What Writers Can Learn From Casablanca

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

It’s about time we talked about Casablanca. This classic consistently shows up at the top of favorite movie lists. It has perhaps the most famous ending line of all time. And of course it’s got Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains—not to mention Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet and a host of great Warner Bros. character actors.

I’ve been teaching workshops for a quarter of a century, and back when I started I could assume that everyone had seen Casablanca, probably more than once.

In recent years, however, among the younger set, I can no longer make that assumption. It’s astonishing to me that anyone wanting to write commercial fiction would not have seen this movie. But I have to remember that when I grew up there were only twelve channels on TV, five of which got no reception. The local channels ran old movies. These were our cultural glue. Not so anymore, with a zillion streaming networks and five zillion series to binge on; and TikTok and YouTube vids to take up every waking moment. Who has time for settling in with an old movie anymore?

Well, if you want to be a good writer, settle in with Casablanca. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do so this afternoon!

The Plot

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is an American expatriate running a café-saloon-gambling hall in French Morocco during World War II. The local police captain, Louis Renault (Claude Rains), keeps tabs on Rick. He allows him to stay open because Rick refuses to take sides in the war, but mostly because Louis gets kickbacks in the gambling room and uses Rick’s Café to procure desperate wives to sleep with him in exchange for exit visas.

All is routine until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into Rick’s with her husband, the resistance hero Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). This throws everything off, for Rick and Ilsa have a past…and it’s going to force everyone to take sides, especially when the Nazi major, Strasser (Conrad Veidt), determines to stop Laszlo for good.

Rick, who begins the film by declaring that he “sticks his neck out for nobody” will now have to decide whether to reclaim the woman he loves, or sacrifice all—including his life—for a greater cause.

The Anti-Hero

Rick is a classic anti-hero. While a hero represents the desires and values of the community, the anti-hero stands only for himself. He has withdrawn (literally or figuratively) from the community, either by choice or circumstance.

In an anti-hero story, the Lead is drawn back into the community to deal with a troubling situation. The question at the end is whether he will rejoin the community or return to his exile.

The key to a good anti-hero is “the code.” He has his own code to live by, usually in opposition to community standards.

For example, Dirty Harry is an anti-hero. His community (the police) has standards (little things, like following the 4th and 5th Amendments). Harry finds that too restrictive. At the end of the movie, his extra-judicial tactics have saved a busload of children from a psychopath. Will Harry return to his community? Nix. He throws his badge into the drink. (Studio executives, however, seeing the box office results, recovered the badge and put Harry right back on the force for four more movies.)

Rick has chosen to exile himself in Casablanca after being betrayed—he thinks—by the love of his life. His code is that he will treat his customers fairly but will not stick his neck out for any of them.

So why do we care about an anti-hero?

Because you give him someone to care about. Dirty Harry cares about his partner. Katniss Everdeen cares about her mother, little sister, and a cat.

In Rick’s case, he cares about the ragtag staff in his café, especially his one friend, Sam the piano player (Dooley Wilson). By showing us this aspect of the anti-hero, we hope for his redemption. That’s why we keep watching, or reading, the story.

Structural Beats

Opening disturbance. The first time we see Rick he’s playing chess…by himself! How’s that for an anti-hero visual? He’s interrupted by the smarmy hustler Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who informs Rick that he is in possession of the most valuable items in all Morocco—two Letters of Transit, which will allow the holders to get out of Casablanca, no questions asked. He is going to sell them that very night. This spells potential trouble for Rick, for if the police find out about it his place will get shut down and he’ll no doubt be arrested.

Here I must include one of my favorite movie lines of all time, perfect in defining Rick’s character:

UGARTE: You despise me, don’t you?
RICK: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

In a novel, get your disturbance in the first line, first paragraph, or first half-page at the latest.

Doorway of No Return. At the one-quarter mark we get the event that forces Rick out of his relatively trouble-free existence in Act 1 into the death-stakes conflict of Act 2: Ilsa walks into Rick’s Café with her husband, Victor Laszlo. This forces Rick to deal with his conflicting feelings for Ilsa (love and hate) and how those feelings complicate his isolation. Death is on the line for Laszlo, and perhaps for Rick himself. Indeed, possible death overhangs all the refugees in Casablanca. It’s a closed city, and the Nazis are watching.

