Mentoring Authors One Scene at a Time – Thriller/Military/Non-Fiction/SF/Fantasy
This post analyzes the Amazon Prime television series Jack Ryan using the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.
This post will spoil everything about episode 5 from the Jack Ryan television series, so make sure you watch it before reading on.
Jack Ryan is Tom Clancy’s iconic hero, a historian, professor at West Point, and analyst who is thrust into high octane situations. In the first season, he works as a CIA analyst who discovers the ‘next Bin Laden’ and ultimately prevents him from conducting terrorist attacks within the US, killing him in a shootout in the subway at the end. Ryan is then promoted and his boss is also promoted and sent to work in Moscow.
Check out my analysis for Season 1 if you want more details.
Ultimately, I thought the story was alright, better in the beginning and middle, with a disappointing end that I thought was the result of some lazy writing. Hopefully, this season will be a lot better.
In this post I’ll review the Story Grid 5 Commandments of a good Scene, and then discuss what parts of the episode fulfilled the commandments.
The Inciting Incident kicks off the scene. Shawn Coyne says in his book The Story Grid that the Inciting Incident must “upset the life balance of your lead protagonist. It must make them uncomfortably out of sync…for good or evil”.
This can occur either as a Causal Inciting Incident or a Coincidental Inciting Incident. According to Shawn Coyne, “a Causal Inciting Incident is the result of an active choice”, while “a Coincidental Inciting Incident is when something unexpected or random or accidental happens”.
The Inciting Incident of this first episode (it’s really a Sequence or collection of scenes) is Causal as Ryan interprets intelligence provided to Sen Moreno about Venezuela accepting weapons aid from the Russians. This is later reinforced by Greer’s intel in Moscow.
Coyne says that the purpose of the Inciting Incident “must arouse a reaction by your protagonist”. So, this information causes Ryan and Moreno to plan a trip to Venezuela.
Coyne says that Progressive Complications “move stories forward, never backward. They do so by making life more and more difficult (in positive as well as negative ways) for your lead character…You must progressively move from one dilemma to a more trying dilemma to a bigger problem to an even bigger problem”.
The Progressive Complication is also where the Turning Point of the scene is, a point in which either through Character Action or a Revelation, something in the scene happens that causes a character (usually the protagonist) to have to make a decision.
In the episode, the Turning Point is not very strong. Something should happen that would cause the protagonist to make a decision, but after meeting with the president, Ryan and Moreno eat dinner with Greer, tell war stories, set up the relationship between Moreno and Ryan (Moreno was his mentor) which make the end of the episode more meaningful when Moreno is killed. Then, the next day the armed convoy heads to the airport. There is not much decision making going on by the protagonist.
How could this have been made more interesting? After they meet with the President, Moreno and Ryan cold have received a message from the President’s opponent, and then debated next steps and decided whether to leave or meet with her, and then the ambush (the resolution is the ambush regardless). This debate would show more about their intent.
As it stands now, there is no clear Crisis Questions (Commandment 3) and Climax (Commandment 4).
The Crisis is the result of the Progressive Complication/ Turning Point. These dilemma “must coalesce into a question that offers a choice between two options. The character’s actions, not his words, define him. Compelling Crisis questions and the way they are answered are the way to reveal character.
To give real meaning to the Crisis decision making process, these need to be hard decisions with real consequences, the best of two bad choices or the choice between two irreconcilable goods.
In this episode, there is no clear Crisis Question in my opinion.
The Climax is when the characters acts on his decision, “it is the active answer raised by the Crisis“.
In this episode, there is no clear Climax in my opinion.
The Resolution is where the scene value finally turns from either positive to negative, or negative to positive (or sometimes from negative to double negative or positive to double positive). This is where the results of the decision made in the Climax are revealed.
The best Resolutions are turned masterfully so that they are unexpected, yet on reflection obvious.
In this episode, the resolution is the ambush that ends with Sen Moreno being killed.
This value shift is a +/-. The episode begins with a hope to resolve problems through diplomacy and ends with a near death event for Ryan and Moreno being killed.
It is important to watch out for the 5 Commandments for the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff of the series. These 15 scenes will make up the spine of the story. Also, they will all turn on the global value of the story, which in this case is life and death since it is an action story.
The Beginning Hook should be about the first 25% of the series, so by the second or third episode, we should be able to clearly see the other commandments and also the separation between the Beginning hook and the Middle Build.
I’ll break down the 5 Commandments of the Beginning Hook later in this series.
There are some elements that might lead me to decide that the Genre is a Thriller or an Action story, but we will have to wait until later in the series to reach a final determination.
The series will satisfy the die hard fans, as you have Ryan solving problems and a heavy action scene at the end, which was a pretty good ambush scene. However, not much surprising here – Greer meets up with Ryan, as expected, and the ambush was pretty obvious. Also, the absence of Ryan’s love interest from the first series will probably be disappointing to some fans as she is a staple in the novels.
Hopefully, the writers step up their game in future episodes.
If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:
Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.
My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.
Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!