Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Monster Mash: When It’s Too Long at the Party

I’m going to venture a suggestion that flies in the face of over eight decades of Hollywood tradition:  Movie monsters are not fundamentally franchisable.

Did the sequels to Psycho or Silence of the Lambs inspire the sheer terror of the originals?  The more we knew about Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, the more comfortable, oddly enough, we became with them.  What about Jaws and Child’s Play?  Seems to me the shark got faker and Chucky got campier as those went along.  Sure, the body counts were higher and the death scenes more elaborate (a provision of scary sequels so concisely articulated in Scream 2), but did any of that make the follow-ups scarier—or merely distract you from the fact that you weren’t as scared?

 

HERE THERE BE MONSTERS

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start with a brief classification of genre; horror is altogether too vague.  Supernatural—or, at the very least, superhuman—creatures are typically the subject of two types of “genres,” as Blake Snyder characterizes them; the first—and most common—is Monster in the HouseMITH stories are defined by the following three requisites:  a monster, a “house” (any relatively confined setting will do), and an act of sin that invites the monster into the “house.”  Examples include Alien (the xenomorph; the Nostromo; greed), Jaws (the great white; Amity Island; greed), Jurassic Park (the dinosaurs; Isla Nublar; hubris)—you get the idea.  This principle holds true for the “slasher” craze of the eighties and “torture porn” trend in the aughts.  When we think of monster movies, MITH is typically the model that springs to mind.

But there is another, somewhat less common, genre showcase for movie monsters:  Superhero—which is not the exclusive province of comic-book crime-fighters, as the name might suggest, but rather a narrative paradigm for telling the story of any protagonist with a special power, a nemesis, and a curse.  The tales of Dracula and Frankenstein (in virtually all their incarnations) meet these criteria, as do the 1994 movies Wolf and Interview with the Vampire:  The Vampire Chronicles.  Here, the monster is endowed with a special power—Dracula renounces God and embraces vampirism; Frankenstein is stitched together from various corpses and given life by a mad scientist; a bite from a wolf triggers a primal metamorphosis in genteel Jack Nicholson; Louis de Pointe du Lac is given the gift of immortality… and spends eternity bemoaning it—that provokes the antagonism of a particular archenemy—Van Helsing, the pitchfork-wielding villagers, a slimy and sniveling James Spader, and the vampire Lestat, respectively—and comes with a curse (which, in the case of some of the above, is that they are regarded as monstrous by society at large, and ostracized—or outright hunted—as a consequence).  These types of stories are generally more atmospheric than frightening, as the monster inspires empathy over fear on the part of the audience.  I might argue that this particular class of movie monster—Superhero—lends itself more readily to franchisability because, like its costumed comic-book brethren, its appeal lies in the ongoing emotional exploration of how it feels to be different from—and misunderstood by—the world at large.  (In that sense, Louis and Superman could probably relate to one another.)  Superheroes hold special appeal for teenagers for this very reason.

 

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE…

MITH monsters, on the other hand, derive their power from fear, and fear is fueled by threat of the unknown.  As soon as the monster has been revealed—once his countenance and motive are known to us—his power diminishes considerably.  After John Carpenter unveiled Michael Myers’ ultimate, and theretofore unspoken, raison d’être in Halloween II, he wisely retired the character in favor of revamping the series as a horror anthology (a failed experiment that begat just one ill-fated installment before the Shape returned—sans Carpenter’s participation—for a parade of follow-ups that played fast and loose with established continuity).  I Know What You Did Last Summer is a taut little thriller (part of the revisionist-slasher movement that took hold after the surprise success of Scream) that keeps you guessing through its satisfyingly climactic revelation, but there was zero suspense in the awkwardly titled I Still Know What You Did Last Summer; at that point, we all knew—everything there was to know—and there were no simply no surprises left:  The second film turns on action, not revelation, and horror just doesn’t scare effectively if the audience isn’t “in the dark.”

Because in order to be scared—chilled in your soul in a way that A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and The Exorcist still retain the power to do—you need to be disturbed.  There has to be something about the experience that is ultimately a little unpleasant.  (I watched The Exorcist when I was fourteen and slept with the lights on for the remainder of that summer.)  In the exhaustive documentary Never Sleep Again:  The Elm Street Legacy (available for streaming on Netflix and well worth watching), master of horror Wes Craven puts it best:  “The fact that they made Freddy more and more jokey took him farther and farther away from that child-molester thing that just kind of sticks to you in a way that maybe you don’t like.”  The more Freddy talked, it seemed, the less horrifying he appeared.