Your novel’s main conflict does not begin until the Lead is forced through this doorway. Further, it needs to be before the 1/5 mark, or the story starts to drag.

Mirror Moment. I started to formulate my theory of the mirror moment by watching Casablanca. I moved the DVD to the very middle of the film, and here’s what I found.

Rick is dealing with Ilsa’s presence by doing what any red-blooded American man of the time would do—get drunk. It’s after hours at the café, and as Rick drowns his sorrows we get the flashback that explains the backstory of his falling in love with Ilsa in Paris, and their plans to flee and get married. When she sends him a note to say she can’t go with him, for undisclosed reasons, he takes it as a complete betrayal.

We return to his drinking…when Ilsa slips in through the back door. She has come to explain to Rick why she stayed behind. She found out her husband, Laszlo, whom she had thought dead, was still alive. She pours her heart out to Rick. The besotted Rick answers by accusing her of being a whore. Tears streaming down her face, Ilsa leaves.

And Rick, full of self-loathing, drops his head in his hands.

Visually what we see is Rick having to take a hard look at himself, as if in a mirror. Is this what he has become? Is this the kind of person he will remain?

Bogart does it with acting. In a book, you can include interior thoughts. The point is that the mirror moment tells us what the story is really all about—here, it’s about whether Rick will recover his humanity.

Be ye plotter or pantser, very early brainstorm possible mirror moments for your Lead. Come up with four or five or more possibilities. Plumb the depths of your subconscious. Inevitably, one of these choices will jump out and announce, This is it! You’ll be wonderfully pleased at how organic your writing becomes after that.

Dialogue. The script is full of great lines and exchanges. One of the most famous is this:

I’ve always said that dialogue is the fastest way to improve any manuscript. There are techniques you can learn. You’ll find them here.

Proving the Transformation

At the end of Act 3, we finally get the answer to the question raised by the mirror moment. Rick gives up the woman he loves for the greater good. He signs his death warrant by killing Major Strasser so Ilsa and Laszlo can escape on the plane to Lisbon.

The source material—the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s—ends a bit differently. At the beginning of the play and movie Rick bets Louis ten thousand francs that Laszlo will escape. At the end of the play, Rick holds a gun on Strasser until the plane leaves. But then he says, “I have never killed a man” and gives up the gun. He’s immediately placed under arrest by Strasser and marched off to his execution. Just before he exits Louis asks him, “Why did you do it, Rick?”

Rick says, “For the folding money, Louis, for the folding money. You owe me ten thousand francs.” Curtain.

That’s a pretty good ending, with Rick the anti-hero refusing to plead for his life, content with his sacrificial act.

In the movie, of course, there’s a reversal. Rick kills Strasser, but when the French police show up Louis tells them to “round up he usual suspects.” Because the conniving Louis has watched Rick operate throughout, he is finally inspired to recover his own humanity. As they begin to walk away…oh, heck, let’s see it again:

There is nothing so satisfying to a reader as an ending scene that proves the hero’s transformation.

Many a successful writer has written their endings first. Try it. You’ll know what it should feel like if you know your mirror moment. Now write a scene with all the emotional power of a Casablanca. Here’s the thing: even if you change the scene later on, the emotion you create in yourself as you write toward the ending will add power and direction to all your scenes.

Whew! That’s enough for today. Talk it up. I’m traveling today, so my comments may be limited. I’ll try to catch up when my feet are firmly back on terra firma.

What Writers Can Learn From The Godfather

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We lost James Caan this past week. It seems an apt time to take a look at the movie that made him a star, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) from the novel by Mario Puzo. I’ll be concentrating on the movie, but a good exercise is to compare a book to its film version. Usually people end up saying a book is “better” than the film. In this case, however, it’s the other way around.

The Godfather is currently listed by AFI as the second-greatest movie of all time (behind Citizen Kane). It’s a graduate course in acting. Caan holds his own alongside Brando, Pacino, and Robert Duvall. He proved that the acting chops he showed in the TV movie Brian’s Song (1971) were legit. Brando won the Oscar as Best Actor. Caan, Pacino, and Duvall all got Supporting Actor nods (the winner was Joel Grey in Cabaret).

