Tag: writing

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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When we stop hoping, a weight lifts.

When we stop hoping, a weight lifts.

I know what you’re thinking….what kind of blog post title is THAT? Stop hoping? If you’ve not already clicked the back button, then hear me out: It’s time we stop hoping for things to happen and start declaring them to be inevitably true. Allow me to elaborate.

For the past two years, I have hoped and dreamed of living in Los Angeles as a working screenwriter, composing and scripting stories that change lives as much as they have mine. I would get home just in time to check Twitter, following every television writer I could find. Liking, retweeting, messaging, and wishing. I always had the same thought: I hope I can write a story like him or her one day…live in LA, get my badge, park in the garage, walk on set, and arrive at my job. Walk into the writers room, holding a coffee, and get out the whiteboard marker. I kept hoping, dreaming, wishing….but was I actually DOING? Was I getting closer to this goal, or was I “too busy”?

Now, as I sit here typing “Fade Out” on my second original TV pilot, there is still a lot of hoping happening over here. But it is a different kind of hope. I look back to July. Step 1: Bite the bullet, move to LA. Step 2: Work tirelessly, because what was the alternative? Step 3: Stop hoping, and start believing it to be true. The advice I’ll never forget came last month from my current boss, an extraordinary producer and woman who made her own opportunities and works endlessly to fulfill her goals: “Jake, you need to stop hoping. Don’t wish that one day you will be one of them. Starting imagining yourself in a writer’s room. Do it. Just imagine that you will be there. It’s absolutely possible.”

So, I leave you with this: The minute we get off Twitter, the minute we stop wanting to emulate ones we deem “successful,” the minute we will assume success for ourselves. In this minute, we become solely our own person. Does that mean we can’t have idols? Not at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes from cover to cover, and she’s the reason I started writing. But when we challenge everything we think we know to be possible, we get excited for that alarm clock in the morning. We stop sitting at a coffee shop checking our likes on Instagram. We realize that, instead, chatting with someone in line might bring about an opportunity next month when they remember your smile. A weight lifts when your hopes become realities that you have assumed, realities you’re determined to make happen. But once you’ve assumed this truth, there’s no turning back. You commit, you sweat, you cry, you smile, you laugh, and you pretend that you were meant to be in every hallway you walk down.

As I start an ambitious spec script for Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t “hope” that one day it leaves my computer. I make certain it does. I assume it will. I step into the next day, having no clue what it will bring, but expecting it to be genius. Because at the end of the day, what is the alternative?

Discomfort, and eventually… Growth.

Discomfort, and eventually… Growth.

“Our biggest growth stems from when we are uncomfortable.” Not my words, actually, but I heard them last night while at a nice gathering of various young artists in the entertainment industry. My friend and production manager said these words to me when I told her that I resigned from my job and moved to Los Angeles with a computer and a dream. I feel like that is a saying, isn’t it? A suitcase and a dream…a kid and a dream…something like that. Well, that happened. And now, I sit in a California coffee shop and work on my script. Luckily, I am not alone.

As of today, my writing has begun to serve a new purpose: comfortable discomfort. I know, ridiculous. Allow me to explain. I’m sure we have all received advice at some point to be “risk takers” and “bold believers.” It can become hard to explain to even myself sometimes. A decision to leave all loved ones and all familiarity for something so uncertain. So that is when we have to ask – what is the alternative? The alternative is to remain comfortable. A nice salary, a nice group of friends, a full refrigerator, and probably a paid vacation or two. Writing, however, has become my comfortable discomfort. The thing that I do that is risky, unpredictable, and at times, inexplicable to many. So although I chose the discomfort, it comforts me to know I’m giving it a try.

So in my wordy reflection on this sunny Saturday — what is your comfortable discomfort? What is something that you NEED in your life that also brings out your messy, unscheduled, unraveled side? All of the craziness, all of the uncertainty…it is how we grow. It doesn’t have to be moving across the country or giving up something drastic, but it does have to be something that allows us to fail. We can’t appreciate success without feeling like a disaster at some point on the journey.

So, take a leap. Be fearful, but do it anyway. Be uncomfortable, so that you can find comfort with yourself. All it takes is the decision to start.