 

“THE KILLER’S NOT A NICK-AT-NITE RERUN TYPE OF GUY—HE WANTS TO BREAK SOME NEW GROUND”

Occasionally a MITH sequel proves an exception to the rule.  In the subsequent entries of the Scream series, Craven and company devised a novel way to franchise the “monster’s” public persona—Ghostface—while maintaining that crucial air of intrigue by placing a new killer, with a correspondingly new motivation, behind the signature mask each time out.  Aliens works, too—for a few reasons.  Namely, director James Cameron tweaked the genre from sci-fi/horror (Alien) to sci-fi/action (Aliens), thereby reconditioning audience expectations:  This installment, he implicitly promised, would be more about thrills than scares.  To deliver on this, he relied not on keeping the aliens from sight—what would’ve been the point of that since we already knew what we were up against?—but rather bombarding us with hordes of them until we were simply out of breath.  And just to keep things interesting, Cameron introduced a new, deadlier permutation of the alien:  the queen.  And it worked:  Aliens is that rare breed of sequel that builds upon the mythology of the original and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with it.

Adam Aresty, screenwriter of the forthcoming MITH feature Stung, shares his insights on the subject:

Look at the successes in terms of a franchise and you’ll see—across the board—that they actually do two things:  give us characters to care about, and (in some way) “evolve” the creature beyond what we see in the first installment … Even T2 sticks to this paradigm, and while it’s not a strict MITH movie, it does have a classic movie monster in it and the brilliant move [writer/director James Cameron] made in the sequel was to turn Arnold into a good guy, keeping the paradigm fresh.

[George] Romero is also someone to look at…. [He] chose to tell three disparate stories that resonated thematically with the zeitgeist, while also showing through the [Dead] trilogy that the zombies can actually learn, a terrifying prospect illustrated when the zombie discovers how to use the gun at the end of Day of the Dead (my personal favorite).

Innovative directors with the courage to “mess with a winning formula” and take a franchise in a different direction—as Cameron proved to be with Alienshave defied the creative odds.  But, every iteration of Alien that followed Cameron’s inspired entry, be it a direct sequel, mash-up with Predator, or prequel, really struggled with the problem, as Aresty identifies it, of evolution—that of the monster and the franchise.  And they didn’t solve it.  They couldn’t.  As terrifying a creation as the alien was, it couldn’t scare us forever.  Not that 20th Century Fox has stopped trying, though.

 

MONSTERS, INC.

It’s hard, after all—and growing increasingly harder in a glutted marketplace—to come up with new spins on things that go bump in the night.  I speak from experience, having written a number of MITH screenplays featuring a host of supernatural/superhuman antagonists:  demons; zombies; werewolves; sea monsters; extraterrestrials.  So the temptation to franchise something that’s working (or seems like it might work) is both financially and creatively incentivized.  And in the current IP-crazed atmosphere, producers are as concerned with the long-term viability of a concept (if not more so) as they are with the short-term execution of the initial entry’s screenplay.  I have consistently fielded the same note on every MITH project I’ve scripted:  “Make sure you show that the monster is still alive at the end for the sequel!”  And let me assure you:  It’s hard enough to bring one story to a fitting conclusion without worrying about what comes next.

So, it seems to me that you can serve the story on which you’re working, or the franchise yet to come.  New iterations and interpretations of the monster—if there are any worth exploring—may very well be creatively warranted if the creature proves sufficiently culturally relevant, and the filmmakers commensurably imaginatively resourceful.  But, premature considerations of “franchising” don’t inspire the kind of horror that gave birth to Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, or Annabelle of The Conjuring (getting her own spinoff this October, by the way).  Nor do cynically conceived sequels and remakes to proven properties that reduce, over time, child molesters to children’s toys, and only serve to illustrate my opening salvo:  Movie monsters are not fundamentally franchisable—not if their horrific integrity is to be maintained.  Like Halloween itself, they are, for the most part, really only entitled to one good scare.

 

“THEY’RE BACK…”

And yet despite my assertion, “sinister” plans are afoot to bring serial killers Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, as well as the spooks of Amityville and Poltergeist, back to cinemas sooner than later.  If history holds, audiences will likely turn out, and modest budgets and foreign markets will assure profitability.  But, will anyone talk about them the next day?  Or, better still, have trouble sleeping afterwards?

