those things.

K.M. Weiland 38:04
Yeah. And I think you use the word master. And I think that's the key there is that they've mastered the plot, they've mastered the character. And because of that, like I say, the theme emerges. And it's there. And it's so powerful, because the stories they're writing are so cohesive, they're so resonant. All the pieces are there for a reason. And they had, I think, both Stephen King and probably rolling they have, they have things they want to say. And they say them, you know, well, they say them, you know, through the honesty of their own stories, and that has clearly resonated with billions of people. But yeah, I think I think it is perhaps, good for writers who are starting out to realize that Yeah, you're you it's not the weight of the world, on your shoulders, it's more about just a consciousness just, I mean, don't approach it, approach it with fear and trembling, but don't approach it with this, you know, sobriety approach it with that same childlike wonder that you had when you were a kid, and you were making up, you know, probably the stories of greater truth than you will ever write as an adult. And it was just fun, you know, you were just tapped into it. And it was fun and exciting. And then I think we kind of we start overthinking it as adults, we were like, so serious with the responsibility of our adult ness, and how we've got to make sure that everybody else is just as responsible and, you know, then we start writing stuff that's on the nose, we lose the muse, we lose that childlike innocence. Really, it's not just the Wonder but the innocence, that allows us to ask questions, you know, to just step into that story world and look around and see, you know, what, what do I think? I don't know, let's let's find out. Let's you know, throw some characters out there and see what happens. And maybe by the end, you know, I will have been impacted by this more than anybody who reads it. But it's exciting. It doesn't. It needs to be something that we take seriously. But I definitely think that ultimately, it's still about having fun. It's still about entering that. Kind of that dream zone and just playing?

Alex Ferrari 40:03
Absolutely. Now, we talked a lot about character affecting theme. How can you use plot? specifically? How can we use plot to help create our theme?

K.M. Weiland 40:16
Yeah, so like I say, plot character theme, they're what I call the big three. And really, if, if all, if your story is working well, then they are seamlessly, organically, even effortlessly going to be working together. So if your plot is working really well, then it's almost certain that your characters and your theme are also there. And if something's wrong with your plot, it's probably because something's off with one of the other two. But specifically, if you look at character arc, and how that works over the entirety of the story, you can see how deeply tied in it is with plot structure. And, you know, more or less all plot structure systems are pointing to the same thing, just with, you know, different perspectives. I specifically use the three act structure, and you can just pretty much just overlay, you know, a basic character structure onto the plot structure and they interact. You can't have one without the other. It's not like the characters off doing his little subplot development. Well, you know, the James Bond action is happening over here.

Alex Ferrari 41:16
Yeah. Because then they wouldn't be on live. But that's also then you wouldn't be the main character, you'd be a sub character.

K.M. Weiland 41:22
Yeah. So it's, it's happening together, the internal conflict is what is prompting the character to act in the external conflict. And then the external conflict is, you know, coming back and asking him to question within himself, what he's doing and why he's doing it. And so it's, it's from within that the character has certain mindsets and ideas that he wants to accomplish. And the plot is then through the conflict, you know, and the consequences and the stakes is going to prove one way or the other, whether the characters you know, initial ideas are true. And from that is where the emerges. So

Alex Ferrari 42:00
what can you talk? Can you talk a little bit about the difference between theme and a message? Because that is that there's a, there's a subtleness to that.

