The Ever-Widening Curtains

The Completely Understood)

The premise of Rocky is established early on in the film. Apollo Creed, the heavyweight boxing world champion, has an opponent cancel on him and seeks to fill the vacancy by any means necessary. After a little searching, a local small-time fighter named Rocky Balboa is discovered and offered the position. Rocky is clearly outclassed, but he is convinced to accept the offer due to the opportunity to be on a national stage and receive $150,000 no matter the outcome.

Rocky has no expectation of winning, as he confesses to his girlfriend his only aim is to “go the distance,” meaning that he wants to last all 15 rounds of the match, proving himself to be a worthy competitor. And with that, the audience knows everything that Rocky will be up against in the movie. There’s no dramatic twist and no change-up in the schedule. We expect him to fight Creed at the end at that’s exactly what happens.

And this is great, because the film is a grounded, realistic take on the hero’s journey. It is concerned primarily with the drama of the situation, and how the opportunity both helps and hinders Rocky in his private relationships.

But what about stories that are reaching for the fantastic? Sometimes the audience wants to be taken on a wild ride, and don’t want to be able to see the ending from the beginning. Sometimes you want the curtain to open to what you think is the whole picture, but then realize that it was only a small slice as the curtains open even wider later on!

Think of how Neo in The Matrix exists in the regular world, then has the curtains partially opened to a world of special agents and supernatural abilities, then opens again to realizing that the entire world is a computer simulation, and finally opens a third time to his realizing he can rewrite the code of that simulation, becoming a veritable god.

Unforeseen Consequences)

There is also a video game franchise that is an excellent example of a curtain opening, then opening again. Half Life begins with the player character, Gordon Freeman, arriving for work at the underground Black Mesa Research Facility. Things seem fairly rudimentary and relaxed at first, but then an experiment goes horribly wrong, resulting in an interdimensional portal connecting the facility to another world called Xen. A deluge of alien monstrosities start appearing in Black Mesa, killing scientists and taking over their bodies.

Suffice it to say that the curtain has now opened! The game shifts into its main narrative, that of Gordon Freeman creeping through the underground warzone, fighting for his life at every turn. At this point the clearest path to the end would be for Freeman to fight his way to the heart of the alien world, blow up the main threat, close the portal to Earth, and restore peace. And for the majority of the game this seems to be exactly where the story is headed.

But then, when Gordon Freeman teleports to the world of Xen, he discovers that the alien brutes he has been facing are actually slaves to an overlord, who is ushering them towards Earth to escape an even greater threat: a massive alien empire known as the Combine. Gordon kills the overlord and closes the portal, thus resolving the immediate danger. However this battle between the inhabitants of Xen and Earth caused enough of a ripple through the galaxy to have caught the attention of that Combine empire, alerting them to the presence of humanity.

So now the curtain opens still wider, and in the sequel Earth is taken over by the Combine forces. These enemies are far more regimented than the roaming hordes of the first Half Life, and their domineering is far more pervasive.

But there is yet another expansion of the curtain, for at the end of the first game another presence makes himself known. A mysterious character known only as the G-Man pulls Gordon out of his own reality, trapping him in a sort of interdimensional limbo until the G-Man has further use for him, suggesting that there are forces at play which may be even more powerful than the Combine.

Each revelation takes what we think is a complete picture of the world shows that it was only the tip of an iceberg. Or in this case, the tip of an iceberg that is itself but the tip of an even larger iceberg! The audience is left in awe of how much the world has expanded since its humble introduction and left wondering how much further it has yet to grow. At this point anything seems possible.

My Own Expansion)

I have been incrementally expanding the world of my latest story as well. I began with the curtain already open, as the main character was trying to interact with an alternate world. It was all vague and confusing, though, and I quickly had him brought back into the regular world, where the curtains opened further to show us three children struggling to survive in a dark forest.

Then I have gone back and forth between these two settings, expanding the view of each one in turn. In the alternate world I have disclosed its true nature: a machine of interconnected systems which corresponded to real-world entities. Then I revealed that Cace was able to rewrite parts of that system, and most recently I am unveiling his ability to create new creatures by combining separate submodules together.

Meanwhile, in the overworld, I have progressively expanded on the threats that the children face, going from lack of resources, to a black powder that tried to consume them, to a ten-foot beast, to sentient tendrils of water.

In my next post I am to open the curtains still wider, though, as I introduce the half-Rolar-half-beast creation that Cace formed in the last section, and all the fascinating implications that come along with that. Then, in the post after next I will blast the curtains open all the way when I explain what those tendrils of water really are, and how they are part of a far, far bigger threat than anything the children have faced yet.

Thus I am unveiling two sides in tandem, ramping up danger while also expanding the power of the main character. Before long we will say goodbye to this short piece, though hopefully these revelations will leave the audience’s imaginations racing as to how much further the curtains could have stretched!

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