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From Blake’s Blogs: The Shard of Glass

By on April 20, 2018 in About the Beats, Tips and Tactics, Tools
What is Ripley's shard of glass in Alien?

What is Ripley’s shard of glass in Alien?

This blog was originally posted on June 22, 2009 and is included in Blake’s Blogs: More Information and Inspiration for Writers.

Lately, I have been talking a lot about the “death moment” of a script. In the script consultations I do, and in class talking with groups of writers, the “All Is Lost” moment on page 75 is becoming the most important part of the story.

I’m beginning to think it’s the key to cracking what your story is really about.

Since all stories are at their essence “The Caterpillar and the Butterfly,” the “death moment” is the cocoon stage for your hero, where the old way dies, lies in state for a time, then breaks him out into an amazing new way of being.

It’s painful, scary, and full of self-recrimination for a hero — and should be.

At the heart of that beat is the hero not only being worse off than when this movie started — and very often in jail, evicted, fired, abandoned, or left alone by the death of a mentor — but forced to face an ugly truth about himself that he’s been resisting.

Most stories involve a blind spot or flaw the hero is not aware of. And this is the part of his transformation that is so important; it forces him to look at that flaw, usually something so buried in him that it hasn’t been looked at for a long time.

That’s the “shard of glass,” that sharp-edged incident, bad behavior, tough truth, or wrong done and absorbed that the hero swallowed a long time ago. Skin has grown up around its hard corners, but it’s in there — deep — and it must be pulled out and looked at and dealt with if the hero can get to that vital butterfly stage.

Conrad reaches for the truth with Dr. Berger in Ordinary People.

Conrad reaches for the truth with Dr. Berger in Ordinary People.

In Alien, the “shard of glass” for Sigourney Weaver is the horrible truth that the company she believed in considers her and the crew of Nostromo expendable — and why they were sent on their suicide mission. In Ordinary People, it’s when Tim Hutton rushes to his therapist to confess he’s stronger than his Golden Boy brother; that’s why he survived and his brother did not. In Notting Hill, the “shard of glass” for Hugh Grant is that it’s not Julie Roberts, movie star, who’s the snob, he is. And he is what has been stopping them from being together.

Who's the real snob in Notting Hill?

Who’s the real snob in Notting Hill?

And it’s only by having this shard pulled out of us, and examined, that we can move on to the next stage: the part where we become something glorious.

What’s the “shard of glass” for your hero? What old idea must be looked at and discarded? What blind spot must your hero be forced to examine to become the fully formed being he needs to become?

If you can find that shard, you can tell a more powerful story. Whether it’s comedy or drama, finding that piece will make all the difference! It’s not only the “cry moment” of every movie — but the truth we all get to learn from, thanks to the greatest event your hero ever experienced.

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About the Author

About the Author: Read about Blake here. .

There Are 4 Comments

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  1. Lucy Lewis says:

    Great Blog- I’m on page 75 of a rewrite now! Perfect timing!

  2. Lita says:

    Invaluable. Thank you.

  3. A great reminder! I’m rewriting now the first chapters and need to remember this. It’s sort of the protagonist’s psychological wound that hits her hard, and she must overcome it. Thanks! Christine

  4. L. R. Farren says:

    Another way to view the “blind spot” of the hero is as a longstanding misbelief. As Blake so poignantly noted, the blind spot, or longstanding misbelief was oftentimes birthed in the hero long before the story began. Sadly, by the time the story begins, the hero is so blind to her misbelief, she doesn’t even realize how badly it’s wrecking her life.

    The “shard of glass” is the origin scene, or inciting incident that gave birth to the hero’s longstanding misbelief. Perhaps, when the hero was 12 years old, the hero’s father walked out on her and her mother. Or, when the hero was 9 years old, her beloved pet died tragically in an accident.

    Traumatic incidents like these create fears in the hero, fears that seem right at the time of the incident. They offer false protection–and even comfort.

    But when the hero turns 25 years old, she may fear falling in love with someone because she’s afraid her soulmate will walk out on her someday. When she turns 32 years old, she may fear getting a cat or dog for her child because she fears that something bad will happen to that pet, and she won’t be able to protect it from dying. Even worse, she won’t be able to protect her child from the resulting heartache of losing a beloved pet.

    Either of these tragic scenarios would emotionally incapacitate the hero. So, she’s afraid to live her life to the fullest. That’s why it’s so important for the hero to learn the Theme Stated by the All Is Lost moment.

    The Theme Stated of the story should first tug at the hero’s shard of glass, sometime around the Catalyst moment. Then the Theme Stated should painstakingly pull it out until the hero can finally see the misbelief, the shard, for what it is–a damaging misbelief. Once the shard is pulled out of the hero, and she overcomes her longstanding misbelief, her old way of living dies. And she begins to walk in new life, having learned the lesson of the Theme Stated.

    This is what we come to story for: To see a hero we grow to love close her emotional wound and begin the healing process. In the best stories, we, the audience, heal with her.