K.M. Weiland 42:09
Yeah. So I think it was Michael Hauger, who wrote writing screenplays that sell I believe,

Alex Ferrari 42:15
Michael Haig, Michael Haig,

K.M. Weiland 42:19
Yes, so, um, I believe he was the one that that that differentiated that or that was the first person I'd seen who differentiated theme from message. And I thought that was such a keen observation. And the way he defines them basically, is that theme is a universal principle. It's some will just say love conquers all, something that everybody resonates to, regardless who they are, where they live. Their their circumstances, message, however, is very specific to the situation within the story. So the message is something that is, is only going to apply to people who are like the protagonist, people who are in this same situation. You know, like, trying to think of something that has to do with love conquers all. But you know, your specific love story, right? It's like, it only applies to you and your partner. It's not something that's necessarily you know, the lessons that you learned, and that the theme of that isn't something that's necessarily going to apply to all people everywhere, even though we all relate to the idea of love. Right? I think that's really important because it allows you to play out the specifics of a scenario, and yet still have something to say to a much broader audience. beauty in the beast, love conquers all.

Alex Ferrari 43:34
I was racking my love conquers all. Beating the beast. Perfect. Okay, there.

K.M. Weiland 43:39
Yeah. And how many of us, you know, have to go through that where you're, you know, it's the beast, and you have to redeem him? And yeah, well, that's

Alex Ferrari 43:45
pretty specific. That's, uh, well, I mean, arguably, that is it's according to my wife. Not that not that specific.

K.M. Weiland 43:55
That's true. That's the beauty of it, because it is like a premium archetypal story. And yet again, the specifics of it, you know, particularly in the fairy tale medium, very specific, the message you know, is, you know, don't make the fairy mad when she comes to your castle, you know, or she's gonna curse you and you're gonna have to go through all this.

Alex Ferrari 44:14
So let's, since we've talked about since we've touched upon the fairy tale, the fairy tale is, is these stories have been around for hundreds, if not, some of them even 1000s of years, some of these stories, and they so archetype they're so often they're so on the nose, like Beauty and the Beast is fairly on the nose. There's nothing subtle about Buting the beast, or Little Mermaid, or Lion King, or I'm going through Disney movies now, but but they're, they're very on the nose. There those themes are such but those that kind of those kind of stories are extremely important to the human condition. The hope the love conquers all is a very powerful and important theme that As humans, we should understand, or at least have Have some sort of inkling of what that is, these stories. Like I always love that George Lucas said this He's like, myth is essentially the meat and potatoes of our society. And that's how we pass along the core elements like love conquers all good versus bad, you know, beyond this, you know, the, the boy who cried wolf, these kind of like very struck these kind of themes. I'd love to hear your take on that on fairy tales and what the power of what they do I

K.M. Weiland 45:34
archetypal stories I or something else I'm very passionate about. And I think I would argue that they are not on the nose, I think that they are because they are so metaphoric. I mean, they're not literal, you know, nobody to actually turns into a beast, you know, they're not cursed by fairies and turned into a beast. That's a metaphor. And therefore, even though the stories are very straightforward, and even simplistic, in some ways, they're not on the nose, simply because they're not literal. If you had a boy, Cried Wolf, you know, if you had if that was a story where the boy, the mother told the boy Stop lying, and the boy came in, and, you know, it's no longer about what's actually, you know, being dramatized. It's specifically like, in in, in my book, in the theme book, I talked about how, when I was in middle school, I had to read these stories about kids who, you know, did kids stuff that you had to mow the lawn to earn some money they had, they found, they found a lost wallet, and they had to return it. You know, it was like these these little lessons about how to be a good kid, you know, and that's all they were, there was nothing about them that wasn't literally, this is what you're supposed to do as a kid. And I hated them, even as a kid. They're so preachy and on the nose, but stories, I think, like, you know, anything where you find that really archetypal element, fairy tales, or Star Wars or comic books, I think it's because they transcend the literal Spider Man is just a teenage kid who reminds all of us of ourselves at some point in our lives. But he has spider powers, you know, that's nothing that any of us actually relate to. It's just a metaphor, not a hyperbole of our own lives.

