Tag: storytelling

Revealing a Character: The Decisions

Revealing a Character: The Decisions

Memorable, ground-breaking characters. Hmm, let’s think. Harry Potter, Matilda, Olivia Benson, Meredith Grey, Jack Sparrow, Olivia Pope, Forest Gump….we could go on for hours. Books, Television, Films. Now, before you go off on me for not mentioning an A-list fictional character, I’ll share some thoughts I’ve been contemplating as I wrap up my weekend writing marathon.

I feel as though it is a pretty well-shared opinion that a deep, multi-dimensional character has a WANT. A desire, a goal, a challenging task.  A battle, an obstacle, or an enemy is usually what comes next. We as writers establish these fictional realms with these two things in mind: The WANT and the OBSTACLE. But, I then ask, what about the decisions?

I speak mostly for the TV pilot writers out there. I, for one, am new at the craft. Learning more about it every day. As I create my characters, I can without a doubt talk for hours about their goals, their hopes, and what is getting in the way. But then, I realize…I need an Act Two, Three, and Four. This is where the decisions happen. No matter if it is in a pilot, a book, or season 6 of a successful cable series, it is the DECISION that enhances our character. The decision that leads them either closer or farther away from their ultimate goal. How our character acts under pressure, in a bar with friends, at a fork in the road. You see, within the obstacle there are many little ones. We face them every day in real life. But how we decide to deal with these obstacles – the CHOICES we make – the ACTIONS we take – THAT is when our character shines through. It’s not only about what our character wants, but it is also about how he or she decides to act in pursuit of such a want. 

As I do in many of my posts, I’ll bridge how I approach writing with how I approach life. My new chapter as a screenwriter has an obvious obstacle: The gates of Hollywood. The doors of a writers’ room. The calendar invite of a network executive. The overflowing inbox of a showrunner. THESE are my obstacles. But again, how will I decide to face them? What decisions will I make in order to get me closer to my goal? This is where my strength, my determination, and my fast-typing fingers will make themselves known.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to continue to pretend that I’m qualified to comment on the techniques of screenwriting. I’ll continue to assume greatness and brilliance at the start of each day. And, most importantly, I’ll act like I belong here typing these thoughts. Because again, what is the alternative? To remain silent?

 

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A Writer’s Secret Ingredient? Quality Time.

A Writer’s Secret Ingredient? Quality Time.

Isolation. It is what many might assume a writer needs. Time, a quiet space, focused attitude, no distractions, etc. Sure, those things are necessary when we are ready to write something down. But do we rely solely on our imagination and our keyboard keys? I would say not.

It has been said that “write what you know” is some of the worst advice to give to a novice screenwriter like myself. I completely understand this argument, to an extent. A writer must have imagination to create a fictional realm that will intrigue and inspire an audience. But here’s the thing: From where do we draw imaginative ideas? Are these truly from scratch? Not quite.

Our imagination is rooted in personal experience. Shonda Rhimes, a writer I look up to a great deal, spent time in hospital rooms and was fascinated by the atmosphere and dynamics. Thus, she imagined her own hospital. 12.5 years later, Season 14 will premiere on ABC. The same can be said for all of my fellow writers. Our imagination is an extension of what we learn when we spend quality time. Quality time absorbing the imperfections of humanity. I was celebrating the 4th of July earlier this week with a group of family and friends. So many conversations, emotions, stories, experiences, challenges, and triumphs were shared. It was a simple set up, but such rich conversation. This quality time is what inspires us to write.

Quality time is what inspires us to tell stories that connect with an audience. To remain isolated is to remain inexperienced in the struggle that is every day relationships with strangers and loved ones. We must value the lessons we learn from quality time and use them to impact an audience. After all, everyone’s got a story.

Tears of Clarity…and pursuit.

Tears of Clarity…and pursuit.

When the topic of “good” writing for television comes up, I always ask one question: Would you rather watch motivated characters triumph over tragedy, or would you rather witness someone solve a crime or a case? Maybe you enjoy both. Maybe they aren’t mutually exclusive. There really is no correct answer, but in all honesty, all primetime television can be categorized under those two umbrellas. So, why do YOU become invested in a show?

Let’s talk This Is Us for a moment. Hands down the largest hit of the previous primetime season by a significant margin. Why? Well, many would say this: “It’s a show about normal people solving problems.” Sure, you could say that. But actually, I would argue the opposite. It is not simple at all. Dan Fogelman found a refreshing, impactful way to portray how our past experiences influence our ability to walk through life as imperfect humans. No one is simple, and no one is normal. Obesity, insecurity, infidelity, dishonesty, and love – these are elements of struggle that the show tackles. Sure, it’s all fiction. But well-rounded characters that are motivated to make their lives better? That, my friends, is non-fiction. That is clarity. Clarity that we are not alone in this pursuit of happiness. 

Lastly, we close with an iconic, critically acclaimed drama that lived 6 years at NBC: Parenthood. No “viewer discretion advised” warning needed. No cliffhangers. No shocking murders. Briefly, let’s name a few storylines: teen pregnancy, Autism, financial troubles, infidelity, family feuding, parenting, and forgiveness. Oh, and when season 4 comes around, we can add breast cancer, career changes, and divorce once you reach Season 5. Many people who might pick crime dramas or case dramas would ask me: “why would you put yourself through Parenthood? Too sad. Why would you want to cry watching TV?” My answer to them was simple: They are tears of clarity. Tears of motivation and empathy. Every single one of us can identify and empathize with one of the themes listed above, and THAT is why we watch. More imperfect examples of people powering through tragedy that might just make you approach yours a little differently.

So, all in all, isn’t that what every writer wants? A story that reminds a reader or audience member that he or she is not alone. A story that provides clarity for someone who needs a friend. A leading character who often mirrors the mistakes we make on our own journey. As Bob Dylan tells us in Parenthood’s theme, “may you always be courageous, stand upright, and be strong.” Yes, Bob, we will do our best.