Calculating Emotions: Elements of Screenwriting and Human Behavior

My latest article published in Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  Click here to read it:

http://creativescreenwriting.com/calculating-emotions-elements-of-screenwriting-and-human-behavior/

There’s Something Deeper Going On…

According to William Indick, author of Psychology for Screenwriters, “film is an extremely powerful psychological force.” If this is true, then we don’t just go to the movies to be entertained. There is something deeper going on.

There is nothing like a film that jolts your emotions. Whether you are moved to tears, or nearly fallout on the floor laughing, when your reactions to a story are vivid, you will remember the story long after you’ve digested the popcorn and moved on with life; it is indelible. But lasting connections do not just happen, especially in works of literature or in film. It is the result of calculated writing, which includes an understanding of human behavior and the relationship between conflict and human emotion.

Thank you screenwriter J.V. Hart and WriterDuet creator/software developer Guy Goldstein for creating a new story-mapping tool kit for screenwriters, which not only focuses on the plot, but the emotional journey of your characters.

I am excited to see how the collaborative efforts of these two masterminds will pay off!  I have used WriterDuet since it was first launched a few years ago, and I continue to stay amazed.  Screenwriter J.V. Hart has certainly seen his share of success with screenplays like:  Hook, Dracula, Tuck Everlasting, Muppet Treasure Island,  and Contact, and while HartChart is not new, it’s going live,  and I can hardly wait until its launching at the Austin Film Festival in October!

Details and Sign-Up here:  HartChart

Screenwriters should learn from Shakespeare: Language governs the action

There is no doubt that William Shakespeare’s Hamlet continues to be one of the most intriguing and highly analyzed plays ever written, and the protagonist Hamlet is arguably one of the greatest dramatic characters ever created. From the moment this disconsolate prince enters the scene the audience/reader is made acutely aware of his conflicted soul. This tragic hero is a walking dichotomy that provokes every sort of human emotion, and th-2

sets the stage for the revengeful plot to be carried out. Shakespeare uses the power of language to not only control the plot, but also to establish the storyline, reveal Hamlet’s varied complex character flaws, control fate, establish irony, and to govern the action of the play. Shakespeare brilliantly uses this character to hold the weight of the play with his dialogue, and reveal a vivid display of universal conflict within humanity.

Hamlet’s distress over his fathers death, his mother’s new-found marriage, and obvious distrust of the King are revealed with his entrance in Act 1, Scene 2 as he discourses with the Queen, his mother. However, his comment to the King is most insightful, when he reveals his suspicion and distrust. This comment reveals a lot, because Hamlet is not only displeased with his mother’s choice to marry so quickly after his father’s death, but it discloses Hamlet’s fermenting resentment.

King. Take thy fair hour, Laertes; time be thine,

And thy best graces spend it at thy will!

Hamlet. [Aside] A little more than kin, and less than kind. (1.1.62-65)

Perhaps one of the most dramatically revealing moments in Hamlet is with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.” Shakespeare introduces this during the middle of the play in Act 111, Scene 1. This moving and powerful monologue alerts the audience/reader that something grim is about to happen, as Hamlet uncovers his “sea of troubles.”

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Hamlet. To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?—To die,—to sleep,—
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to,—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die,—to sleep;—
To sleep: perchance to dream:—ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,—
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns,—puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. (111.1.56-88)

Hamlet moves into a very dark, contemplative state, and exposes the flaws in his thinking, his conflicting views on death and nobility, his possible fate, and the recognition that he will have to do something about his own personal conflicts and the plague that looms over Denmark. This is a perfect example of Shakespeare’s use of language to drive the plot forward, establish conflict, reveal Hamlet’s disposition, and set the tone for the remainder of the play.

The Ghost is also an interesting character whose dialogue has a pivotal affect on Hamlet’s mental and emotional state and the fate of the play. By the Ghost revealing the truth about the circumstances surrounding Hamlet’s father’s death, he motivates Hamlet to commit murder, the ultimate revenge, and lose his soul!

Ghost. My hour is almost come,

When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames

Must render up myself.

Hamlet.   Alas, poor ghost!

          Ghost. Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing

To what I shall unfold.

Hamlet. Speak; I am bound to hear.

Ghost. So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt

hear.

Hamlet. What?

Ghost. I am thy father’s spirit;

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up they soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part

And each particular hair to stand an end,

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood. List, list O, list!

If thou didst every thy dear father love—

Hamlet. O God!

     Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

     Hamlet. Murder! (1.5.7-26)

Not only does this speech reveal background, and feed Hamlet’s rage, it unlocks a thick unsettling within the plot of this play. Is the Ghost used by Shakespeare to create a diabolical manifestation that lures Hamlet into a fated doom? The dialogue certainly plays an intricate part in plot development and discloses the power of choice existent in every man. Is Hamlet’s madness self-induced? The language in this play is a powerful tool that helps impart Shakespeare’s theme within the play.

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Let’s talk about connecting to the audience — Why is this important?

