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cyansoft

Understanding of Characters and Plot

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I recently started reading the writing board here at Gamedev to help prepare myself for the long and winding road of writing a single player RPG. I spent 12 hours yesterday outlining and summarizing the various links found in the "The definitive guide to game writing inspiration" thread. To help me digest and gain a better understanding of the various concepts I've either read on this board or was linked to by this board, I thought it would be best to try to analyze the different plot elements and characters of some select films. Let me be the first to say that Back to the Future is one of my favorite films of all time. Despite the major plot hole in the second film (which took me nearly ten years to finally realize, which I'll explain below***), which in most films would ruin the entire premise, there is something about this trilogy that makes it effective. The key ingredient, in my opinion, was the characters and their development. As I've read both here and on various writing sites on the web, clearly defined, unique characters are critical to any story. In the case of Back to the Future, each major character either has a distinct personality defect or trait, or is a complete stereotype. George McFly was, as the kids say, a loser with a capital "L", complete with the pocket protector and the thick Coke-bottle glasses. Because of his lack of self esteem, he would never find love other than by pure chance/fate. Biff was the larger than life bully, a complete pompous asshole. He took advantage of anyone he wanted whether it was bullying his peers or co-workers (as with George), harassing small children (as seen in the second film), groping women (Lorain at school), or even attempted rape (Lorain in the school parking lot). The naming of this bully character was no accident. According to the dictionary, a biff is a powerful strike or blow. As you remember, George delivers a "biff" on Biff in the school parking lot. Marty was the typical average male teenager. He had a girlfriend, he was in a band (therefore implying that he did have a social circle besides his girlfriend and Doc Brown), he didn't have much trouble in school other than occasional tardiness, yet he did have two character flaws: First, he was unsure of himself, similar to his father, but obviously not to the same degree. This fear of rejection prevents him from pursuing his musical career, just like his father's reluctance to publishing his Sci-Fi novels. Second, his stubbornness when being called a coward got him into a lot of trouble. Doc Brown was the stereotypical scientist. None of his inventions ever worked (with the exception of the time machine, of course). He was an outsider, a lonely man by nature, with only one friend, Marty. He was shy and quiet around the ladies. (Lorain back in 1955, and the initial confrontations with the school teacher in 1885) He was an outcast in the community. It goes without saying that the four major characters in the story compliment each other and are specifically designed to be paired together: George (the loser) compliments Biff (the bully). Marty (the normal teen) compliments Doc Brown (the loner scientist). All four of those major characters have gone under some major change in their behavior or attitudes about the world by the end of the trilogy. Let's look at George McFly first. Our stereotypical loser becomes assertive, popular and successful. George and Lorain are still in love with each other after 30 years, and there is much sexual chemistry between them. He is his own man, his own boss. His Sci-Fi novels are now in print. He is in charge of his life, his destiny. He is no longer pessimistic. He's a role model for his children, which in turn, causes his kids to become successful (e.g. Marty's brother working at an office verses at Burger King). His wife Lorain also affected by his changed character. She accepts the courtship of Marty and his girlfriend. She is no longer depressed, abusing alcohol or fed up with her marriage. Biff, on the other hand, went from lion to a lamb, sort of. Although he is well mannered and polite to the McFly family and he no longer has any control over George or Lorain for that matter, it's clear that he does not accept his "defeat" to George. He is now a suck up, a brownnoser, kissing George's ass in hope for something in return. As with Marty, although he didn't go through a dramatic change as big as his father, he did correct his two character flaws. First, just like his father, his fear of reject is gone. Second, and most importantly, he is no longer bothered when being called a coward. He no longer behaves irrationally when confronted; therefore eliminating all the self imposed obstacles that would ruin his future. Finally, Doc Brown, our loner scientist, finds acceptance and love. As an outsider in the 20th century, his accidental travel back to the Old West gave his life a new meaning and purpose. He found a world where he felt he belonged. He became well respected man amongst the townspeople. He found true love when he rescued the school teacher. With the characters defined, it's time to discuss the plot. I will only identify the plot elements of the first film, to keep things short and simple. In the exposition, we are exposed to the various characters in our story. We are introduced to all four major characters: Marty, Doc Brown, George McFly and Biff. Many of the character traits, especially of George and Biff are revealed as soon as they make their first appearance in the story. The inciting incident is when Marty accidentally travels back to 1955 when being chased by the Libyans. Marty's goal is returning to 1985. Once Marty is in the year 1955, he has to track down and befriend Doc Brown in order to return to 1985 (obstacle #1). Doc tells Marty there is no way back because there is no probable way to generate the power need for the time machine (obstacle #2). Marty resolves this obstacle by showing Doc the flyer about the clock tower incident. But Marty complicates matters by accidentally interacting with his father, saving him from being hit by a car. This incident causes his mother, Lorain, to fall in love with Marty instead of George (obstacle #3). Doc tells Marty that he needs to get his parents back together because if he doesn't, he would not exist in the future. Quick question: Is this considered a reversal or just another obstacle? Marty's goal changed from returning to 1985 to restoring his parent's love interest. George's lack of self confidence and self worth (obstacle #4) and Biffs' arrogance and bullying of George (obstacle #5) further complicate the scenario. After both issues are resolved, Marty's parents finally fall in love. Marty can now pursue his original goal, returning to 1985. Okay, now here's the part I'm stuck on, the climax. Is the climax the part where the clock tower is struck by lighting and Marty drives the time machine returning home? Or is it when Marty gets back to 1985, and gets stuck in the middle of town and has to travel on foot to the mall parking lot, where he arrives too late to save the Doc from the Libyans? Is the part where the Marty realizes the Doc was still alive considered the falling action? Before I go on to the denouncement, I have a question about a possible reversal. Would Marty's decision to go back to 1985 fifteen minutes earlier to warn Doc about the Libyans be considered a reversal? The denouncement is the rest of the film after the parking lot scene with Doc and Marty's reunion. This is where we see the result both George's and Biffs character changes. The theme of this trilogy is fairly clear: people have control over their own destinies. So, how am I doing so far? Did I miss anything? Any corrections needed or general comments? Am I getting this characterization and plot stuff right? Thanks in advance for your incites. Bob *** Oh, by the way. The plot hole in the second film of the series was this: If Marty and his girlfriend traveled with Doc to the future, they would no longer exist in 1985, and therefore they could never get married and never have children. It was clearly established in the first film when Doc sent his dog one minute into the future that both the time machine and its occupants disappear until returning.

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Hi Cyansoft, I'd like to compliment you on being willing to actually do some research before jumping into writing a game. [smile] (Although you may want to check your word choice - 'denouncement' should be 'denouement', and 'incites' should be 'insights'.)

Anyway, I haven't seen the Back To The Future movies in years, so I can't comment on them specifically. But I'd like to point out another resource to you if you didn't know about it. I am in the process of writing a game design textbook. I've written 3 sections so far, one of them being on the topic of writing for games. So you might want to check that out. I think it's a pretty good overview of writing, with chapters on plot, character, worldbuilding, etc.

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Its been ages since I last saw back to the future, but I seem to remember that that scene at the dance was the climax. Marty is playing on stage and starts to vanish and his dad finally stands up to Biff after that is the denouement. Since that is the point at which the real problem is resolved and his family takes on a new path in life. Getting back to the future is just incidental.

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