Alex Ferrari 47:22
Now, we've talked about theme in regard to like, I think you were talking about? Well, it's a concept of love conquers all, and certain themes, within stories. But genre has such a powerful point in regards to theme. Whereas there's certain things that you just can't do with theme because of the genre they're in and then sometimes, when you can transcend that, because then you've really hit, like, get out is an amazing example of taking the horror genre and completely flipping it on its head. dramatically. Yeah, yeah, I

K.M. Weiland 48:02
think genre actually, genre stories are very archetypal. I think the essence of genre is archetype. We have most obviously, perhaps in the romance, romance genre, but also in many, many different I mean, the very fact that there are tropes. And there are templates, though, that readers expect you to follow, that creates an archetype, but most of them are even more deeply rooted in an archetype than than even just modern conventions about the actual genre. So yeah, there are certain themes that are inherent in certain genres. love conquers all, being an obvious one for for romance, or the you know, good conquers evil being an obvious one for Action, Adventure stories, things like that. And so yeah, I think we can see that these are their archetypes, because they're stories that are perennially asking the same questions, because we say love conquers all, or good triumphs over evil. But then there's that part of us that has a question. You know, like, there is a deep part of us that believes in those things. But for most of us, there's also a question too, does love conquers all? does good, always triumph over evil? And so I think,

Alex Ferrari 49:11
yeah, no, that's just No, the answer is because we live in the real world.

K.M. Weiland 49:15
Exactly. And I think that the really good genre stories are the ones that keep asking those same questions over and over in ways that give us fresh insights into really are not perennial statements, but are perennial questions within the human existence. One thing

Alex Ferrari 49:33
that I find one of the storytellers that I've always studied and loved I'm a big fan of as a director or writer director is James Cameron, because he is obviously he knows how to tap into something because his his track record is nobody else has ever tried to track right? Nobody not even Spielberg not even it's a very specific track record that he's created for himself. But what I've noticed an all of his stories he does so thing that is really interesting he, he actually not only smashes genres together, but also, I'm not sure if he's john. he smashes themes together, but he definitely matches genres together. So if you look at Terminator, his first real work, it's an action adventure, but it's a love conquers all story. You know, you look at the abyss, action, adventure, love conquers all, Titanic, action, adventure, love conquers all. And then some other themes in there as well about classism, and that kind of stuff. Same thing with Avatar, action, adventure, love conquers all. And then then there's also you know, environmental themes and other things like that he threw in there, but he slams all of this stuff together. So avatar is a really good example of that there is a lot of stuff going on in avatar thematically. Yeah, I

K.M. Weiland 50:51
think that that it's, first of all, I think it's he, what you've presented, there is a good example of how you can have a main through line of the where the theme and the plot and the character all come together and provide that cohesion or resonance. And then you can still explore, you know, other things that come up naturally through the story's premise. But specifically like to reference Terminator, and Titanic, because I think that the thing to me about James Cameron, because he is, like you say, does all these crazy things with genre. And yet, underlying it, particularly for those two movies, I feel is this rock solid archetypal story. And I think we don't always notice it, because it's not the hero's journey. And this is something that I'm really excited about right now. And I'm going to start writing about on my site, hopefully next year. But I'm just the realization that we are so fixated on the hero's journey, like that's the only archetypal underpinning for all stories everywhere. And of course, it's not. And I think that actually something that I realized in reading Kim Hudson's, her book was called the virgins promise, I think. But she posits as specifically like, a counter type, character journey that's more feminine based. And in that two, she talks about how really, that's just the first act. The hero, the Virgin and the hero are just the first act of human existence. Most stories do not even tap, you know, the more mature archetypes of the second act, much less the our elder archetypes in the third act. So this is something I've really been researching this year, and I'm really excited about, but to me why James Cameron was so fantastically on point in Terminator, and Titanic specifically was he nailed the virgin journey. He nailed that version, that feminine journey, and not not just within the character, but specifically in Terminator. The whole thing is a metaphor for that feminine journey. You've got the protector and the predator, and then how in the end, they both die, and she's the one who has to deal with it. And it's just fantastic. I love Terminator.