Caan went on to a long and successful career. And what writer escaped the chills—or maybe a few nightmares—when Caan was “cared for” by his “number one fan” in Misery? (Please don’t ever use the word hobbling around me. Thanks.)

James Caan as Sonny Corleone

Back to The Godfather. The story lessons from this movie could fill a book. Since this is a blog, I’ll limit myself to a few I find particularly instructive.

The Plot

When the aging don of the Corleone crime family refuses to give aid to a new narcotics business, his enemy seeks to kill him. His son Michael, a war hero, avenges the attempted assassination by killing a mobster and a corrupt police captain. In the crime wars that follow, Michael rises to become the most ruthless godfather of all.

Lesson: Be able to summarize your plots in three sentences (known as the Elevator Pitch). This applies as much to epic fantasy as it does category romance. My formula for the Elevator Pitch is as follows (using The Insider by Reece Hirsch as an example):

  1. (Character name) is a (vocation) who (immediate goal or desire)

Will Connelly is a lawyer on the verge of realizing his dream of becoming a partner at a prestigious San Francisco firm.

  1. But when (doorway of no return), (Character) is (main confrontation)

But when Will celebrates by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on a top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client has created.

  1. Now (Character) must (main objective)

Now, with the Russians mob, the SEC and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before everything blows up around him.

Argument Against Transformation

A simple and elegant tool for character arcs is what I call “The Argument Against Transformation.”

Usually, at the end of a classic Hero’s Journey, the Lead is transformed into a “better self” than at the beginning. Rick in Casablanca becomes a hero willing to sacrifice his personal happiness for a greater good. He puts his true love, Ilsa, on the plane with her husband, Victor Lazlo, because he knows it’s best for everyone and even the war effort.

But what’s his philosophy early in Act 1? It’s his argument against such a transformation. “I stick my neck out for nobody,” he says.

This gives the audience an early hook, a hint at what the story is really about.

In The Godfather, we have a negative arc, a transformation that goes the other way.

During the wedding scene at the beginning of the film, Michael (who will turn out to be the main protagonist) is a war hero. He’s sitting with his girl, Kay, when she spots a “scary man.” Michael explains that is Luca Brasi, who is a “friend” of his father’s. He tells her about an incident where Vito and Luca paid a visit to a band leader who was unwilling release singer Johnny Fontaine from a long-term contract. Luca, Michael explains, put a gun to the band leader’s head as Vito tells him to sign the release, or his brains will end up all over it.

Kay is duly shocked. But Michael assures her, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.” That’s his argument against his (negative) transformation.

Proving the Transformation

At the end of a film or novel, we must see something that proves the transformation. Usually this is the last scene or chapter. In Casablanca, Rick proves he is a sacrificial hero by literally putting his life on the line to save Ilsa and Lazlo.

In the last scene of The Godfather, Michael’s sister, Connie, screams hysterically at Michael for ordering the hit on her husband, Carlo. Kay hears it all, and when she is alone with Michael she asks him if it’s true. “Don’t ask me about my business, Kay,” he says. She is insistent. “Enough!” he says. Then accedes: “This one time I’ll let you ask me about my affairs.”

Kay asks again, and in a most sincere voice Michael looks into the eyes of his wife and says, “No.”

There’s the transformation. Michael has forfeited his soul to become the new don. He can lie to his wife’s face without a single qualm.

See for yourself, and note the memorable visual at the very end:

Lesson: Look at what your Lead character has become at the end of your novel. Give the Lead a line of dialogue in Act 1 that expresses the opposite view. At the end, show us in a scene how the Lead has changed, thus proving the transformation.

Mirror Moment

In the dead center of the movie is the Mirror Moment for the protagonist, Michael. (For a full treatment of this beat, see my book Write Your Novel From the Middle).

In brief, the Lead has a moment within a scene where he has to metaphorically look at himself, as if in a mirror (though it’s funny how often in a movie there’s a literal mirror in the scene). The character has to take personal stock right in the middle of the “death stakes” of Act II. This moment is the linchpin between the argument against transformation at the beginning, and proving the transformation at the end.

