TOL (thinking out loud)

What about the story?

While I have always loved movies, my fixation with writing had more to do with the manipulation of words, and the development of a story than anything else.  Of course, for a story to arc, there are a number of things that need to take place.

For starters…

You need to ask yourself a very important question:  “What is my story about?”  That question will open up Pandora’s box, for everything that can be explored will be explored; everything that can be revealed will be revealed.  It is not just about a “story” per say.  This is where the combination of creative energy and critical thinking merge.  You can’t just focus on a story idea without critically examining every possible scenario.  I’ve quoted Michael Tierno, author of Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters time and time again.  He says, “Good writers serve their stories; bad writers serve their own agenda.”

We need to approach our story with a commitment to stay true to the story.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that storytelling (no matter what genre) requires us to lay aside preconceived ideas.  It involves always thinking outside of the box, and being open to new ideas.  It also involves having an understanding of the human condition, which is what will ultimately give it depth and universal appeal.  For a story to move to catharsis (a purification or purgation of the emotions like pity and fear released primarily through art or the purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension), this display of human circumstance must be present. Catharsis is a type of communication that builds upon pieces of our life.  When this happens in a story, the reader or audience finds relationship with the situation, and experiences an emotional release.  This generally happens in the 3rd act, and it should cause the greatest emotional response to the situation the hero finds him or herself in.  It’s that suddenly moment in a romantic comedy where the two leading characters “realize” they’re in love! As the story unfolds, our emotions rise and when we experience that emotional release, resolution and harmony comes.  Suddenly, we feel good. In fact, most of us develop an attachment to a film based on our emotional response to the film.  Screenwriters, please, please, please do not write unresolved endings (cliffhangers) that are only going to leave an audience frustrated or mad!  Author Andrew Roberts says, “It’s sheer directorial moral cowardice to cut the screen to black and deny the audience the catharsis they’ve paid their $13 to experience.”  While I do agree, it may not just be a directorial issue; it might simply be the way the writer wrote it.

Here’s another tidbit: The story cannot arc properly if the protagonist doesn’t arc.  You really cannot separate one from the other, because a good story reveals a main character that is on the journey of a lifetime.  A journey must confront his or her personality quirks, human flaws, moral choices, and personal life struggles.

Remember the movie Sideways (2004)?  From the get go, we (the audience) is made aware that the protagonist Miles has hit rock bottom.  Miles is an English teacher, and failed novelist who cannot get his book published.  He longs for his ex-wife, who has clearly moved on (she’s remarried).  Miles is a real piece of work. He has no problem stealing money from his own mother! He has enough quirks and fetishes to fill a book, or at lease a wine bottle. He epitomizes being stuck in a rut.  However, for Miles to successfully arc, he’s going to have to become unstuck.  Just like the wine that he so loves, Miles is going to have to ripen and mature.  The wine trip is a journey that confronts many of Miles’ personality quirks, flaws and personal life struggles.

scene-from-Sideways

The journey then becomes a vehicle for conflict, opposing forces, surprises and various twists and turns in the storyline that appear to impede the hero from successfully completing his or her journey.

Man-on-Road1

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Are your characters believable?

Building Believable Characters

How do you build a believable character?

A character is no different that each of us, and we all have history.  The woman I am today is largely related to who I was yesterday, so our background is a part of our development.  In the same manner, the background of your character will determine how he or she responds to crisis while on their journey.  So, it’s important to create some history, or background for your main characters, even if it is not shown in the screenplay itself.  Character worksheets are a great way to create detailed background for your characters.  This will give you (the writer) a much better grasp on understanding “why” this character will do what he or she does in every situation.

Remember the comedy What About Bob? The flawed hero, BOB WILEY has a whirlwind of issues that become DR. LEO MARVIN’S nightmare.  The audience never finds out what has made Bob all “tide-up” in “emotional knots,” but we do see the result of his anxieties, phobias and social disorders from the get go.  In addition, his emotional needs push him to action–he seeks the professional help of Dr. Leo Marvin.

To create a character like Bob Wiley, it is imperative that the writer understand his background.  Why?  Because characters with psychological problems and quirks are going to respond a little differently than the “average” Joe.  So, how do you write these quirks and personality traits/disorders into your tale believably?

Journalists are taught that a story should always contain answers to six pertinent questions:  What” Who? Where? When? How? and Why?  A journalist could actually accomplish this in one sentence:   “Bart was murdered in his own home last evening by a neighbor using a shotgun in revenge for Bart’s insults to the neighbor’s wife.”

In a screenplay, this has to be accomplished differently.  Remember, a screenplay is written for a visual medium, so these questions need to be answered within the development of the storyline, and seen in the dialogue and actions of the characters.

We never know “why” Bob Wiley is such a mess, but we see his responses to life in the development of the storyline through his actions and his dialogue.  We see his craziness in the development of his relationship with Dr. Leo Marvin and his family, and again when “suddenly” Dr. Leo Marvin’s “death therapy” cures him.

Making your character have history will help you answer those five questions, and when your character is confronted with conflict, you (the writer) will know exactly how he or she is going to respond.  Why?  Because you’ve spent time with this character and you know him or her so well.

Hint:  It’s all about understanding the human condition, and having a grasp on basic psychology.

In addition, if your screenplay happens to get produced, GIVE the actors something to work with!  Make them dig deep!  🙂