Archives For Lord of the Flies

17 minutesI was researching websites for the Film and Literature class when I first heard about the “17 Minute Rule;” a rule that suggests the real plot is revealed to the audience 17 minutes into any film.  Todd Pack’s Messy Desk Blog uses a number of examples to illustrate  The 17 Minute Rule:

George Bailey tells his father he couldn’t face being cooped up the rest of his life in a shabby little office at his father’s building and loan 17 minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life.

The rest of the movie is about everything that happens that stops him from leaving Bedford Falls and drives him to consider jumping off that bridge on Christmas Eve.

  • Luke’s uncle buys the droids 17 minutes into Star Wars. The droids are what leads Luke to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia and, ultimiately, the Death Star.
  • Buddy leaves the North Pole to find his real dad 17 minutes into Elf.
  • The shark eats the little boy on the raft 17 minutes intoJaws. It’s the second attack that forces the town to close the beach and go after the shark.
  • The Iowa farmer is thinking about plowing under the baseball field he built in his cornfield until Shoeless Joe appears 17 minutes after the credits in Field of Dreams.

This 17 minute phenomenon was corroborated on other blogs as well.  Writer and Director Nathan Marshall posted Screenplay Structure: Three Acts & Five Points Script Frenzy! blog where he also called attention to minute 17:

3) Page 17. Next time you watch a DVD, pause it 17 minutes into the film. Trust me—any film. What’s happening at that point in the story? Most likely, the essential character conflict has just been laid out. A teenage Indiana Jones runs to his father for help, but is shushed instead. Shaun convinces his girlfriend to trust him in Shaun of the Dead. Captain Renault asks Rick why he came to Casablanca. On page 17, your audience should realize what the film is really about. It’s not about finding the Holy Grail, Indy—it’s about learning to forgive dad!

The same was outlined on the  All About Screenwriting blog. In addition to explaining the rule, this post made the claim that the ratio of screenplay to minute of film is 1:1; and page 17 will be the 17th minute of a film. The site provides a basic outline for a screenplay of the average movie made today:

FADE IN: 

  • Between pages 1-5: The HOOK, something that grabs our attention and pulls us in.
  • Page 10: At this point in your script you should have the “MINI CRISIS”. The “MINI CRISIS” should lead us into…
  • Page 17: …The DILEMMA. Creation of the team and what the movie is about.
  • Page 30: The REACTION to the dilemma or situation.
  • Page 45: First “REVERSAL” of the 17 minute point. This point furthers the characters and pushes them deeper into the situation or the dilemma.
  • Page 60: The “TENT POLE” of the movie. Where the passive characters become active or vice versa.
  • Page 75: Second “REVERSAL” to the 17 minute point. To reaffirm what the story is about.
  • Page 90: The LOW POINT of action. The place from which our main character has to rise up from.

FADE OUT.

So when I noticed students picking up books for independent reading and discarding them after the first few pages, I wondered if they were giving the book a real chance. Could a 17 page rule apply to books student might choose to read? And, if the rule applied, would a student become more engaged once he or she reached page 17?

In a short experiment, I grabbed three books off the top of the book cart, and noted the following:

The Hobbit (The Dwarves and Gandalf invade Bilbo’s home)

“The poor little hobbit sat down in the hall and put his head in his hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to happen, and whether they would all stay to supper. Then the bell rang again louder than ever, and he had to run to the door.”

Little Women -Marmee gives  Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy their Christmas gifts with her words of encouragement to survive the difficulties of life.

‘We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another.Out burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home.’”

Lord of the Flies-The boys Ralph and Piggy discover they are on their own in a hostile environment:

“They’re all dead,” said Piggy, “an’ this is an island. Nobody don’t know we’re here. Your dad don’t know, nobody don’t know—”
His lips quivered and the spectacles were dimmed with mist.
“We may stay here till we die.”
With that word the heat seemed to increase till it became a threatening weight and the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence.”

Yes, the rule was working for books from the canon. Later that same afternoon, I was working with a “reluctant reader” who had selected James and the Giant Peach as a guided reading text. I glanced at page 17 and noticed the wonderful passage where James finds the entrance to the giant peach.

James and the Giant Peach 

“Almost without knowing what he was doing, as though drawn by some powerful magnet, James Henry Trotter started walking slowly toward the giant peach. He climbed over the fence that surrounded it, and stood directly beneath it, staring up at its great bulging sides. He put out a hand and touched it gently with the tip of one finger. It felt soft and warm and slightly furry, like the skin of a baby mouse. He moved a step closer and rubbed his cheek lightly against the soft skin. And then suddenly, while he was doing this, he happened to notice that right beside him and below him, close to the ground, there was a hole in the side of the peach.”

Not every text has a page 17 moment…sometimes the dilemma is posed on page 16 or page 18 or 19. I suspect the rule holds up because the 17 minute rule/page 17 is part of a pattern in storytelling, and stories always follow a pattern.  Sharing this rule with students gives me another “tool” in my teaching toolbox, so when I see a student toss a book aside after reading only a few pages, I casually remark, “Did you get to page 17 yet? There’s a rule about page 17…. on page 17, something important always happens.”
I may get a quizzical look, but several minutes later, I have seen that same student engrossed in the text.
“The book got better,” says the student.
“Well, you got past page 17,” I respond.