After Michael thwarts another attempt on his father’s life, at the hospital, he’s confronted by the corrupt police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.

In a family meeting that follows, Sonny is ready to go to war. Tom Hagen counsels against it.

Michael, sitting there virtually ignored, suggests a plan—they’ll set up a meeting with Sollozzo and McCluskey, where Michael (who is considered by the enemies to be neutral) will get his hands on a gun and kill them both.

The meeting is set at a little restaurant in the Bronx. Offscreen, the caporegime Clemenza plants a gun in the bathroom. The plan is for Michael to ask to use the john, get the gun, come out and immediately shoot both men, then drop the gun and walk out.

Michael has a mirror moment before the shooting. That moment in the book is rendered:

Sollozzo began talking again in Italian, but Michael couldn’t understand a word. He wasn’t listening. All he could hear was the sound of his heart, the thunder of blood between his ears.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone

It is more pronounced in the movie. Michael does not follow Clemenza’s instructions coming out of the bathroom. Instead of shooting the men, he sits back down at the table. Sollozzo talks, but the camera stays on Michael’s face. He’s clearly contemplating what’s about to happen. Once he kills a New York police captain, his life will never be the same. No more honored war hero. No more avoiding “the family business.”

He shoots them.

The rest of the movie revolves around the question of whether Michael will return to his “former self” and guide the family to legitimacy, or continue his trajectory toward ruthless mafia don.

Lesson: Whether you plan or “pants” or something in between, at some point brainstorm possible mirror moments for your Lead. Since I started doing this myself, I’ve found that the fourth or fifth idea on my list is usually the one that jumps out at me and announces, “This is what your book is really all about, pal!”

Orchestrating the Cast

The principle of orchestration is so important. It simply means giving your characters distinct and contrasting personalities, tags, quirks. The more skillfully you do that, the more possibilities for conflict, in scenes and dialogue. That holds true not only for adversaries, but allies as well.

In The Godfather we have the three sons of Vito Corleone. Sonny is a bloodthirsty hothead; Fredo is weak and insecure; Michael is the smart one, and cool under pressure. While they are ostensibly on “the same side,” they also have conflict with one another.

Tom Hagen is the German-Irish lawyer among all the Sicilians. Thus he and Sonny get into some heated arguments. At one point Sonny screams at him, “If I had a war-time consiglieri, a Sicilian, I wouldn’t be in this shape!”

The two caporegimes, Tessio and Clemenza, are different in both physical form and personality. The jolly Clemenza shows Michael his “trick” for cooking for twenty guys. Sonny tells him to knock it off.

Among the secondary characters is the scary Luca Brasi. He is a stone-cold hit man. Just looking at him gives you the chills. But when he goes in to see Don Corleone on the day of Connie’s wedding, he is like a little boy, barely able to talk.

Lesson: Give all your characters, even the minor ones, physical and personality differences—and quirks. Do that, and the plotting of a novel almost takes care of itself.

Whew. That’s enough for today. If you’ve never seen The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II, you’re in for a treat. The acting is brilliant throughout. Of coruse, Brando dominates. My first “real” job was ushering in movie theater the summer of Godfather I. So I must have seen the movie, in bits and pieces, about twenty times. I watched Brando through a microscope, trying to “catch” him acting. Never did. He may just be the greatest actor of all time.

Comments welcome.

What Writers Can Learn From It’s a Wonderful Life

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Today I begin an occasional feature—JSB at the Movies. I’m a lifelong movie fan, my B.A. is in Film Studies, and I often use movie clips in my craft workshops. The crossover between screen and page storytelling is substantial.

So let’s start with one of the best.

Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life was not always a beloved Christmas classic. That’s because it was rarely seen after its initial run in 1947. When movies started showing up on TV in the 50s, Wonderful Life was tangled up in issues over ownership and copyright. That cloud did not begin to dissipate until 1974, while I was a film student at U.C. Santa Barbara. That year the copyright owner, Republic Pictures, failed to renew (probably due to a clerical error) and the film fell into public domain. That’s when it started showing up on TV for new generations to embrace.

To celebrate the movie’s new life our film department arranged for a showing, with a special guest—Frank Capra himself.

