It Rhymes with Lust Story Structure
Spoiler Warning! Below is the plot structure of It Rhymes with Lust using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet as the basis for the breakdown (see my review of Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, an excellent storytelling resource). For an explanation of each “beat” please refer to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Thanks!
PREMISE: It Rhymes with Lust is a noir about Hal Weber, a newspaperman entangled in a power-struggle against a beautiful and corrupt business woman set on controlling everyone and everything in Copper City.
Opening Image: Hal Weber gets off the train. The new guy in Copper City. He’s described as battered and raggedy. He has yet to make something of himself.
Set Up: Hal watches a funeral procession go by. The rich and powerful Buck Masson has died, leaving his wealth to his widow, Rust Masson. Hal knows Rust; they have a history. After being introduced to Rust’s pure-hearted stepdaughter, Audrey, and Buck Masson’s right-hand man, Marcus Jeffers, we learn what kind of history Hal and Rust share: a love affair that she ended. Hal is still bitter about their break-up but with one kiss he becomes a spineless puppy dog, putty in Rust’s hands.
Character extreme: Hal is still hurt by the break-up with Rust and he shows it, pouting. Hiding that pain behind a hardboiled, tough-guy façade would have made their flirting more interesting, heavy with subtext. Saying no but meaning yes is always more interesting than saying yes and meaning yes.
Catalyst: After some necking, Rust gives Hal a job (that’s why he’s in Copper City, she sent for him). She secretly owns both newspapers in town and wants Hal to be the editor-in-chief of The Express, the newspaper that slants their articles against the Masson political machine. Rust wants Hal to specifically smear the new leader: Marcus Jeffers. Hal knows Rust is up to something but takes the job.
Debate: Hal finds a room to rent and is visited by Marcus Jeffers. Jeffers offers a proposition to Hal: $5,000 if Hal will double-cross Rust. Insulted, Hal says no by throwing water in Jeffers’ face.
Character extreme: After knowing that Rust is up to something and expressing interest in hearing Jeffers’ $5,000 business proposition, Hal throws water on Jeffers, personally insulted that Jeffers’ would even think Hal would not be 100% loyal to Rust. Hal knows he’s involved himself in dirty business. Choosing sides is fine, but to be insulted is extreme. A cool, business-minded demeanor as he turns down Jeffers’ proposition would have sufficed. It’s not personal; it’s dirty business.
Theme Stated: Later, Audrey visits Hal. She warns him about getting involved with Rust’s power-hungry intentions and asks if he would join her in opposition. Hal is initially cynical, comparing her to his father: a financially poor idealist. But did standing up for what he believed in make his father happy? Hal says: “He was the happiest man I’ve ever known” (this story is about integrity).
Character extreme 1: “He was the happiest man I’ve ever known” could have been subtler. “Yes, I suppose,” would have done the job and not thrown his life-long opinion about his father’s actions out the window. There’s an entire story left for him to come to this conclusion.
Character extreme 2: By the end of the conversation, Audrey and Hal’s relationship has gone from introductions to falling madly in love saying, “There’s never been anyone else.” They don’t even know each other yet. Again, there’s an entire story left for them to fall in love. At this point they should be just flirting with the idea of liking each other. Let it build.
Choosing Act Two: A week later, Hal, as the editor-in-chief of the Express, is busy carrying out Rust’s orders. People think he’s a straight shooter but in truth he’s still loyal to Rust and he’s beginning to have second thoughts about his actions.
B-Story: His second thoughts turn to a desperation for freedom over a lunch date with Audrey. He admits he’d “give anything” to be like his father: happy and with integrity.
Character extreme: This is completely opposite from how he was in the beginning. This kind of reversal usually occurs near the end of the story, during the Dark Night of the Soul, when his involvement has progressed too far and he can’t get out without a significant sacrifice. Right now, nothing is stopping him from quitting his job and moving back to wherever it is he came from. Merely beginning to doubt his involvement with Rust by having a taste of the simpler life with Audrey is more appropriate for this spot in the story.
Fun n’ Games (Promise of the Premise): Back at work, Hal is told about an illegal gambling club Jeffers operates in town. Immediately, he informs Rust about it. They meet to discuss it and with one kiss, Hal regresses to his putty-like state. She tells him they’ll plan a raid and he can cover it, but once Hal is out the door she takes action toward her real plan. She sends her henchmen to bomb the club. BOOM! In the days that follow, Rust tightens her grip on the town by muscling each successful business under her control.
Character extreme: A few hours after expressing his desires for integrity, Hal abandons them completely by informing Rust of Jeffers’ club. This is even before their few minutes of necking. If Hal had not been portrayed with such a fervor for purity a scene before, this story moment would have worked a lot better.
