A Face in the Crowd

by Chris Huntley

We started by identifying the four throughlines in general.  The Overall Story throughline was pretty easy.  The OS involves the meteoric rise (and fall) of folksy “Lonesome” Rhodes’s celebrity. 

We identified Marcia Jeffries and Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes as the Main and Influence characters, though we had a prolonged discussion about which was which.  We settled on Marcia Jeffries as the Main Character because we seemed to share her ambivalent feelings and surprise at some of Larry’s antics (e.g. he comes back from Mexico a married man).  Larry Rhodes was then selected as the Influence Character.

The Relationship Story throughline was a bit tough to define because so much of their interactions were on both the personal and professional levels—the personal belonging to the Relationship Story throughline and the professional belonging to the OS throughline.  It seems to be a doomed relationship based on physical proximity.  They’re together much of their time and the physical closeness, distance, and infidelities defined the throughline.

From there we went to the dynamic questions.

Marcia is clearly a Change Main Character.  She starts off bright-eyed and in control and willing to rationalize Larry’s duplicitous behavior.  By the end, Marcia is world weary and fed up with rescuing Larry from himself.  She decides to save herself and leaves.

We skipped the Main Character Growth, though we came back to it later and determined Marcia was her own worst enemy.  Our other choices resulted in a MC Growth setting of Stop which was consistent with our understanding of Marcia.

The question of Main Character Approach (Do-er or Be-er) proved to be quite involved.  Some saw Marcia as a Do-er—she went into the prison to find “a face in the crowd,” she ran the daily workings of Lonesome’s support system.  However, we eventually decided that she was a Be-er because of her lack of action and internalization regarding her personal issues.  For example, Marcia uses cool, professional manner to keep Lonesome at a distance then turns on the sex appeal to keep him from leaving.  Also, much of the stuff she “does” is related to the Overall Story throughline.

To help clarify the MC Approach, we jumped to the Story Driver.  We quickly agreed that the story was driven by Actions.  The inciting event is when Marcia finds Larry Rhodes in the local jail.  Leaving the small town for Memphis identifies the OS act break.  The same with the move to New York.  Ultimately, it’s Marcia’s turning up the volume while Lonesome denigrates his audience that brings about his fall from grace.  Therefore, the Overall Story’s requirement of actions to drive it forward explained much of Marcia’s activities in her professional capacity as Lonesome Rhodes’s backroom organizer.

The Story Limit was quickly decided to be an Optionlock.  Rather than a specific number of options running out, we used the more recent clarification (addition) of Optionlock:  Distance.  Lonesome starts at the bottom and is shooting for total world domination (or at least unlimited power).  Reaching his zenith brings about the climax and story resolution.

Speaking of resolution, we unanimously choose Failure for the Story Outcome.  Lonesome Rhode’s effort to gain and wield the significant power of the common folk falls apart.  We also chose Bad for the Story Judgment because Marcia’s personal angst is far from resolved at the end of the movie.  Like Dr. Frankenstein with his monster, she regrets ever having brought her “monster” to life.

We then went on to identify the placement of the four throughlines on the structural chart.  The Overall Story choice seemed pretty obvious:  Manipulation.  Conflict is created at every turn by most every character as they try to manipulate others to get their way.  Marcia manipulates the inmates of the jail cell to get her “Face in the Crowd” radio show.  “Lonesome” Rhodes manipulates the sheriff to get out early.  In fact, everyone from the mail “boy” to “Miss Arkansas” to General Haynesworth to Senator Worthington Fuller try to manipulate the common folk or those around them (to few people’s net benefit).

Selecting Manipulation as the OS Domain was enough to set the other three throughlines based on the dynamic choices we had made.

The Relationship Story Domain was identified as Activities, which worked well to clarify our vague definition of their relationship.  Larry’s activities profoundly stress their relationship for the first half of the story and Marcia stays locked in the relationship by what she doesn’t do.   This is a relationship that crashes and burns as “The End” comes up.  Larry bellows “Marcia” over the cityscape from his penthouse as Marcia drives off in a cab.

The Influence Character throughline fell in the Situation Domain.  This worked well because his common man background defined Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes.

The Main Character throughline fell in the Fixed Attitude Domain, which was consistent with Marcia’s personal concerns about integrity and professionalism.

The next thing we did was identify the story Concerns.  It was proposed that the OS Concern should be “Playing a Role” since there seemed to be a lot of role playing going on, yet we settled on “Conceiving an Idea” as the OS Concern.  The whole story seemed to be about the dangers of manipulating ideas or coming up with different ideas to manipulate others.  For example, Marcia comes up with the idea of “Lonesome Rhodes” when Larry refuses to tell her his first name.  This creation of hers becomes the seed of the monster to come.  Lonesome uses his spontaneous ideas to harass the Sheriff and then his sponsor.  As Lonesome’s popularity grows he continues to find new ideas with which to manipulate his audience, his sponsors, his staff, his women, everyone.  The senator wants to come up with an idea for increasing his popularity.  It’s problematic because it’s not honest.  When the audience gets the idea that they’ve been duped his rise to stardom collapses.

At this point we looked back at the Main Character Problem Solving Style (Mental Sex) and discussed two important points.  The first concerned our choice of Intuitive (Holistic/Female Mental Sex) as her problem solving style and how it didn’t serve Marcia very well in the context of this story.  The second point was one of audience identification.  As a gross generalization, men do not empathize with a Main Character who has an Intuitive (holistic/female mental sex) problem solving style.  Instead, male audiences tend to “sympathize” with the Main Character—they stand by them and see things from where the Main Character stands but the male audiences do not stand in the Main Character’s shoes and experience the MC’s struggles first hand.  This accounted for our difficulty identifying the Main Character at the beginning of the evening.  The users group was filled with male mental sex, linear thinkers!

Once we’d narrowed down the OS Concern we jumped directly down to the OS Problem.  We were running short on time (and the projection system pooped out after five minutes of using Dramatica to identify the problem element) so Chris proposed an OS Problem of Potentiality.  Conflict was created in the Overall Story when people considered the potential for some opportunity to manipulate others for their own ends.  While Certainty would “cure” that problem (e.g. imagine the common folk knowing for certain what Lonesome, the General, the Senator, and others were up to), it never takes hold and were left with a world in which Lonesome will retain some status and influence even if it is diminished.  The OS Symptom and OS Response are Nonacceptance and Acceptance respectively.  People think conflict arises from unacceptable ideas or behavior and conflict seems to resolve once it is accepted.  Lonesome’s technique of bucking the system and then being accepted by it (from jail house to white house) gets him far.

We now had a single storyform and printed out the results.  We went on to discuss many of the other story points but those described here were the salient ones.

One last story point should be mentioned: Larry’s Influence Character Problem of Reaction.  Since Larry is a Steadfast Influence Character, his “problem” is better seen as the source of his drive.  We see this drive come to life as early as the first scene in which the reactions of Marcia, the Sheriff, and the other inmates motivate “Lonesome” Rhodes to come to life.  Until the very end, Lonesome Rhodes continues to play off his audiences’ reactions (and, ultimately, their non-reactions).

About the Author

Chris Huntley co-developed Dramatica over a period of fourteen years and is the Vice President and Academy Technical Achievement Award® winning co-creator of Write Brothers, Inc. His 29 years of experience with script formatting, word processing and software development are reflected in the acclaimed Dramatica theory of story. Mr. Huntley continues to develop writing tools for Write Brothers, Inc.

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