Dec 6, 2008

Story Arcs, Symmetry and the New James Bond Movie

By Christine Thackeray

Having just finish my last manuscript, I've started plotting and researching my next project, which is a tad more massive than anything I have previously attempted. I'm interested in doing an historical fiction piece and have struggled with where to begin the story and how much back story to bring in. It feels like my brain is flooded with facts and ideas simply floating around aimlessly, and the shape and direction of it all isn't quickly becoming evident. That was until Friday night when my husband and I finally saw the new James Bond film "Quantum Solace." It actually was the next day (this morning) that the epiphany of it hit me. Let me explain.

We spent today driving from Utah to Portland. The fourteen hours were a perfect time to bounce ideas back and forth with a captive audience. As I rehearsed the historical facts that brought about Herod's assent as King of the Jews, I found I went back to how his father got in government and then how he became a Jew in the first place which brought me back to the Maccabees which then brought me to the genesis of the Essenes. So where does the stupid story begin???? By then my husband was so confused he wondered if I should even attempt it. I shook my head, knowing that this is a fabulous story that must be told but where to begin???

Greg asked where most stories begin and if there was a rule. I said that many bad novels really don't start at the beginning. The beginning should state the major conflict or the elements that lead to the major conflict, usually with extreme action of some unanswered question that pushes the reader forward. The best books (for me) then come full circle and with the last scene complete the first scene, while the scene right preceding should wake up some new question that leaves you wanting more but nonetheless satisfied. In searching for an example I remember the new James Bond film. It did this perfectly! (If you haven't seen it yet, you may not want to read on.)

In the first scene they have caught a man who knows something of Bond's wife who is dead. He says that James would have done anything for them if his wife hadn't killed herself. James' boss says that his wife must have cared for him but Bond only thinks she has lied. There is concern about Bond being filled with revenge and talk of an organization that is more powerful than any other. Then the bad guy gets away. Boom! Bond starts chasing him in an incredible action scene and the show continues to unfold bit by bit in the choppy, partial clues that make James Bond what it is- a show loved by most men and any woman who loves rock-hard abs, but merely endured by women who love character development.

Still, in the last few scenes some great things happen that make the movie feel complete and surprisingly well constructed. First, the Bond girl doesn't get killed and gets her revenge against the man who destroyed her family. In watching her reap her revenge, Bond realizes that the dead don't care about revenge and he shifts from killing the bad guy to only leaving him in the desert to drink motor oil. Next, we learn that the organization that this bad guy belonged to is still in force. And with in the last few moments Bond admits that his boss was right about his wife. A perfect arc, giving the story satisfaction and completion (if you caught the short phrases which couched these messages.)

So back to my story. As soon as I hugged on to my central and secondarly conflicts, I knew where to begin. Yeah! I'm starting with Herod ambushing Malichus to avenge his father's death. In that one scene he will learn his destiny which is connected to the golden eagle and the Essenes, and he will begin to fear what he himself may become. In the end he sees the golden eagle clearly for the first time but still thinks he has the power to change destiny. It is beyond his reach. Meanwhile Herod's actions have only served to lay the foundation for a larger more miraculous story.

It has been said that although we can't remember every meal we have ever eaten, the mixture of all those meals has made us what we are today. I think the same is true for what we watch and read. We can learn from a variety of different genres and when we see something that really works, we can apply it to whatever we are creating. What an incredible gift. Tomorrow I'm ready to start a new file entitled Prologue.


  1. Two good things came out of your blog today for me. First, you gave me much to think about in my writing, and second; clarity to Quantum Solace.

    My husband and I saw it last week, and both said we will need to get it on DVD to annalyze and figure it all out. Partly because of the short, choppy cuts, and edits in the movie and partly because it sometimes moved too quickly and was a bit hard to follow the dialog. We even went so far as to watch Casino Royale to give us more info. So I thank you twice.

  2. I'd like to follow you around to just listen to the 'aha' moments so I can learn to be a better writer. Thank you for articulating this! May I borrow it to put in my file for teaching 'Using Family History in Fiction'? Often, in writing a family history story, we're faced with this same dilemma.

  3. Although I'm one of those that tolerate the current James Bond simply because I prefer Pierce Bronson's Bond, I found your style of unfolding your "aha" moment lovely. Well done.


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