There’s a fantastic new episode of the Writing Excuses podcast available that features Lou Anders (the Hugo award-winning editorial director of Pyr Books) talking about the Hollywood Formula.
If you’re not familiar with Writing Excuses, it’s a 15-minute weekly podcast by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells on the subject of creative writing, with a particular focus on genre fiction (they usually end up talking about fantasy and science fiction).
The “Hollywood Formula” is a set of screenwriting rules that have been used for decades in Hollywood cinema to squeeze as much dramatic value out of a two-hour movie as possible. Very briefly, its major tenets are that every film should have three primary characters: the protagonist, who is the main character with a specific goal, the antagonist, who blocks the protagonist from achieving his goal, and the relationship character, whose interaction with the protagonist develops the theme of the story for the viewer. These terms are often applied in unexpected ways, however, and you might be surprised by Anders’s analysis of a few popular films.
For instance, would it surprise you to learn that it’s Harvey Dent, not the Joker, who is considered the antagonist of the movie The Dark Knight?
It’s a simple formula, and one that’s fun to apply to your favorite movies, and one that’s also relevant to writing fiction.