Alex Ferrari 53:00
The first Terminator and the second one is just that the best of the series.

K.M. Weiland 53:05
Anyway, but really I think what it is for me anyway why those stories work is not just because they're well told, well plotted not just because they're entertaining or have something to say. But because they are rock solid on that archetypal level.

Alex Ferrari 53:17
Yeah, and yeah, they they take the virgin story, but then they also take I mean, if you look at Terminator is such a brilliant just a genius piece of literature, like not literature but of cinema, but just writing the storytelling and that is so complex. But on its but it's on its surface. There was a big dude with a gun trying to kill two other people. That's, that's on the surface. But that's what that's the brilliance of Cameron, I think is that on the surface? It's about the Titanic. It's about we all know what we all that's what the thing when I heard about Titanic, like, James man, like we all know, the ending. We all know where this is going. Like how can you be excited about a movie that you know the ending to, but yet, he was able to pull that off in such a way and I'm always fascinated. I always love talking to story. People who really analyze and study story about avatar, because avatar story and theme theme thematically avatars pretty. It's It borders preachy. Sometimes it borders preachy, yet, how was it because it wasn't just the cool visuals because we've seen cool visuals before. There was something else that resonated in the human condition that made it the biggest movie in the world of all time, and and arguably still is one of the biggest movies of all time. What did he do in that story from your point of view that connected thematically? Because I think the themes are extremely love conquers all. You have to protect the obviously the environmental themes of good versus very big, good versus evil themes. Like what what did you think about that?

K.M. Weiland 55:00
long time since I've seen that movie, and I only saw it once. So I'm trying to remember. I think all everything you've said, you know, is really true is what gives it a big feel. I would say though, that, really I'm, as far as I remember, because, again, it's been at least 10 years since I've seen it. Um, it's, it's that character, the main character, and how he's, we get a good character arc from him. And also there's that, this relatability, because of the situation that he's in, he's crippled, he, you know, gets to go off into video game land, and you know, have a whole new body. And I think there's something there's always something powerful about, first of all, completely understanding why a character is the way they are and why they're doing what they're doing. Because he's kind of a jerk in the beginning, if I remember, right, it was, yeah, but we still, you know, you can still get why, why he's doing what he's doing. Why, because of, you know, this deep motivation that I, you know, I want my body back, basically, I want to be able to walk again. And then to be able to take that and archit it's a really tricky thing, when you're doing a positive change arc. And so the character has to start a basically a deficit, you know, he starts in a negative place, and then arcs to the positive. So how do you make the character in the beginning, somebody who's likable, not the character, the readers, you know, aren't just immediately fed up with because he's not he doesn't get it, you know, he's not on the right side of it. And in a, in a complex story that particularly arises out of, you know, complex lies that the character might believe in why he's, you know, confused in the beginning, because we all are, you know, so there's, there's a deep relatability there. But even in characters who aren't as inherently likable, I think when we understand where they're coming from, that's really a really powerful way to begin the character arc, and therefore the because will follow them. If you're, if you're not going to follow the character, you're never going to get the you know, the juicy parts of the theme. Well, I

Alex Ferrari 56:59
mean, I think you touched on something that characters are driven by the story that they've told themselves about the world about, about how the world works. And that's James Bond has a very specific story, he tells himself to get up in the morning, Indiana Jones has won Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Star Wars as one as opposed to at the end of the trilogy, he has another story he tells himself, in a lot of times, humans specifically now in the story, but also in real life, we will fight tooth and nail to defend our point, our story point of view, our life point of view. And it's extremely difficult to change that perspective, because that could be societal, that could be experiment, experience. It's the experiences you've had in life. Like if you're, if you're a girl, and were beaten by your father, all your life early on in your in your, in your childhood, the association that all men are bad, is a very tough conversation to have, because it's a story that you've told yourself. And it's honestly the story that's holding you together. Yes. It's an idea. It's exactly it's the identity that you've put yourself together and to break the identity. People will, will die to defend it is that so as a story, as I know, we're going deep now. We're going a little deeper than theme, but but actually could it actually could touch back to theme. I'd love to hear what you think about that. Yeah, I

