Step Forward, Fall Back

The Bad Solution)

In the last chapter of Covalent our characters faced a powerful and immediate threat. A massive creature was intent upon killing each and every one of them, and it was well equipped to do exactly that! First it knocked out Rolar, then it had Aylme pinned down, and soon it would turn its attention to Cace.

At this point Cace knew that he needed to remove this threat, whatever it took. And thankfully he found a way to do exactly that. He discovered that all the flora and fauna around them were parts of an otherworldly machine, and that he could train that machine’s furnace to consume the monster and its young.

He did this, and the immediate threat was resolved!

But even as the children enjoyed their moment of reprieve, greater dangers were now lurking. For Cace also witnessed what role that monstrous creature served for the machine. It was a guardian, tasked with identifying threats to the system and rooting them out. That was the very function it was executing when it targeted the children. Now, though, that guardian has been destroyed, and so there is no line of defense for the deeper and darker enemies out there, ones that the children have not yet even conceived of.

Cace may have saved the day, but he seriously jeopardized tomorrow to do so!

An Opening and a Blocking)

A similar conundrum befalls Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Throughout her story she is constantly pressed by two great needs: to win the love of her life, Ashley Wilkes, and to restore her her family home after the Civil War leaves them destitute.

The only problem is that these two core desires are often at odds to one another. For example she ends up marrying other men for their money, thus securing the finances to keep her home, but which obviously poses an obstacle to being with the man that she loves.

Indeed the only way for her to get away with Ashley would be to run off with him, making herself a disgrace and abandoning the home she has fought so hard for. She cannot have both, and she must choose.

Or so it would seem, right up to the moment that her current husband, Rhett, offers her a divorce and Ashley’s own wife dies from complications in childbirth. Here at last is the opportunity to be with the man that she loves, stay in her family home, and retain at least an outward face of honor.

But for all these sudden opportunities, Scarlett’s heart has betrayed her. For now she comes to realize that she truly loves her current husband, Rhett, but he’s become wise to the games she’s playing and no longer wants anything to do with her. Thus as one door opens a window closes, and Scarlett is right back to her impossible juggling act!

Tactical Retreat)

The same shuffle back-and-forth happens all the time in the Mission: Impossible films, too. Ethan Hunt is a secret agent, tasked with preventing end-of-the-world catastrophes, and each movie sees him being thrown into the deep end, rubbing shoulders with weapons’ dealers, elite assassins, and criminal masterminds. Ethan must make deals with the big fish in order to catch the biggest!

And this tends to see Ethan jeopardizing today in an effort to save tomorrow. Many times he has to make a trade, and the only thing he has to offer is the very thing he isn’t supposed to give up.

Take, for example, his situation in the middle of Ghost Protocol. In this film, Ethan finds a way to intercept the launch codes that the main baddie, Kurt Hendricks, wants to use to start a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. The rest of the team congratulate him on a job well done. Hendricks can’t obtain the launch codes now, so he can’t fire a missile, so he can’t start the war that he wants.

But Ethan disagrees. They might stop Hendricks here, but the man will not be deterred. He will find another way, and that time Ethan and his team might not be there to stop him. Ethan knows that more important than holding onto the codes is using them as bait to lure the recluse out of hiding.

And so the team sets up a handoff, giving the codes to Hendricks’ courier and then following him back to his base. Or at least that’s the plan. Unfortunately, they lose track of the courier, and thus their foe moves one step closer to his homicidal plan. They will just have to cut him off at the next pass.

Back and Back Again)

This is also the pattern in the second part of the Back to the Future series. This film begins with a simple premise: Marty McFly must travel to the future with Doc Brown in order to prevent his future family from making some life-shattering mistakes. It’s a fairly simple task, and they quickly get everything sorted out.

Except for not. Because their presence inadvertently tips off an old enemy of the family, Biff Tannen, to the existence of the time machine. Biff uses the machine to go back in time and pull a few strings of his own, and when Marty and Doc go back to that timeline, they discover it has become a total nightmare!

So now they must go on another time-hopping trip to find out what Biff did to mess everything up and undo those changes. It’s a long-fought process, but at last they succeed…just in time for the time machine to get struck by lightning and transported 80 years in the past, stranding Doc and Marty in the wrong timelines once more!

In Back to the Future, every step forward seems to cause more problems than it solves!

That’s Drama!)

And that’s how you fill out two hours of film, or a season of television, or a hundred-thousand words of a novel! Every story requires an objective and constant opposition to it. Each story is extended out whenever the protagonist has to make compromises, has to surrender the upper hand, has to concede the battle to win the war. We are tantalized by seeing how close they come to their objective, devastated by how far they fall from it, and engrossed by how hard they fight to get back to it again.

And that is exactly why I had Cace solve the more immediate problem of the creature’s attack by opening the door for even greater challenges down the road. Doing so meant that the story doesn’t end prematurely, it will be extended out long enough to become what I need it to be.

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