1. OES

    OES New Member

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    Learning Story Beats from the Eighties: Some Thoughts Watching The Karate Kid (1984) As an Adult and

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by OES, May 28, 2020.

    ...as a writer.

    I’ve been re-watching *The Karate Kid* the last few days, bit by bit. I won’t say I haven’t seen it since I was a kid. But I must have watched it a hundred times as a ten year old (I had a VHS copy I recorded off of HBO), and this is the first time I’ve watched since I’ve been serious about writing and story theory.

    A few storytelling observations:

    1. The story has almost no ACT I, *IF* we define an Act I as a depiction of the character’s normal world where he knows how to operate before he steps through the looking glass. Literally the first shot of the movie is him and his mom pulling out of Newark, NJ in their station wagon as they head out to California. The character is thrust into an Act II rather abruptly.

    2. There’s a great sequence that I would label a classic “Bad to Worse” sequence. It’s when the Kobra Kai fellas find Daniel riding his bike home late at night and push him down a (very steep) hill. Then his mom confronts him as he trashes his bike in the dumpster.
    Now, as a kid, I’m pretty sure I thought of these as two distinct scenes, and the way its cut, they are: an action scene then (location cut) a dramatic scene. But story-wise, they’re one sequence. In the action scene, he’s pushed off that hill in the cruelest action these bullies have done to him yet. They’re downright criminal at this point. But the confrontation between his mom and him: now things come to a head. He finally lets out how angry he is about how his mom decided to move them out to California without his consent. And, in a moment of very profound maturity, she admits that she was wrong to do that (I know a lot of parents who would have justified themselves at this point). Also, great dramatic acting in this seen: Macchio is really believable as a sixteen-year-old losing his shit.

    Then this great, almost textbook, line comes out of Daniel’s mouth; not textbook in the sense in that lots of characters will say it. But in the sense that this is something that authors are taught to “show, don’t tell.” He confesses, “I don’t understand the rules here.” Now, lots of books and movies will do a good job of showing that to you. But here, the character straight up fesses up. Not only am I failing. On day two in California, when I got my ass kicked at the beach party, we could see I was failing. But now, I don’t even know what sport I’m playing. I can’t tell you which way is up or down. I think this was an effective use of the previous scene showing it to you, and this scene spelling it out – telling the audience the meaning. His mom’s response is quite tender: “Let’s see if we can figure out the rules together.”

    Going further into the “Bad to Worse” concept, I’d say this movie does it as well as any story I know of on film or in print (I’d be quite open to suggestions of books that do this well; since I don’t read many book with lots of action, I tend to have a hard time spotting this device when it is used subtly). Man, does Daniel get it in this movie. Not counting non-physical disappointments, of which there are many, just in terms of ass-kicking, Daniel gets his ass kicked no less than four times before Mr. Miyagi steps in (1st on the beach, 2nd on the soccer field, the 3rd time being pushed down the hill, and the 4th as he flees the dance). It’s difficult to watch but makes the later payoff so rewarding.

    “I just want to go home.” Great line in this same sequence, something I didn’t pay much attention to as a kid. But this is an important story beat: we can’t just crawl back through the looking glass, once we’re through, to end the adventure. A shot in the opening sequence is well planned and needed now; earlier we saw him and his mom having to push the station wagon out of the hotel parking lot to make it the rest of the way to California. It barely made it there. No way that car is making it back to Jersey. They’re stuck. “The only way out is down.”

    3. As a kid, I completely missed that mom is a fleshed out character and has, if not an arc, at least her own struggle. She’s doing her best to put on a brave face for her son as they make a move out west that probably has her terrified. Something easy to miss (it’s so quickly glossed over) is that mom’s “up and coming” computer-programming job never materialized. The restaurant Daniel and she have a talk at after he visits the Kobra Kai dojo for the first time – she’s taken a waitressing job there. She talks optimistically about being trained as a manager and the benefits but, if you’ve ever relocated for a job, you’ll know it not turning out for her must have been traumatizing. But she’s more focused on Daniel’s acclimation than she is to her own career advancement and, as such, Daniel’s victory at the end is very much her victory.​

    This’ll be “to be continued,” I think. Great to watch a story that feeds you in one way when you’re ten and a different way when you’re in your forties. This past year, I’m having a lot of fun dissecting movies from my childhood in the 80’s and learning good story writing from them.
     
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  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    I guess 1993 must be a typo? Confused the hell out of me, especially since you also said learning story beats from the 80's right before it. But then you said Macchio, so definitely the original, and I don't think the remake was made until the 2000's.