It’s irrelevant, I suppose:  Box-office receipts notwithstanding, the new installments will assuredly give classic Halloween costumes prominent placement on the racks at Party City.  Like vinyl masks and plush toys, the sequels/remakes/sequels-to-remakes themselves become, by and large, a disposable product—a quick thrill, not a deep scare.  And when the stuff of nightmares becomes the stuff of marketers, we sacrifice the insight into human nature those stories offered in the first place—that thing that “sticks to you in a way that maybe you don’t like.”  The more often the same monsters haunt our local multiplexes in an interminable cycle of sequels, the more they linger in our collective cultural consciousness—perhaps—but the less they haunt our personal nightmares.

8 Comments

  1. Just read your Monster Mash piece. Great stuff! So well written and thought provoking. Reading it was a pleasure. I also happen to agree with you one hundred percent.
    Keep it coming.

  2. “Make sure you show that the monster is still alive at the end for the sequel!”

    Yeah, if the monster dies at the end they can’t make a sequel. That’s why there are no sequels to Jaws, Alien, King Kong, Dracula, Frankenstein, Godzilla, The Invisible Man…

    • Exactly! Well said, Dell! Yet more proof that “creative” execs — and managers and agents and producers (and anyone else in Hollywood whose job it is to advise writers how to write) — know jack shit about the creative process. Part of the reason Hollywood is so dysfunctional is because screenwriters are forced to take their marching orders from those goons, the lion’s share of whom are themselves failed writers. What a system.

      You’re absolutely right: If the material or, more likely, the market demands the resurrection of a previously vanquished monster, someone will find a way to make that happen regardless of how the last movie ended. The late Wes Craven, whose Freddy Krueger starred in an endless series of movies, actually read this article and sent me a private note about it (an exchange I wrote about in detail after his death), and here’s what he had to say on the subject:

      “Being successful in creating monsters ain’t easy, as I’m sure you know, and having to top yourself every time out after that is a bit of a pain. But it’s also a fun challenge. But if you can’t think of something better, someone else will do a sequel to your last success, whether you like it or not.”

      I personally think most movies would be far better served if the filmmakers prioritized one installment at a time, as Christopher Nolan did with his Dark Knight trilogy, rather than planning for a franchise before the first entry has been finished, released, and — most importantly — warmly received. That’s why Warner Bros. is stuck right now building their shitty DCEU on a series of movies that have been creative and critical failures: They committed to a mega-franchise before they’d established proof of concept or certainly proof of interest in that concept. If you ever needed evidence for the death of art, I submit the “Hollywood mega-franchise” as Exhibit A.

      Thanks for reading this “oldie but goodie,” Dell — always nice to have your input. Please stop by again!

  3. Franchisability of each genre, roughly from least to most:

    Monster in the House:
    Very poor. See essay above.

    Out of the Bottle:
    Not really. Once you’ve learned the lesson there’s nowhere to go.

    Fool Triumphant:
    Not really. Once the fool triumphs there’s nowhere to go.

    Institutionalized: Group, Choice, Sacrifice
    Not really. Once the individual vs. group conflict is settled there’s nowhere to go.

    Rites of Passage:
    Not really. Once you’ve passed the rite you’re set,unless you go through a different rite (e.g., high school graduation, marriage, first kid).

    Buddy Love:
    Difficult. Once the two buddies are at peace they’d have to become inadequate all over again.

    Dude With A Problem:
    Somewhat. As long as you can justify the poor schmuck having yet another problem.

    Whydunit:
    Very good. One of the best. You can always come up w/ a new mystery. See: “I Don’t Understand Mysteries, And That Kinda Hurts My Writing Career” by Ferrett Steinmetz (http://theferrett.livejournal.com/2097362.html)

    Golden Fleece:
    Very good. One of the best. You can always come up w/ a new quest.

    Superhero:
    Very good. One of the best. You can always come up w/ a new nemesis.

    Just my opinion. Sparked by the Ferrett essay.

    • Damn, Dell! I had no idea you were so well-versed in the Save the Cat! genres! You’ve certainly got a much stronger grasp on them than most of the misguided folks on the STC! Community Forum.

