The Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Ally today.
Zoe: I think “ally” could use a better name. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat uses “love interest,” which is even worse. The “ally” doesn’t have to be a friend, and the hero may not even see the ally as someone who has his best interests in mind. It’s all about the role the ally plays in the story arc, not the role he plays in the story in general.
Ana: While I read about the ally I actually did think of my Love Interest because they’re often the person who won’t put up with the protagonist anymore unless the protagonist overcomes their flaw, and sometimes they tell them that. (You know, in novels where they actually talk.) But it can be other characters as well.
Kate: I’ve taken to calling it the catalyst.
Zoe: I like the “catalyst.”
Ana: I like it because it has cat in it.
Zoe: And we must save the cats. In James Scott Bell’s SuperStructure, he expands the ally beyond sentient possibilities, saying it could be an icon (like the mockingjay pin in the Hunger Games series) or a memory that bubbles up at the crucial moment and gives the hero strength to begin his strive for growth (or destruction, if you’re writing a tragedy).
Ana: Oh God. Don’t remind me of that book I read yesterday where the cat wasn’t saved. (That also shows something about a character.)
Kate: 🙁 But I just put Super Structure and Save the Cat in my shopping cart. You guys are killing my budget.
Zoe: I keep almost adding Save the Cat to my cart, then I read the reviews again and get scared off by the complaints that it’s a way to write a formulaic, blockbuster-movie story.
Kate: I’ve had so many people recommend it, though. I keep going back and forth on it. It’s been in my cart more often than wine (but has never stayed there, unlike the wine.) It is a book on screenwriting, so it’s not surprising that it would focus on the kinds of scripts that get you a director and a contract.
Ana: Maybe you should buy both and consume them together.
Kate: I thought I might. I’ll let you guys know what Save the Cat is like.
Ana: So long as you don’t end up with nine rescue cats in your house….
Zoe: I like Libbie’s statement that the ally is the one who finally presents the hero’s need to confront his inner flaw in stark, unavoidable terms. That the ally is the one who forces your main character to change his actions, confront his weakness, and embark on the journey to win his hero status (or bring about his ultimate failure, if you’re writing a tragedy—this book didn’t really address tragedies at all).
Kate: Yes. In my Christmas story, the ally points out to the MC that he’s been fairly sheltered, middle class, and his ideas of how the world should be are not what it really is, and if he’s interested in pursuing a relationship, the ally is interested, but only if he gets his head out of his rear end. Then it’s up to the MC to decide if maybe he’s being an idiot, or if he wants to watch Cutie McSexypants walk out the door forever.
I got a kick out of her reference to Liam Neeson in Taken. I’d watch anything with him in it.
Ana: I had to google him. Did he play a crazy person at some point? I don’t know why, but I saw his face and thought crazy.
Kate: He’s done a lot of stuff.
Ana: Did you get the feeling that the ally had to be one character or that there could be more of them? I mean, different allies at different points of the story.
Kate: She didn’t make that part terribly clear, but I got the sense that you could have more than one ally. She keeps referring to Ender’s Game, and there’s way more than one ally in that story.
Zoe: I think in this section Libbie is talking about a specific moment in the story arc, that one when the hero picks himself up for the final battle. So there could certainly be minor allies along the way, but there’s only going to be one at this major plot point.
Kate: And that was a major plot point. But there’s a bunch of smaller ones that built up to this, and it couldn’t have happened without them. It would have been nice to see her demonstrate the build-up with one story, showing different allies and how they forced the MC to do something or become something.
Zoe: I rather like that she stuck to the major stuff.
Kate: True. I think that was important, but it does kind of leave the impression that there is only one, and I would worry about people that might miss the implication.
Zoe: The trade-off is that it gets people focusing on the most important one in the story/character arc, which helps them to make that one powerful, rather than diluting it because the book said there could be lots of little ones, and here’s an example of doing that.
Ana: Keeping it simple is probably the only way she got me to write an outline at all.
Zoe: Yeah, and then once you have that solid story arc core, you can build on it.
Kate: It’s certainly worked for me.
Zoe: I think I hear the pigs squealing out there as they zoom around. I didn’t think anything would work for Kate, outlining wise. (Not that I think Kate is unteachable, just that I had a feeling she’d already found what worked for her.)
Kate: I would very much like to find an outlining method that works for me. So far, so good. *Ducks flying pig*