Rambo: First Blood – Action

I think it would be hard to argue that David Morrell’s book First Blood (Rambo’s first coming out) is not an action book. It definitely is. What might be surprising, to those that haven’t read the book, is how violent it is. In the movie, I believe there is only one death, the man that falls from the helicopter, and the rest are just injured or incapacitated. The novel, on the other hand, is a blood bath. And in the end, though I doubted myself at first (because who wants to go against Rambo), Rambo is the bad guy, the antagonist. He’s the guy going around killing police officers, civilians, and National Guardsmen. And despite what an asshole Sheriff Teasle is for setting Rambo off, in the end he is just trying to end the bloodbath.

The Editor’s 6 Core Questions

This post analyzes David Morrell’s novel First Blood using the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

  • Genre
  • Obligatory Scenes and Conventions
  • Point of View
  • Object of Desire
  • Controlling Idea/ Theme
  • Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff

Genre

Content: Action/ Hunted

Time: Long

Reality: Realism

Style: Drama

Structure: Archplot

There is not really an internal genre, Rambo and Teasle don’t change internally at the end of the book, they are both the same people. Teasle does make the chase personal though.

See this article for more information on how the Story Grid interprets Genre.

Obligatory Scenes

An inciting attack by the Villain

The inciting attack happens in the jail when Rambo suffers a PTSD attack and kills one deputy and severely wounds another.

Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action

Teasle sidesteps his responsibility to use every resource in his power to take down Rambo, not allowing the State Police to take over because he wants to be the one to take Rambo down.

Forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out

The ordinary world for Teasle is the one that makes sense, that when you arrest a hippie he doesn’t have the capabilities to take out armed deputies and fight back. Lashing out, Teasle summons his friend with the trained dogs and also the helicopter, going outside the limits of the law by bringing in civilians to help.

Discovering and Understanding the Antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s Object of Desire).

Rambo wants to get revenge on Teasle.

Hero’s initial strategy against villain fails

Teasle fails to catch Rambo with just his men and local friends, and all of them are killed by Rambo and Teasle barely escapes with his life.

Realizing he must change his approach to salvage some form of victory, Hero reaches All is Lost moment

First Teasle admits that he needs help from State and National Guard, and then he listens to Col Trautman (mentor of sorts) and gets his gift, thinking like Rambo.

The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain: the central event of the Action story, what the reader is waiting for.  Heo’s gift is expressed in this scene.

Teasle begins to think like Rambo and outsmarts him while Rambo is stalking him, getting a shot off and wounding Rambo, but Rambo’s survival instinct allows him to critically wound Teasle even though he has the drop on Rambo.

The Hero’s Sacrifice is rewarded

Teasle wounds Rambo enough that he is killed by Col Trautman. Teasle dies from his wounds (sacrifice).

See this article for more information on the Obligatory Scenes of an Action Genre story.

Conventions

Hero, Victim, Villain roles must be clearly defined throughout the story.  The protagonist must be a Hero

  • Hero – Teasle
  • Victim – Rambo
  • Villain – Rambo

This is very interesting, because Rambo is the victim of PTSD and abuse by Teagle and his men. Other victims could be seen as the police officers that are just doing their job.

The Hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim

Teasle wants to stop Rambo’s killing rampage and fix the problem that he started by his abuse.

The power divide between hero and villain is very large

While it appears that Rambo is outnumbered and outgunned, because of his training and war experience, he actually has the upper hand.

Speech in praise of the villain

Also, Col Trautman gives a speech in praise of Rambo, telling about his training and war experiences

See this article for more information on the Conventions of an Action Genre story.

POV

There are two Points of View in this novel, both third person limited – Rambo and Teasle.

Object of Desire

Wants: Teasle wants to survive Rambo’s rampage and capture him

Needs: Teasle needs to stop him himself, stop what he started

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Death results when the protagonist abuses his authority

Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff

Beginning Hook: When Rambo arrives in a small town he is treated unfairly by the Sheriff and arrested, but when he is abused in the jail his PTSD kicks in and he fights back, wounding one and killing another deputy when he escapes.

Middle Build: When Rambo escapes into the surrounding wooded mountains, he begins to kill his pursuers, but is finally unable to kill Teasle who started the unfair treatment.  After Teasle escapes, he leads a huge manhunt and Rambo is forced to hide deeper and deeper into a cave until he finds a hidden exit and escapes.

Ending Payoff: Rambo escapes back into the town and begins blowing up gas stations and buildings as distractions, trying to escape the town.  Meanwhile, Teasle begins to think like Rambo.  In a final shoot out between the two, Teagle and Rambo are both mortally wounded and Col Trautman, Rambo’s old commander, kills Rambo.

The 5 Commandments for first 3 Chapters

Here is a breakdown of the 5 Commandments of Storytelling (from the book the Story Grid):

Chapter 1

  • Action – Rambo arrives in Madidison
  • Essential Action – Chief of Police Teasle picks him up and takes him to the edge of town
  • Inciting Incident: Teasle picks Rambo up
  • Turning Point: Teasle drives Rambo out of town and basically tells him not to come back
  • Crisis Question: Does Rambo listen to Teasle or not
  • Climax: Rambo heads back to town
  • Resolution: Rambo feels justified because this has happened to him before

Progressive complications:

  • Rambo tries to hitch a ride and car almost runs him over
  • Rambo had been treated this way before
  • Chief of police asks him to get into the car
  • Rambo is driven through town and told not to come back

Value Shift: unjustly treated to feeling justified

Polarity Shift: -/+

Chapter 2

  • Action – Rambo getting a bite to eat in a diner
  • Essential Action – Teasle confronts him in the Diner
  • Inciting Incident: Teasle confronts Rambo in the Diner
  • Turning Point: Teasle starts interrogating Rambo
  • Crisis Question: Does Rambo talk back or just answer Teasle’s questions
  • Climax: Rambo talks back
  • Resolution: Teasle gets angry

Progressive complications:

  • Teasle finds Rambo in the Diner
  • Teasle tells him to get the food to go
  • Rambo notices Teasle is a war veteran
  • Rambo noticies Teasle can carry a gun
  • Teasle gets mad

Value Shift: Harrassed to ‘under police control’ again

Polarity Shift: -/–

Chapter 3

  • Action – Teasle drives Rambo out of town
  • Essential Action – Teasle tells Rambo not to come back
  • Inciting Incident: Teasle drives Rambo out of town
  • Turning Point: Teasle tells Rambo not to come back
  • Crisis Question: does Rambo listen or not
  • Climax: Rambo returns to town
  • Resolution: Rambo feels justified again

Progressive Complications:

  • Teasle takes Rambo to the edge of town
  • Teasle threatens Rambo
  • Rambo has had this treatment before, tortured as a POW in Vietnam

Value Shift: Unjustly treated to justified

Polarity Shift: -/+

The Story Grid

For more information about the Story Grid, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

Read this article for more information about the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.

Story Grid Editing

If you are interested in having your manuscript reviewed by me, see my Editing Services.

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