      Let me walk through your analysis and add my own insights:

      Monster in the House: 100% on board with you. For all the reasons outlined above, a monster gets one chance (meaning one story) to scare us, and after that it succumbs to the law of diminishing returns. Jurassic World understood this, hence the reason the filmmakers conceived of the Indominus rex, but the movie still doesn’t work because it is conceptually flawed: To buy into its premise, you’d have to believe that ten years after Jurassic Park opened for business, the public had become so bored and blasé about seeing dinosaurs that the only way to retain our interest was to engineer a new, genetically manipulated hybrid species. Bullshit. We can pull up video of an orca or dolphin any time we want, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less in awe when we see one at an aquarium or off the deck of a whale-watching vessel, so there’s no way in hell dinosaurs would inspire ennui a mere decade after being brought back from extinction. Jurassic World didn’t make sense at a conceptual level, proving yet again that there was no pulp left to squeeze out of the Jurassic conceit after the first film. MITH movies work once — if you’re lucky.

      Out of the Bottle: Also agreed. We’ll buy into the idea once that a character is subjected to a magical spell and takes a life-altering lesson from it, but any more than that and it starts to come off as Double Mumbo Jumbo. An exception to this rule, I guess, would be if the angel itself — the agent of the magic — is the element that is franchised, like Nanny McPhee or George Burns in the Oh, God! series.

      Fool Triumphant: Yep. In almost any instance where there’s been an attempt to franchise an FT, the sequels have left audiences wanting, as was the case with Legally Blonde, Crocodile Dundee, and as I recently illustrated in “This Counts, That Does Not,” Bridget Jones and Beverly Hills Cop. It’s hard to pass these characters off as fools on the second or third go-rounds.

      Institutionalized: There certainly aren’t many examples, which would seem to indicate how challenging it is. The Godfather series pulled it off once (though arguably not twice). Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps works (in my estimation), but that’s only because they swapped out the protagonist (Charlie Sheen for Shia LaBeouf), and shifted Gordon Gekko’s role from antagonist to antihero. But, I would say, more often than not, the Choice made in an Institutionalized is a definitive one, precluding the need for sequels.

      Rites of Passage: Yes, ROP are about a very specific turning-point moment in a character’s life, and there are only so many of those (five, per Snyder: “Midlife,” “Separation,” “Death,” “Addiction,” and “Adolescence”), and that story model does not credibly lend itself to repeatability. Both City Slickers and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are examples of ROP whose sequels, The Legend of Curly’s Gold and Get Him to the Greek, respectively, switched story models to Golden Fleece, which ought to tell us something.

      Buddy Love: Also extremely difficult. There’s a reason they never made sequels to Titanic or E.T. or Pretty Woman or Dirty Dancing, hugely successful as all of those films were. The subgenre of “Professional Love,” however, lends itself a bit more naturally to further development: I think part of the reason Lethal Weapon works more successfully as an ongoing series of buddy-cop movies than, say, Die Hard (which is DWAP) or Beverly Hills Cop (FT) is because the filmmakers continued to develop the love story between Riggs and Murtaugh in each installment, finding new challenges for them to overcome (the plots themselves — whatever crime they were investigating — was purely incidental and beside the point). For instance, the relationship is turned into a “three-hander” with the inclusion of Joe Pesci in the second film; the unspoken anxiety about Murtaugh’s impending retirement fuels the personal conflict in Lethal 3; the pregnancies of Riggs’ wife and Murtaugh’s daughter in 4 have them grappling with their fears of becoming “too old for this shit,” bringing out new dimension in their complex dynamic. But as far as romantic stories are concerned, it is very hard to create something as compelling as the initial “falling in love” plotline.

      Dude with a Problem: Try to franchise this model, and you’re really going to start to strain credibility, as Die Hard demonstrated. If you’re looking to franchise your DWAP movie, the smartest move you can make is to switch story models for future installments, as Rambo, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, and Bourne did.

      Whydunit: Very franchisable. That’s why so many books and television series follow this format, with Raymond Chandler and Dirty Harry and The X-Files (among many others) finding sustained success through it.

      Golden Fleece: Hands down the most franchisable genre, as evidenced by Indiana Jones and Star Trek. You can always put a good hero on a new adventure, especially if their area of expertise is something vaguely exotic, like Biblical archaeology or space exploration.

      Superhero: Also right up there with GF. While it can be challenging to come up with a truly worthy Nemesis each time out, some of our longest running, most versatile franchises, from Dracula to Sherlock Holmes to 007 to Batman, have prospered in this model. I suspect the forthcoming The Last Jedi will do what Empire Strikes Back did and switch to the SH paradigm after the preceeding GF adventures of The Force Awakens and A New Hope.