Greetings Everyone!

I will be teaching a Webinar for the Writers Store on Thursday, June 25, 2015 1:00 PM / 4:00 PM ET
The Audience’s Connection to a Screenplay: Engaging through Conflict

Screenwriters sign up now for my webinar on June 25 on writing engaging conflict. Use the code CARLA20 to save 20%  bit.ly/EngagingConflict 

At a Glance

Whether you are a novice, intermediate or seasoned screenwriter, this webinar will fuel you with insightful and important information to help you create a story with universal appeal.
Gain a deeper understanding about the fundamental importance of conflict in a screenplay.
Learn how conflict affects the pacing of your story, helps develops your main character, and connects the audience to the hero.

Please note: If you purchase any webinar, you will get a recorded version of the webinar sent to you after the presentation day. So if you can’t attend live, you will still get all the materials.

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Screenwriting is a rigorous process, and for a story to work in this medium the audience must connect to the hero – you must make the audience care! However, this does not come about by giving your character good personality traits. The audience needs to see strength in overcoming; they need to see “reality” through conflict.

Carla’s passion for storytelling begins with her connection to the journey of the hero, and for an audience to root for a hero; there must be a relationship with the character based on weakness and character defect. With a background in the dramatic arts, and English literature, Carla will share with you her process for creating relatable, “realistic” characters through the use of conflict.

Discover why so many scripts fail at the get go, how good characterization is based more on weakness and need than personality traits, and how both internal and external conflict is used to move the story forward and bring the hero to transformation.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

How conflict helps to deepen the main character
How conflict works in a storyline
About the many faces of conflict
Why audiences must have a connection to the hero
How to make your audience “care” about the hero
The importance of dramatic tension and how it works with the hero
The essence of storytelling, no matter what the genre
The importance of universal appeal

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Screenwriters who want a story that connects to the audience
All-level screenwriters
Screenwriters who want a better understanding of dramatic conflict and how it is used in the story
Screenwriters who want to expand their writing skills
Screenwriters who want to impress readers and (hopefully) sell their scripts

Participate Live or Watch Later

This webinar includes both access to the live webinar where you may interact with the presenter and the recorded, on-demand edition for your video library. Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for one year. You do not have to attend the live event to get a recording of the presentation. In all webinars, no question goes unanswered. Attendees have the ability to chat with the instructor during the live event and ask questions. You will receive a copy of the webinar presentation in an e-mail that goes out one week after the live event. The answers to questions not covered in the live presentation will be included in this e-mail as well.

BONUS: With purchase of this webinar, you will receive $79.99 off of a yearly subscription to the Screenwriting Tutorials website, which has specialized tutorials from experts that explore screenwriting topics covered nowhere else on the web!

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: This webinar will be broadcast using GoToWebinar. To see if your system is compatible with GoToWebinar, please review this page, which lists the system requirements for the software.
Meet the Author: Carla Iacovetti

Carla Iacovetti is a published writer, awarded poet, and screenwriter. She has authored more than a half dozen screenplays, and her poetry is featured in over a dozen anthologies. Carla, who works as a freelance writer, script editor, ghostwriter and copywriter, is also a regular feature writer for the Ventura County Reporter and is a screenwriting instructor at Santa Barbara City College Center for Lifelong Learning.

SIGN UP HERE: The Audience’s Connection to a Screenplay: Engaging through Conflict
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What’s up with universal appeal?

So, you want to write a screenplay that has universal appeal (don’t we all)?

There are a couple of major things you need to focus on for that to happen:  Your plot and the reason for action.
According to Aristotle, “The life and soul of all drama (tragedy) is the plot,”  and action is related to the want and need/goal of your main character.  In other words, let’s say your protagonist desires or needs love.  His or her need is going to drive him or her to respond or act according to the need.  Micheal Tierno, in his book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says, “When a strong desire of a hero relates to all of the action, then the plot can depict a simple ‘portrait’ of the hero.”

So, often times, action is a emotional response of the character’s need or want.  For example:  Remember the movie Cocktail (1988), which starred Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue?  Let’s look at the storyline.  Brian Flanagan has just gotten out of the service and wants to make money.  He wants his own business, but after being turned down in several job interviews for lack of education, he takes a job working as a bartender.  His need for money pushes him to take a job that he’s really not excited about.  However, his need produces continued actions (chains of events), to include traveling to Jamaica to work as a bartender at an upscale resort, and meeting Jordan Mooney, the seeming love of his life. His boss, Doug Coughlin also wants to own his own high-end bar, so the two come up with a game-plan.  Once again, this flawed protagonist has an agenda, and his need gives rise to action, pushes the plot forward and will eventually guide the story to resolution.

(Tom Cruise- Brian Flanagan in Cocktail, 1988)

Universal appeal is important because for an audience to relate to a character or story there must be a relationship with the character and the storyline.  So, when Brian Flanagan’s business partner (the antagonist) puts him to a dare, we (the audience) feel bad for him, because it seems like all is lost.  We’ve all been there.  Desire and need are powerful things.  We somehow relate to his plight, his frustration, his turmoil, and that is universally appealing.