Capra is one of my all-time favorite directors. So I wangled and cajoled my way into being named his chauffeur for the evening.

Not that it was a glamorous ride—it was in my scruffy, three-on-the tree Ford Maverick. But the greatest populist director, the champion of “the common man,” did not seem to mind at all getting ferried to the campus in a rattletrap student automobile.

Along the way I told him my two favorite movies of his were It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I added that my dad was an extra in Mr. Smith. Capra told me of the cold reception that film received when it was shown in D.C. Apparently the senators did not take kindly to the way their chamber was depicted. (Sheesh, what would a Capra film do to them today?)

Campbell Hall, our big auditorium, was packed. I got to do the introduction. Mr. Capra made some opening remarks, and then we watched the movie.

It knocked me out. And, I daresay, had the same effect on most of the audience. We had just been gifted the magic of what critics called “the Capra Touch.”

A Frame Story

Wonderful Life begins and ends on the same Christmas Eve, in a town called Bedford Falls. It opens with shots of the snowy town, and the voices of various townspeople praying for a man named George Bailey. The last voice is the one we’ll come to know as Zuzu (George’s youngest child) pleading, “Please bring Daddy back!”

We then switch to the heavens, where angels (in the form of twinkling stars) talk about what do to answer these prayers. The assignment is give to an angel named Clarence who hopes to earn his wings.

The film switches to the linear story of George, from boyhood to the present. He’s a man with hopes and dreams who comes to think of himself as a failure; indeed, that it would be better for everyone if he were dead.

This is when Clarence the angel intervenes.

This film ends by returning to the frame—Christmas Eve—and George’s redemption. A bell on the Christmas tree rings. Zuzu announces, “Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

George winks at the sky. “Attaboy, Clarence.”

Lesson: A frame-story can add another level of emotion if you make it entertaining in its own right. A frame-story can add another level of emotion if you make it compelling in its own right. Other movie examples using this device are The Princess Bride and Titanic. Novels with a frame include The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and The Green Mile by Stephen King.

The Imperfect Lead 

Heroes who are perfect are uninteresting. Deep down we don’t really buy it. That’s why your Lead should have flaws and foibles just like all of us.

George Bailey (James Stewart) is a good man, a solid citizen, but is far from perfect. He’s not above leering at the attractive derrière of Violet Bick (Gloria Grahame) as she shimmies down the street. He loses his temper and becomes abusive. He verbally destroys the simple-minded Uncle Billy when the latter loses a crucial bank deposit. On Christmas Eve, his life at its lowest ebb, he screams over the phone at his child’s teacher, then yells at his children, bringing them to tears. (Stewart’s acting is brilliant throughout. He was suitably nominated for Best Actor, losing only because the equally brilliant Frederic March in The Best Years of Our Lives.)

Lesson: The imperfect Lead creates empathy. The key, however, is that he is aware of his flaws, and wants to overcome them, as George does.

Strong Supporting Characters 

Every one of the secondary characters in Wonderful Life is well-drawn and engaging in their own right. Clarence the Angel (Henry Travers); Bert the cop (Ward Bond); Ernie the cab driver (Frank Faylen); the tragic Mr. Gower (H. B. Warner); all the way down to Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes, who is still with us). Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is a classic villain, and even his nonspeaking servant has an eerie presence.

Lesson: Give each of your supporting characters, even the minor ones, their own unique quirks and tags. These add “spice” to your stories, increasing reader enjoyment.

A Rocky Romance

At the heart of the film is the love story of George and Mary (Donna Reed). When George’s brother, Harry, returns to town, married, George learns he’s been offered a great job by his father-in-law. Harry tells George he’ll keep his end of the bargain by running the Building and Loan so George can travel, but George knows the job is best for his brother and sister-in-law, and tells Harry to take it.

Which doesn’t help George’s frustration about staying in town. That evening he finds himself walking by Mary Hatch’s house. Mary, back in town from school, has been waiting for this moment. She has on her best dress and has set up the parlor to reveal a picture of a romantic moment from their high school days—when George said he would “lasso the moon” for Mary.

But that was then.