      We’re in complete agreement, it seems. With respect to the Ferrett essay, I think mysteries are less crucial to the success of a given narrative than dramatic questions. Each of the ten story models is driven by a very particular central dramatic question: In Whydunit, it’s Will the mystery be solved? In Golden Fleece, it’s Will the prize be attained? In Buddy Love, it’s Will the lovers be together? And so on. That’s why it’s important to choose a narrative model before you write your story, study the literary/cinematic antecedents in your specific subgenre, and then be faithful to the conventions of that genre in the most artful way possible.

      That’s why I disagree with the goons over at Save the Cat! who insist a story can adhere to more than one narrative model. No — a creatively successful story cannot. Sure, sometimes the conventions of one genre are evident in another, but it all goes back to what the story’s central dramatic question is. Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow has all the elements of both WD and MITH, so isn’t it then both? No, it isn’t — because the dramatic question that drives the story isn’t Who’s controlling the Horseman? but rather Will the Horseman be stopped? The first question is subordinate to the second one, which makes the movie MITH.

      So, when the so-called Master Cats profess a story can honor the conventions of multiple genres concurrently, they are defying what Snyder himself said in his books: He specifically states on page 43 of the first Save the Cat! manual that there aren’t exceptions, and that every successful narrative can be definitively classified by the dramatic requirements of a single, overriding story model (a.k.a. genre). When his acolytes tell you otherwise, that’s just them covering their asses because they don’t really comprehend these tools — how they work, how to use them, and certainly not how to teach them — something I’ve taken them to task for. Their ignorance is a crying shame, really, because the genre models are an indispensable tool that is so badly misapprehended and misapplied by so many.

      Not you, though! Thanks for contributing, Dell. It’s always a pleasure to have your input in the conversation.

      • >every successful narrative can be definitively classified by the dramatic requirements of a SINGLE, overriding story model (a.k.a. genre)
        (emphasis mine)

        Question: Can a postnarrative have multiple genres? Can the different arcs within a single postnarrative story each be a different Save the Cat! genre, while the overall story not fit Save the Cat! paradigm?

        For instance, first season of Game of Thrones. Could Daenerys be Fool Triumphant, Anya Stark be Rite Of Passage and Ned Stark’s investigation of Joffrey’s true parentage be Whydunnit?

        • This is an excellent question, Dell, and one whose answer is very much a work-in-progress. Let me elaborate.

          As you already know (I’m recapping here for others who may not), Aristotle (in Poetics), and much later Joseph Campbell (in The Hero with a Thousand Faces), identified the story mechanics that have come to be known as the monomyth, the underlying structural pattern that serves as the foundation for pretty much all Western literature: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, [Novato, California: New World Library, 2008], 23).

          Screenwriter Blake Snyder then took that template and applied it to hundreds of movies, astutely observing that the monomyth seemed to serve ten different story models: Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Dude with a Problem — all the “genres” we discussed above. I tested these against every movie I watched, every book I read, and sure enough, I found that every good story fit decisively into one of those genre categories; correspondingly, many bad films (like Winter’s Tale, 47 Ronin, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) that defied those prescribed genres by either attempting to “serve multiple masters” (that is to say, mix and match conventions from different genres), or for that matter serve none at all (i.e., movies that didn’t honor the conventions of any known genre classification), seemed to be almost universally disliked and unsatisfying. So I knew Snyder was onto something — that he had taken the comparative mythology of Joseph Campbell (and, by extension, Christopher Vogler) to the next phase of its intellectual evolution. So far, so good, right?

          Where I got tripped up, though, was when I found myself unable to classify shows like Lost and Orphan Black. Were these DWAPs? The pilots certainly seemed to indicate so. But then Lost became something of a “Fantasy Whydunit,” and Orphan Black a kind of “Fantasy Superhero,” but nothing about them seemed to fit squarely or comfortably into one genre or another (which goes to your question above). I really puzzled over this for a long time with no satisfactory conclusion.

          Then, as fate would have it, I saw an interview with media theorist Douglas Rushkoff on The Colbert Report during the promotional tour for his book Present Shock. I was so impressed with what I saw, I bought the book, and to my enormous surprise, the first chapter of it is all about how our sense of linear narrativity — of stories with a beginning, middle, and end — had been catastrophically disrupted with the onset of the Digital Age, and he specifically cited shows like Game of Thrones as proof of a new “postnarrative” worldview — a schism in storytelling that diverges from the time-honored “hero’s journey” diagram. This was eye-opening to me, and all of a sudden I had a brand-new understanding of a subject I previously thought I knew everything about: narratology. Now I looked at Lost and Orphan Black in a whole new light!