YOU AND MEMBERS OF THE SOPHOMORE CLASS BOOKED A VACATION AND LEFT ON A PLANE. UNFORTUNATELY, THE PLANE CRASHED AND THE ONLY SURVIVORS WERE YOU AND YOUR CLASSMATES. NOW YOU HAVE TO COME UP WITH A PLAN TO SURVIVE! 

This is the bold notice at the top of each of five blogs that the grade 10 teachers organized for teaching William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. This survival game is played in the English World Literature course at the end of the school year. The intent is to engage an entire grade level of 10th grade students in discussing a text without the limitations of the class schedule.

The game is simple: there are five teams (red, yellow, blue, green and orange) that are invited to a blog to respond to posts within a short period. Once the students are sorted onto teams (2 or three in each class period on one team), they respond to a post on their team’s blog using the comment box. Points are awarded on the percentage of team participants who respond to a blog post, and the winning team receives a 100% test grade.

The five posts on each blog are scenarios adapted from a number of similar activities I have found on the Internet. We used Blogger for our platform without much difficulty last year; this year their new interface has been glitchy, but since the game is about survival of the fittest, we have soldiered on! Each post deals with a scenario similar to the daily experiences of Ralph, Piggy, Jack and the choirboys, etc. The posts are uploaded over the course of a  two week period.

Post #1 deals with a list of 15-20 resources that were “recovered from the plane.” The post asks students to comment individually, “What do you do now?”

Post #2 poses the next complication suggesting that a giant storm seriously damaged their resources, “So, what happened to the supplies you gathered yesterday?” (ex: Bed Sheets: blew away in the storm last night; mosquito netting: large gashes/holes created by trees in the storm)
“What do you and your fellow survivors do now? What supplies do you have remaining? How are you using these remaining supplies?”

Post#3 Provides directions for shelter, fire and potable water. The post reads, “While you and some members of your group were building the shelters, digging the fire pit, and setting up the water supply; two (2) of your members decide that they are tired of working and want to go swimming instead. What do you do with the slackers in your group?”

Post #4 begins, “You wake up on the third morning to find that half of the food you had taken from the plane and gathered since is gone. Either some sort of animal has taken it, or one of your group members has taken it and hidden it for himself or herself. You start out the day suspicious of the other members of the group – and hungry!
• What sorts of rules/procedures are you going to put in place to make sure your food and water supplies do not get stolen or contaminated?
• Now that you are suspicious of your other group members, how are you going to act around them? Are you going to be able to continue to work together? What is your plan for discovering who took the food? What will you do with that person when you find him or her?”

Post #5 is the final opportunity for students to participate. The post reads, “A ship is in sight! You are going to be rescued! Now that rescue is in sight, how do you feel? What was your favorite part about being stranded? What was the worst? Compare your situation to the boys in Lord of the Flies. Who had it better? Why? If you had been stranded with the characters, what would you have done?”

This year’s comments were similar to responses from previous years with team members discussing suggestions for survival:

  • Nobody goes off exploring alone, pretty much NOBODY GOES ANYWHERE ALONE. We don’t know what’s on the island but if we stay together and work as one, unified, force; we will get off of this island alive. There’s no doubt in my mind that we WILL get off of this island. 
  • Water will be gathered by our “plastic bags” that we have laid out in a hole, held together by rocks. The water will be collected by nearby dewey grass etc. The rest of our plastic bags will be placed in a hole on top of a cup-or carved out fruit shell if cups are not available. 
  • The food has already been taken. Yes, it is maddening that one on our own team would have taken food from their own, but what can you do? I would move on, with a warning that if this ever happens again, whomever dared to steal twice will be exiled.
  • To deal with the ones that aren’t helping, we should put dead fish in their beds and then we’ll see who doesn’t wanna work then. 🙂 
  • Our slackers on the other hand will be banned from any rations of food caught by our hunters. The only way to become accepted is to find food elsewhere, and make sure (the slackers) they are able to feed the rest of the group.
  • To keep the fire going there should be a 2 person shift, and while one sleeps the other maintains the fire. The shift will be rotated i.e. 2 new people every night. 
  •  im surviving so as long as the slackers arent affecting me then they’re not my problem, if they were affecting me then id prbably end up killing them in a survival situation
  •  You never know who it could be so there’s always that feeling of suspicion while you’re near and working with the other group members
  • For the slackers, they can continue to eat the food and stay in the shelters. Karma will get em.
While Golding did not write Lord of the Flies as an adventure story that is in the same genre as Robert Louis Stevenson’s  Robinson Crusoe or Robert Zemeckis’s film Castaway with Tom Hanks, there are elements of survival that make the book appealing to 10th graders. Once they are placed on “Sophomore Island,” the Blogger platform lets them communicate their expectations as to what might happen in the unlikely event they were marooned with classmates. Not surprisingly, they often found themselves frustrated and caught in similar power struggles as those between Jack and the hunters and Ralph and Piggy. Once they are on “Sophomore Island” they discover Golding’s real reason for the novel, for the Lord of the Flies who challenges them by asking, “I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”  Their virtual experience on “Sophomore Island” helps them understand why Ralph would weep “for the end of innocence.”