It Ain’t Stealing if it Twists
We’ve been examining over the past few posts how the disparate story elements came together into the finished product that became A Man at Arms. Last week we talked about a “Vulnerable Character”— specifically the mute, feral young girl, Ruth—and how she proved to be the emotional heart of the story.
Today let’s talk about stealing.
I’m a big believer in stealing. I stole the structure for The Legend of Bagger Vance from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. I can’t tell you how many other tales I’ve shamelessly ripped off. But as my old mentor Zoltan Medvecky once told me, “It ain’t stealing if you put a twist on it.”
What did I steal from for A Man at Arms?
(I could add News of the World, except I hadn’t seen it as a film before I started on A Man at Arms … though I had read the book.)
In all four of these stories, the male protagonist is a self-centered, ego-identified (often hard-bitten) loner. In other words, he fits the mold of the classic Western hero we talked about two posts ago as the central figure in this drama.
In all four stories, the dynamic between the craggy, embittered Old Guy and the young Vulnerable Girl is a version of Father/Daughter.
In all four, the male makes his primal moral choice in the climax … and sides with/rescues/give his life for the girl.
I thought, Hell yeah, that’s a dynamic that works.
That’s A Man at Arms.
Further studying these four stories, I asked myself, “What is it about these youthful heroines that breaks through to the Crusty Old Guy’s heart?” In all cases, two elements seem to be primary.
One, moxie. The girl shows herself on multiple occasions to have tremendous spirit and unstoppable guts. In other words, though she technically is “vulnerable” in the sense of being small, young, unskilled in weaponry, and without material resources, in all cases she more than makes up for this in courage, resourcefulness, and “true grit.”
Two (and most important), love.
The girl-children in all four of these stories clearly and demonstrably come to love their paternal counterparts. That love may be prickly and feisty and often expressed in less-than-sweet ways. But it’s real. And it’s that love that produces the reciprocal response in the Craggy Old Guy.
I used these four stories as models for A Man at Arms. I borrowed their beats and their rhythms and their climaxes.
I just put an ancient-world/post-Crucifixion/Telamonian twist on them.