          Because TV when I was a kid always followed a fixed, identifiable “formula” from week to week: A given episode of Knight Rider was a Superhero story about a “lone ranger” who breezed into town, chased out the bad guys and thereby restored justice, then went on his way to the next adventure; The A-Team was Golden Fleece, in which the heroes were hired to complete an impossible mission; The Dukes of Hazzard was almost invariably DWAP, whereby the innocent Duke boys would get framed for a crime and have to clear their name before their bail was forfeited and Boss Hogg could take possession of Uncle Jesse’s farm. But Lost and Orphan Black and Game of Thrones, they didn’t play by those rules — they were something new and hard to pin down. They were, as Rushkoff calls them, postnarrative. Somebody had finally put their finger on what was different about storytelling in our new millennium; the tools I’d been using to make sense of these shows didn’t apply to the new paradigm.

          But, on that note, here’s the thing: The story mechanics of postnarrativity have not yet been codified; Rushkoff identified the form (and function), but not the conventions and tropes and motifs — the precepts — that define it. He recognized several different types of postnarrative fiction, like the kind in which there are either no stakes or consequences (The Simpsons), the one in which meta-commentary on the viewing experience itself supplants linear plot progression as the entire point of the program (Beavis and Butt-head, Mystery Science Theater 3000), and of course the sprawling ensemble dramas we’ve been discussing here, like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, which “are less about what will happen next, or how the story will end, than about figuring out what is actually going on right now — and enjoying the world of the fiction, itself” (Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, [New York:  Penguin Group, 2013], 32).

          And I appreciate how tempting it can be to employ Snyder’s genre categories to study these shows (the current custodians of Save the Cat! have certainly tried with the likes of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead), but I have strongly cautioned against applying the principles of conventional storytelling to postnarrativity. While there are certainly some examples that seem like no-brainers (Heroes as Superhero, The X-Files as “Fantasy Whydunit,” This Is Us and The Sopranos as “Family Institution”), it is important to remember that Blake’s genres were extrapolated from the monomythic story schema — a closed-ended, prescriptive form of narrative (meaning one with a moral to the story) — and postnarrativity is its own beast, with its own “rules” and agenda.

          To that point, I think studying and codifying postnarrative literature — identifying its story mechanics the same way Aristotle, Campbell, and Snyder did for the monomyth — is going to be the next major project of comparative mythology, especially as postnarrativity entrenches itself further still as the dominant storytelling form of the new millennium; I’ve given strong consideration to taking up that project myself! But we’re not there yet: Right now, postnarrative fiction is still in its infancy; its precepts and conventional criteria are still very much in a trial-and-error phase as storytellers push the boundaries of what constitutes narrative. But in the coming decades, scholars will expound upon what Rushkoff has identified, and screenwriting instructionals devoted exclusively to teaching the principles of postnarrativity will be written eventually, and perhaps the story models of Save the Cat! will be appropriated, in whole or part or even in an amalgamated form (as you suggest above) as part of a new methodology. Until those books are published, however, I think it is crucial to not fall into the trap some of the so-called “Master Cats” have stepped in by (mis)applying a set of tools designed for one function to an incompatible (if clearly related) task, same way you wouldn’t use a Swiss army knife to remove a ruptured appendix, however greatly it resembles a surgical scalpel.

          Part of what makes postnarrativity exciting is that it doesn’t seem to fit into a prescribed model: Its refusal to adhere to the familiar three-act structure (and corresponding genre conventions) makes it hard to predict, and that is a thrilling prospect for a culture that has become very attuned to the rhythms of classical storytelling. We are, as a culture, developing something new — a storytelling form that better reflects the ethos and anxieties of our nonlinear Digital Age (hence the reason, perhaps, genre overlapping may very well apply to postnarrativity) — and we will learn to codify it in due time. For right now, it is only important we recognize postnarrativity is something different from the prescriptive monomyth, and that the tools we’ve employed to forge the latter don’t necessarily comply with the former. Because knowing what not to do — in this case, imposing the principles of one storytelling form on another — is often as crucial as knowing what to do.

          Perhaps you’ll be one of the people who helps “crack the code”…?

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