K.M. Weiland 58:29
think in essence, that story, and I think that's definitely at the foundational principles of character arc. The way I approach it, it's character arc is basically this conflict, this inner conflict between a lie the character believes, and the thematic truth. And depending on the type of arc, the character might start out, believing in the lie or the truth, and he might represent the truth steadfastly throughout the story. But in a positive change arc, where you have a story of character who starts out with a story with an a, a limiting belief of some kind, that's the essence of the story, the entire story is going to be built to put that character into situations that are going to challenge that belief, show him the limitations. And you know, if he arcs positively is going to bring him out of that into a greater truth. But again, in in, you know, the conversation of not having it beyond the nose, the way we keep that from happening is it's not easy. You know, there's a reason we hang on to these limiting identities and these limiting beliefs and we all do it every single day,

Alex Ferrari 59:32
Every human being on the planet, does it. Yeah, absolutely.

K.M. Weiland 59:36
And it's, you know, we're at we're quite happy to stay that way. And so is the character until something happens that you know, that first plot point happens and completely rocks the characters normal world. And suddenly they have to start questioning not just, you know, how do I defeat the bad guy, but, you know, what am I going to have to change within myself? You know, what views, what stories what identities Am I going to have to paint Fully shed, in order to be able to grow and move forward, or, you know, refuse to do that and stay where you're at, basically.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:08
And that is basically the analogy of life. I mean, it's, that's what that's why we resonate so much with story and and theme in general, because it's just an example of what we're going through, it helps us deal with this existence. Right?

K.M. Weiland 1:00:28
Yeah, I think that, you know, people, people, you know, start learning about story theory and story structure, and in all these ideas about the main character arc, and a lot of times there's this feeling of like, No, you know, I don't want to impose all these rules, onto my my creativity onto my story. And, you know, it can feel that way. When you're, you know, you're first making all of this conscious, but the truth is exactly the opposite. The only reason we have these ideas, these theories about structure and character arc and theme is because we've seen them arising from, you know, 1000s of years of stories, and 1000s of years of our lives, the psychological journey of a potent character arc is only potent in a story because we recognize and resonate with it from our own lives,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:14
Right, the hero's journey, which is, it's something that resonates pretty much in every culture around the world. It's because we've all done that we all read, we all understand that that's why it's such a powerful, that's what Joseph Campbell was talking about with, with the hero with 1000 faces is that that is a very through line, I just literally had Chris Vogler on the show, who wrote the writers journey. And I was I actually tell him, I'm like, Chris, let's, let's talk for a second Chris. A lot of people say, you know, this Hero's Journey things out of the like, it's completely out of whack. You know, it's, it's done. Everybody knows that. We've all seen Star Wars, it's kind of blahs a, you know, is it even worth dealing with the hero's journey in today's very advanced storytelling audience? You know, the audience is so well versed? It's so much harder to be a storyteller today than it was, yeah, 400 years ago, 100 years ago, you could get away with so much. Yeah, that's totally true. And now you really got to know what you do. And he said something very, very. And I wanted to see what he said. And he's just like, Alex, I agree with you. 100%. It is one of many ways to do but elements of the hero's journey, all of those archetypes are in every story. Yeah, it's just that's regardless, if you want to believe it or not, there is always going to be a trickster somewhere, you know, depending on the story, you're telling, a trickster, a mentor, the old man that the young, the Young Buck was trying to, you know, become a man and all this, all of this kind of that's always gonna be there. But he goes, but of course, there's 1000, different kind of story structures, there's 1000 different ways to tell that story. But the hero's journey is, is a model that we it's it is the meat and potatoes, it is the foundation that we all kind of need to understand as a storyteller. Is that a fair statement?