Mid-point: Hal’s co-workers connect Rust to the bombing and Hal, claiming to be a straight shooter, is condemned for not hitting Rust with the press (marking the story’s first use of the sentiment “I was wrong about you, Hal”). Immediately, Hal changes his tune, ordering a full investigation of the bombing. But he doesn’t stop there. He attempts to “disillusion” the town by making a positive impact on the kids, organizing an athletics club for the boys (which Rust actually told him to do). Shortly, he earns a reputation for being a great guy. On top of that, he learns the condition of the town’s mine is extremely poor. While investigating, the mine almost collapses on Hal. Now, he’s really determined to expose Rust.
Character extreme: This story moment is when the consequences of choosing sides typically start to appear. Hal should feel the sting of his co-workers condemnation but he shouldn’t change tunes until after his brush with death in the mines. A near-death experience would shake him up and open his eyes to the other lives at stake in Copper City due to Rust’s dirty business deals. This can’t go on and he would try to reason with Rust in the next story section.
P.S. The whole boy’s club “disillusionment” should be cut. Taking a stand about the mines is enough to be considered a great guy. The only benefit for having it in there is so they deliver papers for him in the end. Not that big a loss. It was Rust’s idea anyway.
Bad Guys Close In: Hal goes to confront Rust about her dirty business deals, but once Rust grows angry at his strong stance about the mines, he wilts. As Rust runs her fingers through Hal’s hair, making excuses for the poor conditions at the mines, Audrey walks in on them (I was wrong about you!). Hal leaves, in shame and doesn’t publish the attack article while Rust slaps Audrey around for a bit.
Character extreme: Hal’s behavior has been erratic and now it gets ridiculous. At this point in the story, it’s good to have him confront Rust and to have her make decent enough excuses for him to soften his anger. Confused and not knowing the truth, he may even abandon the attack article. However, it would be stronger if, for example, he threatens to expose Rust and she threatens to expose him in return. He has been knowingly operating The Express under her direction, after all. Audrey would certainly not like hearing her knight in shining armor had been in cahoots with Rust this entire time. In the least, after a brush with death, it should take more than an angry woman to calm him down.
All is Lost (& Whiff of Death): Roughed up, Audrey returns to her house. Hal is there and seeing what Rust did to Audrey spurs him into action. He leaves to warn Jeffers about the attack Rust has planned for him (Audrey goes with him – I was wrong about being wrong about you!) but Rust and her henchmen are already there, beating Jeffers to a pulp. Hal approaches them but, once again, wilts in Rust’s presence. Ashamed of Hal, Audrey runs away (I was right when I was initially wrong about you!). And to seal the deal on Rust’s control of Hal, she tells him to help “bury” Jeffers. Hal and a henchmen drive out of town and dump his body in a ditch beside the road. Hal’s hands are stained with blood.
Character extreme: Obviously, Hal’s two complete 180’s (coming full 360) in less in ten pages is not wise writing. It is difficult to say what should have been done since many changes are needed in the first half of the story, which would affect the current moment. However, it is good to have Audrey realize that Hal is just as dirty as the rest of them at this beat in the story and to have Hal fall deeper into corruption – though, it is preferable to have Audrey be “wrong about him” only once.
Dark Night of the Soul: Ashamed, Hal drives home. Back in his room, he holds a liquor bottle in one hand and Audrey’s glove in the other. Audrey, or the bottle? Hal decides to smash the bottle, like he’ll smash Rust.
Character extreme: It is good to have Hal wallow for a moment before finally taking action but after so many emotional flip-flops his choice is merely another 180. As writers, we’re allowed only one change-of-heart per story and this is where it is supposed to be, but if you have more than one, this moment loses credibility.
P.S. Apparently, Hal has a drinking problem. It was mentioned before, but this is the first we see of it.
Choosing Act Three: Later that night, Hal writes a new editorial, exposing it all. With the help of boys from the club and friends he’s made along the way, he’s able to distribute the paper across town before Rust can get word of it.
P.S. Does he expose his own involvement in Rust’s scandal? He doesn’t say. If the story is about integrity, he probably should.
Finale: Jeffers (who lived) reads it. Audrey reads it (she was wrong about being wrong about… oh, nevermind). The whole town reads it. They convene at the mines to make a stand. Losing her grip on the city, Rust loses her control of her thugs – they open fire, killing an innocent miner – and loses control of her mind, babbling to the crowd that she’s still the ultimate power of the city despite her illegal actions. In her raving, she exposes Jeffers for his illegal political activities, and in a last-ditch effort to save his career, Jeffers kills Rust as her thugs kill Jeffers. All evils are slain. The town is saved.
Final Image: Hal walks away a public hero with integrity and Audrey by his side.
In Summation: The writers knew what they were doing, structurally. But their use of characterization needed a lot of work.