Is universal appeal important?  You betcha!  Life is a journey, and we are all a part of it.  For an audience or reader to relate to a character, there must be character traits, familiar moments that we’ve walked through or witnessed.  We know how this character feels because we’ve been there and done that!

According to Aristotle, “A plot must include causes of the action that can arouse the audience’s deepest pity and fear [or laughter and tears]. This means the audience must understand the hero’s thoughts and see those thoughts becoming actions, which in turn reveal a moral quality (character) of the hero.”

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

Reference:  Aristotle’s Poetics by Michael Tierno

What the heck does your character want?

Simply stated, want produces action.  Think about it…If you suddenly developed a toothache, what would you inevitably end up doing?  You’d call your dentist.

Here’s a good question to ask yourself when your creating a main character.  What is the inciting incident established for the main character?  You know…something that must be gotten or achieved.  Something that the character believes will ultimately make his or her life better.

Here are some examples of (obvious) external goals: money, love, career promotion, the love of a child or family member, etc.

Whatever this goal is, your protagonist must feel that this goal is essential to his or her life, and the audience must see that the character will suffer or loose out “if” he or she does not achieve this goal.  This connection is paramount between the main character and the audience.  If it’s not there, you might lose your audience along the way.  The character won’t be compelling and the audience won’t want to root for him or her.

Photo: Office Space Movie

Milton’s worried about his red stapler…but that’s just the beginning.

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

“Tammy,” a country western song gone bad

Comedy shouldn’t be code for compromised or bad writing. It’s as if some writers slough-off the need for structure perhaps hoping that the “laughs” will constitute popularity, and that no one will notice structural issues, but that’s simply not so. Such was my discovery last night when I went to see the movie, Tammy.

What’s not to love about Melissa McCarthy? She is quick-witted, garden-fresh (always ready to serve-up some juicy ad-libbing), and she’s absolutely hilarious, donning such box-office hits like: Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Back-up Plan, and The Heat (to name a few). McCarthy produced and co-wrote Tammy with her husband Ben Falcone.

McCarthy gives the audience more of the same – the arrogant tough girl, who humorously has no respect for humanity, but underneath her hard, calloused shell, she is a lost, vulnerable, victimized gal that needs some serious TLC.

I’m not surprised that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 23%. In my estimation, that’s fairly accurate. The comedy is unexciting and unoriginal, and consequently, the character and the plot move aimlessly with no real direction, and while this might seem minor, no one laughed. A comedy that doesn’t drive the audience to laughter is nothing short of a flop.

Tammy reminds me of a bad country western song. You know the type… Sick, sorry and busted, broke, disgusted and depressed; I’ve been cheated on, ripped-off, abused and I’m a proficient loser with nowhere to run. It’s a never-ending victims saga. What else can go wrong, right?

Tammy is having far more than a bad hair day; she has totaled her car after running into a deer—a deer that is seemingly dead until it suddenly resurrects after Tammy lies down on the road and blows on it (mouth-to-mouth is out of the question). The saga continues with one blow after another, starting with her getting fired from Topper Jack’s fast food restaurant. Broke, disgusted and depressed, Tammy hits the road with her drunken, over-sexed, unappreciated, younger-than-life grandmother (Susan Sarandon, who still looks amazing with gray hair).

It’s a seeming perfect combination plate…Grandma has the loot and Tammy feels the need to get out of dodge. However, these two renegades are not Thelma & Louise (sorry Susan…you were better as Louise). In truth, I’m not sure what purpose this road trip serves, and this is a huge problem since 90 percent of the film takes place on the road. The first 15-20 minutes of the film feels like a stand-up comedy act where the comedian overshoots to get a laugh from the audience. It becomes difficult to get engaged with the lead character and laugh.

The characters and the plot are underdeveloped, and what happened to the promise of the premise? There is no promise and there is no premise. It is a film loaded with implausibility from the story line to the casting. While McCarthy can entertain the best of an audience, if obnoxious and brash behavior happens to be your thing, there is no variance or engaging presence on screen, and that’s an issue. This isn’t about her size either, but it is about the fact that Tammy gives us nothing new or tangible that makes us care. While action moves a story forward, this film is entirely dependent on circumstances moving everything to a rather predictable end.

Certainly every good comedy uses chaos as a means to drive the plot forward and establish the sense of need for transformation in the character. The protagonist in a well-written comedy should go on the journey of a lifetime. But, even though Tammy is on a road trip, her trip is anticipated and rather dull.

Writers of comedy should study Jerry Lewis. Lewis was a comedic master, as an actor and a writer. Lewis was able to create multifaceted characters that exemplified flawed humanity at it’s greatest. His ability to put a comedic spin on human tragedy was incredible.

Comedy is the most difficult genre to write, and requires just as much structure and writing genius as every other genre.

 

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