Now, as Mary does everything she can to rekindle the romance, George shoots her down at every turn. Finally Mary has had enough. She smashes the phonograph record of “Buffalo Gals” just as she receives a phone call from her suitor, Sam Wainwright. Sam asks to speak to George. He proceeds to offer George a “ground floor” position at his new plastics firm.

Mary…plastics…money…

George’s turmoil explodes to the surface. He grabs Mary by the shoulders, shakes her. “Now you listen to me! I don’t want any plastics! I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married – ever – to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you’re…you’re…”

George pulls Mary to him in a fierce embrace. Love has conquered his rage.

Lesson: Readers love to read about love. But be it a romance plot or a romance subplot, the path of love must have obstacles. In a scene of high intensity, find a competing emotion that fights for supremacy inside the character.

The Mirror Moment

There’s a perfect mirror moment in the middle of the film. George is forced to look at himself and choose what kind of man he’s going to be.

Old man Potter has been trying to take over—or ruin—the Bailey Building and Loan Company, so his firm will be the only one building homes for the community. But George has frustrated those plans. And while he’s now married with children, George is not rolling in dough like his friend Sam Wainwright (see above) who made a killing in plastics during the war.

Knowing this, Potter calls George in for a meeting and hands him a big, fat cigar. He starts with the flattery, then offers George a job—at ten times George’s current take-home!

“You wouldn’t mind living in the nicest house in town,” Potter says, “buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn’t mind that, would you, George?”

George is stunned. And tempted! To travel like that has been his dream. To have money to lavish on his wife, who has had to make the best of his meager salary, has always been his desire. He’s considering the offer when he asks what will become of the Building and Loan.

“Confound it, man, are you afraid of success?” Potter says. “I’m offering you a three-year contract at twenty-thousand dollars a year, starting today. Is it a deal or isn’t it?”

We read the conflict in George’s eyes. Who am I? he is thinking. What will happen if I take this offer?

He asks Potter for a day to think it over. Potter consents, tells George to go talk it over with his wife and meanwhile he’ll draw up the papers. He offers his hand.

The script describes what happens next: As they shake hands, George feels a physical revulsion. Potter’s hand feels like a cold mackerel to him. In that moment of physical contact he knows he could never be associated with this man. George drops his hand with a shudder. He peers intently into Potter’s face.

George says: “No…no…no…no, now wait a minute here! I don’t have to talk to anybody. I know right now, and the answer is no. NO! Doggone it!”

George has decided who he must be, but will that be enough to sustain him? That’s what the rest of the movie is about.

Lesson: At some point in your writing—the planning stage or at any point along the pantsing highway—brainstorm five possible deep questions your Lead can ask about himself. What is the central inner issue at this point in the story? You’ll often find that the third, fourth or fifth idea is the one that jumps out at you as original and on point. And that’s when you know what your story is really all about.

Transformation

At the end of every great story is a transformation of the Lead. In this case, George is transformed from a bitter and discouraged man to one who has realized that his gift to the world has been right there in his little hometown. Because of his sacrifices and generosity, Bedford Falls is a lovely place to live, as opposed to the Pottersville of the alternate world (where George had never been born).

Note that this transformation is an answer to the question raised by the mirror moment.

And here’s a little technique that will add depth to all this: the argument against transformation.

That’s a beat early in Act 1 where the Lead makes a case for the opposite of the transformation. For example, Rick in Casablanca is transformed into a self-sacrificing hero at the end. So what does he say early on? “I stick my neck out for nobody.”

In Wonderful Life, George’s realization about his town’s love is argued against in Act 1. That’s when the young George Bailey tells the two girls, Mary and Violet, the following:

You don’t like coconuts! Say, brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from. Lookit here – from Tahiti – Fiji Islands, the Coral Sea!
MARY: A new magazine! I never saw it before.
GEORGE: Of course you never. Only us explorers can get it. I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society. I’m going out exploring some day, you watch. And I’m going to have a couple of harems, and maybe three or four wives. Wait and see.

Lesson: Once you know the transformation, give your Lead a line or two in Act 1 that is expressing the opposite view. The readers will experience a most satisfying character arc that way.

And that is why It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic of its time—and for all time.

This is JSB at the Movies, signing off.

The End.