    On to relevant stuff—I think it does start by showing his normal life. I don't remember the movie in any detail, but I'd say the inciting incident isn't until he gets into the Karate dojo and comes up against the Cobra kai or whatever they're called.
     
  3. OES

    OES New Member

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    Yes, that's a typo..what I get for copying and pasting from an earlier draft. It's definitely 1984, but I'm not sure how to edit thread titles on this forum, if there is a way.
     
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  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Since you created the thread I know you can edit the title, but I don't remember exactly how offhand. Let me find one of mine and figure it out...

    Ok, at the top of the thread go into where it says Thread Tools.
     
  5. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Just remember - the three act structure doesn't necessarily apply to writing novels or even short stories.

    A story can have multiple inciting incidents, false resolutions, or spread them out amongst other events, or omit one of them.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    he can't do that because he's new - you get more editing rights as your membership length and post count increases - however all is not lost, as staff i have full editting rights on every post, so i'll change it for him

    ETA: Done
     
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  7. OES

    OES New Member

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    I'm actually thinking in terms of five acts. :)
     
  8. OES

    OES New Member

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    Thanks.
     
  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    I can't watch the movie, since I don't have it, but I did find [deleted by moderator, sorry] It seems to be a copy of the original script, rather than one of those crappy transcripts made after the fact by machine, which are often terrible. This one has some readability issues on some pages though, but at least I can read most of it.

    I need to do a few things, but I'll get back to this thread later. Thought I'd post that link in case anybody else wants to take part but can't watch the movie.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 29, 2020
  10. OES

    OES New Member

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    I'm actually in a friendly debate with a fellow writer about what the inciting incident of the movie is. For her, it's Daniel deciding to take matters into his own hands and begin training Karate from a book in his living room. Mr. Miyagi sees this, leading Daniel to eventually be trained by him.

    I think this is weak as an inciting incident. For me, the inciting incident is his mom deciding (unilaterally) to move them across country. When the ignition turns on that station wagon in scene I, that's where the action begins.

    Admittedly, I'm very biased. I had a very similar experience at about the same age as Daniel -- being the swarthy, tawny kid with a last name that ends in a vowel finding himself among tall, blond rich kids. So to me, once Daniel is in California, he's already through the looking glass; he's already a passive figure in a world not his own.

    There really isn't a right or wrong here.
     
  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Sorry bro, that's copyright material, you can't share that here.. i know you didn't mean any harm so its just a friendly nudge, no harm no foul
     
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  12. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Ahhh, my bad!!

    Well, without having yet looked at 'the script that shall not be posted' I'm thinking this is more like the MC making his fateful decision to take matters into his own hands, in response to the inciting incident. Well, that depends—does this happen before or after he goes to the dojo?

    Well hey, at least the first person he meets when he gets there is Freddy Fernandez. I guess you didn't have a Freddy Fernandez?

    Not to traumatize you, but I'm actually tall, blonde, and of German descent. But I'm FRIENDLY! And far from rich.

    You know what, I'm gonna not say anything else here until I do a bit of reading and get my bearings.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2020
  13. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    I've not watched Karate Kid, but from what I understand of its basic plot, a kid is bullied so he learns karate to stand up to his bullies, the inciting incident would be when he starts being bullied. That is the introduction to the conflict, which is what the inciting incident is supposed to be (from my understanding).

    When he decides to learn karate (or at least actively try to stop the bullying) would be the first plot point.
     
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  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Ok, I've read a little ways in. Now I'm thinking the inciting incident is on the beach, when he meets the girl (Ali) and her boyfriend Johnnie and gets in a fight with him. Johnnie is the big bad of the Cobra Kai, except for the instructor, who is more Mister Miyagi's enemy than Daniel's. This agrees with what @TOP said above. I had never thought of multiple inciting incidents before, interesting concept.

    Up until that point, it's very standard 'New Kid in Town' stuff, the misplaced Jersey boy in LA. Come to think of it, very similar to the beginning of Lost Boys. And probably dozens of other movies. Yeah, he's out of his home element, but his life is what it's supposed to be until the conflict begins, and that's when Johnnie first sees him talking to his girl on the beach.
     
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  15. Zeppo595

    Zeppo595 Contributor Contributor

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    I haven't seen this movie in a long time, but I feel like the 'inciting incident' is when Johnnie beats him up right after he had clicked with Allie. He wants to learn karate to defend himself and get the girl, which he does at the end of the movie.
     
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