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Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing Lessons from DBZ: (I want this) but I want that more and (Stacked) Tripling


(I want this) but I want that More

This plotting technique takes place toward the end of the series. Vegeta, a "bad guy," has settled down with a family for seven years at this point. He hasn't done anything "bad" for years, and he's now more of an antihero than a villain. But he still has the dream of beating Goku in a fight. Despite how hard Vegeta trains, he can never catch up to how strong Goku is, which eats at him more than anything in the series because Vegeta is brimming with pride. 



 The main villain of the show at this point is named Babidi, and he has the ability to invade people's minds and control them. Well, Vegeta realizes that the only way he can be powerful enough to defeat Goku is to give himself over to Babidi's mind control. Vegeta comes to a cross roads where he must choose between his "good guy" self and his "bad guy" self.  He picks the latter.

He wants to beat Goku so bad, he's willing to sacrifice his relationship with his family, embrace his old, blood-thirsty self, and lend over, somewhat, his mind and body to a villain's bidding--that's really saying something for a character who never wanted to be under anyone's control.

Although he's hesitant to admit it, a part of Vegeta really does want to settle down with a family (I want this, but I want to beat Goku more.) 

So the basic idea of this method is similar to a dilemma--make your character choose between two things he wants. What he chooses shows what he wants most. BUT what's interesting about this in Dragon Ball Z is that Vegeta's two choices are direct opposites of one another. Good vs. evil essentially. And what's more interesting is that, as one of the protagonists, he chooses the evil one.

You don't see that happen very often in stories.

And this takes the series in a whole new direction. We now have Goku once again fighting Vegeta as a villain--we've gone full circle--but Vegeta is someone we've come to know and love.



Tripling 



I actually learned this plotting tool from David Farland's book Million Dollar Outlines (he has a whole list of plotting tools in that book, if you're interested). Tripling is where you set up three instances that hit the same emotional beat. 

For example, if you want to emphasize the first kiss between your protagonist and her romantic interest, you first have her day dream about what it would be like to kiss the guy she likes (emotional beat one), then, when she kisses him, it's even better than she imagined (emotional beat two), and after the kiss, she spends time reliving the moment (emotional beat three.) So the kiss is three times as strong. The point of tripling is to emphasizes a particular emotion, so it's potent for the reader. 

Dragon Ball Z does a variation of this.

In the Buu saga, all of the most powerful heroes have died (or, are at least believed to be dead.) Only a Super Saiyan has the potential to defeat the super villain Buu. The only two Saiyans still living are a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old named Goten and Trunks respectively. And they're kids in every sense. 



They get told about three awful things at the same time:


  1. Trunks' Dad and Goten's brother are dead
  2. Goku, the person they thought was invincible and the strongest person in the universe, isn't. Goten and Trunks had a very idealistic view of Goku, and suddenly it's been shattered, like learning Santa Clause isn't real.
  3. Because none of these people could defeat the villain Buu, Trunks and Goten are now the only people left who have even a hair's chance of doing that. If they fail, they whole earth will be destroyed. No pressure. 

All that information is too much for this seven and eight-year-old, and they break down crying. (Note: See how this is another example of having to put your faith in someone unstable? Our only hope rests in two little kids who are bawling their eyes out. We're not fully convinced we can count on them to save the world.)



It's sad because they're kids, and they should have to deal with any of this, but there isn't another option. After getting three hard emotional blows, Goten and Trunks lose their childhood innocence and have to step up to taking on an adult role. And to top off their depressing situation, they get yelled at for crying.

Like David Farland's Tripling, this hits the same emotion three times, but hits them all at once to make that emotion not only potent, but concentrated and intense. We feel for Trunks and Goten because they get all this news at once. 

In order to do this though, you have to use three different subjects or instances that hit the same emotion. Each one of these strike at Goten and Trunks's loss of innocence so that it's overwhelming.

In David Farland's example, the same instance (the kiss) is used at three different times. In the Dragon Ball Z example three different instances are used at the same time. Make sense? I hope so.



On a side note, at this point in the Dragon Ball Z story, you'd expect Trunks and Goten to reach their potential and eventually defeat Buu, right? That's how the typical story goes. But again, Dragon Ball Z exceeds our expectations, puts a twist on the story forms we're familiar with, and Trunks and Goten fail, which all goes back to the Inverse Reversal technique I talked about, which raises the tension even further, and segues back into Exceeding Expectations.

The storytelling techniques in this show are killer.

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