K.M. Weiland 1:03:05
Yeah, I would agree with that. And I think that, you know, what I'm researching and exploring right now is, is the idea that the hero's journey is not the only one, specifically within just the basic, you know, really simplistic level of archetypal, mythic storytelling. And I think that's a lot of the reason why people you know, wonder, like, come on, hero's journey, one story, you know, one ring to rule them all.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:29
And by the way, you can, you can throw the hero's journey on almost any story, like, like, after the fact after the fact.

K.M. Weiland 1:03:37
And the truth of it is a because it's that occupied type of story, but also because it is, you know, it adheres to that three act structure. And so those beats, that's something that I am realizing is that, yes, it looks like the hero's journey applies to all stories, and it does often. But a lot of it is that we think we're not aware of these other these, you know, these other archetypal journeys. And so we just kind of say there's similarities, right, they all follow a similar arc, it's just more of a life progression as instead of it just being you know, the young buck the hero. So I think that's part of why people don't always it was why I didn't resonate with the hero's journey for a long time. I felt like it was just too confining. But then I started realizing like, this is totally, it's the three act structure it is it's right there. But the nuance, I do think that it changes and evolves. And that's something that I like, I want to start exploring more in my in a series on my site soon. Very cool, but yeah, I'm really excited about it. Um, but yeah, I think that the hero's journey is an incredibly important archetypal story. And that it's important because it's so simple. And I think that there's there's a difference between we think sometimes that complicated Stories are the way to go, you know the way to talk to our very sophisticated audience. And I don't think that's the truth at all. What we want is complex stories and complexity is born out of simplicity. It's that simple archetypal layer that's provided by archetypal stories like the hero's journey. And then we get to build the complexity on top of that, by really exploring those themes and asking those questions and, and looking at the million different, you know, angles on a story. That's, you know, its its complexity, but it's all coming out of the same base instead of, you know, being who knows what,All over the place.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:36
And that brings us back to James Cameron. Which is a perfect example the Terminator is, is is a is a question of like, will the machines eventually take over? There's that That's right. That's one question. But will love conquers all.

K.M. Weiland 1:05:51
And it's a very simple story. You know, it's basically three characters running. That's the story. Yes. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:59
Exactly. But there's so much complexity in that. And the themes that he the themes that he asks questions about, he asks a lot of questions in his in his movies. And that's a really, I think that's what really drives is his kind of storytelling. And all the films that he's made it is very um, that's why I'm really curious about the new avatars all four of them I think he's gonna be to wait for the next eight years or something. Like but anytime I anytime he comes out with something, people like, what do you think I'm like, dude, and Cameron I trust like, yeah, I can't like I stopped not betting on Cameron after Titanic. I was like, You know what? Just, if you can make this work, Brother, you can make almost anything work and just do what do you you do you James? Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. I usually ask like one to three screenplays that every screenwriter or storyteller should read. If that if you don't know anything specific, three screenplays, three films that which I mean, obviously, we were talking about Terminator. But yeah, other films. Yeah,

K.M. Weiland 1:07:07
I'm not much of a screenplay reader. So I will. I mean, I think that it's like super obvious, but I have to always go back to the original Star Wars, because I feel like that number one, I feel like it's gotten lost kind of in the, the new movies. But for me, there's no comparison. And I feel like that. I mean, that to me is that's the essence of our modern myth. And so I say, you know, go back to that one. I go back all the time constantly.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:36
But that's the you know, that's the hero's journey

K.M. Weiland 1:07:39
exactly

Alex Ferrari 1:07:40
perfect. personification of the hero's journey. And yet you go back to it constantly, even as as simplistic as the hero's journey is and everything but it's it's executed. It's like eating a really good apple pie. Like it's a simple thing. It's not a complex dessert that's going to explode. But if you do it well, you've got a business. Yeah.

K.M. Weiland 1:08:02
Well, and I think we see that with rallying right with the Harry Potter series again. I mean, so similar to Star Wars, and people just ate it up again, you know, and honestly, to me, Well, I mean, we'll leave that to the books. I guess I was gonna say the movies, but I know I recommended this the last time that I was on the show, but it's still my all time favorite movie. So I have to say it again. And that is the classic World War Two movie The Great Escape. This is directed by john Sturgis. Yeah, that's that one. To me. There's so much. It's such a simple story. Again, you know, guys want to escape. That so much complexity, so much character development, and the themes are so subtle. They're never stated. They're just, you know, there, but there's all of this, just this, this richness and this subtext that's happening there. And then number three, oh, why not say Terminator? I feel like, there's there's just a lot of goodness in that story. And I think it's, it's a really good counterpart to Star Wars. And that Star Wars is is very much the male hero's journey. And Terminator is this, in my opinion, Pitch Perfect female, the feminine journey, the feminine psychological journey. So I think that they're really good bookends. And it's so it's so awesome. It's so amazing that a man has written so many scripts and quit like some of the most impressive female leads in cinema history.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:32
He's written between aliens, and Terminator, and all of his films that he's worked on. A lot of them have really strong programming rows. I mean, she's a pretty strong, she's essentially the she ends up being the character that runs Titanic, as well,

K.M. Weiland 1:09:51
I think and I do think that that, you know, why not? You know, I think that archetype but we all have this deep archetypal understanding, and when he's telling archetypal stories, So Well, to me, it's like, Yeah, why not? And I think we see it with a rally. You know, there's a woman writing a story about what hero's journey and a boy Yeah. So it's like, that's the fun of writing, you know that we get to explore all of these things that are different from us. And do it from a place of deep psychological understanding that sometimes we don't even know we have.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:22
I wanted to ask you a side question because it just came up, you know, as a as a storyteller, you know, myself, and with the work that I've done over my life. As you get older, that that that's that perspective, that story, you tell yourself morphs and changes a lot. And a script that I might have written 10 years ago, I go back to and go. Ouch, that is definitely a perspective of a 30 year old. That is not the perspective of a 45 year old man who's gone through some other stuff in the last 15 years. There's such a focus on youth and telling that youth story of the young buck turning into a man or the virgin story of the on the woman set. But yet, you kind of touched on this earlier, there isn't a lot of story about the third chapter in our lives, or even the second chapter, there is a they're starting to get me in, you know, lifetime, pretty much. The the midlife crisis story for men or women going through like, Oh, god, I'm just joking, but but there is more stories now about people our age, and this kind of this kind of second chapter, you know, midway through chapter of our lives, but there is very few good stories about that, that the, the third chapter of our lives. Can you make an A make a it's also because it's harder to sell? Is that the main reason you think?

K.M. Weiland 1:11:55
Well, I think it's an interesting thing, because yeah, as I've been preparing to do this, this series, it's been very challenging to find really good examples of these later life arcs of the third act, you know, the third act of the human life? It's because there aren't a lot of them. And I think yes, to some degree, it's a hard sell, because you, like you say, we're a very youth centered culture who's terrified of death. So we really don't want to go there. Um, and because I think a lot of times when we do see stories about the, you know, the end of life, that they're not empowered stories, they're stories about, you know, coming to terms with death in a pretty limited way. And what I'm discovering is that, you know, there, there are empowering arc, the arcs in the second act, midlife and the arts and the third act for the elder years. They're just as powerful and magnificent, in some ways more so than what we've grown used to with the hero's journey. And I think it's just that we as a culture have so lost touch with our elders, you know, it's not a, we don't have very few of us really have people in our lives from that time in their lives, where they can, you know, we can see that and they can mentor us. And I think that's part of too even, you know, we don't have the mentor character, who shows up for us in our own Hero's Journey when we are young. And so there's a there is a missing piece, kind of I think that's that has happened within the archetypal story of our culture. So yeah, I think it's a hard sell. But I think there are some amazing stories to be told from those later arcs. And I'm not thinking of any examples off topic

Alex Ferrari 1:13:37
that I can give you one that is probably as Pitch Perfect as humanly possible, which is up. Yeah. Okay. Up is as perfect, opposite masterpieces that I mean in the first, basically that first three minutes is the best, the best summary of a human life I've ever seen. In my entire life. It's so well thought. But it's a it's an older character going on a hero's journey. He goes and his mentor happens to be a Boy Scout. Anyways, what

K.M. Weiland 1:14:10
it is, is it's the little boy who's going on a hero's journey, as he's the mentor, but it's told from his point of view, the characters all come full circle, right? It's the mentors in the hero's journey, who are the heroes of the third act character arcs, right? But we don't ever see that.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:26
Right. That's why I was so like everybody, and it's an animated kid's film, which is so brilliant. I can't like only Pixar could do something like that. But yeah, there aren't many good stories like that. But that's funny though, if you look up resonated with kids around the world as well as every every stage of life, from a kid all the way to, to someone in their elder years watches up and goes, Okay, I get it. I get it. And that's the kind of the if you can, if you can pull that off. You're doing so as a

K.M. Weiland 1:15:00
storyteller, that's that's the power of archetypal stories.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:04
Now, where can people find your new book and more about you and all the cool stuff you're doing?

K.M. Weiland 1:15:11
Yeah, so obviously the books on Amazon and all of those places that if they want to specifically look at what I'm doing, they can visit my website at helping writers become authors calm.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:21
Very cool. Katie, thank you so much for being on the show. I know I want to keep talking to you. I just want to keep, I just want to keep talking. I love I love talking story. I love going deep into this kind of nerdy story stuff. And it really helps me Just think about in all honesty, it just helps you think about life more.

K.M. Weiland 1:15:39
Totally

Alex Ferrari 1:15:40
It just makes you think about life and we are in a weird time.

K.M. Weiland 1:15:45
There's a lot to think about

Alex Ferrari 1:15:46
A lot of stuff going on right now in the world. And I feel like that's one of the reasons why we're gravitating to story and our Netflix, I have Netflix, Hulu, HBO mad like I got all of them, but like I just need, I need something to escape to. I need something to attach myself to to escape this crazy world we live in. But it does just help us get through the day of this insane existence that we call life. So I want I really, really appreciate you coming on the show. Thank you so much, and keep doing the good work that you're doing.

K.M. Weiland 1:16:16
Yeah, you too. Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:19
I want to thank Katie for coming on the show and dropping her knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe. Thank you so, so much, Katie. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to buy her new book, writing your stories theme, head over to bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/099. And if you guys are as good as math as I am, you will know that the next episode will be Episode 100 of the bulletproof screenwriting podcast, it is a big, big landmark for this podcast. And I am so grateful and humbled and honored that you have allowed me to continue to make this podcast a reality and helping hopefully helping screenwriters around the world with their craft, and with how to survive, and to mark this monumental episode. Next week, I will be releasing a huge, huge guest on this podcast. I will not tell you anything else. Because I do not want to ruin the surprise. But it is going to be a fairly epic episode. And if that wasn't enough, ifH Academy is going to be bringing a big new course for screenwriters, which is going to be a game changer for the tribe. And I'll let you know more about that in the coming weeks. So keep an eye out for that. Now Christmas is just a couple days away. So I want to wish everyone listening who celebrates Christmas. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. And I cannot wait till next week for you guys. Thank you again for listening. And as always keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there. And I'll talk to you soon.


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BPS 012: How to Create a Bulletproof Character Arc with K.M. Weiland (CROSSOVER EVENT)

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 NovelStructuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arc, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, the historical/dieselpunk adventureStormingthe 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.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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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
Breaking Bad?

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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