Thursday, August 21, 2014
CHARACTER IS A VERB
Story rises from character, not the other way around.
What does this mean?
Far too many screenwriters enter into the process assuming that the plot is the primary story agent, and that the characters are secondary. It is a prejudice that most of us learned from the way in which we were taught history. People are taught that events make history, they are taught to memorize the events and the dates upon which these events transpired. This offers only a partial view of the actual story - or history - and all but neglects the driving agent(s) and emotions that actively encouraged and brought about these events.
Story rises from character, and it is character and the characters' needs, fears, ambitions and frustrations, that drive the story forward.
BUT do not make the simple-minded mistake of thinking that all of the characters that drive a story are located in the screenplay or script. Sure, that is where the dramatis personae "live" and act, but they are not the ONLY characters involved in finding - or enacting - the story. One must enlarge one's vision and understanding of the actual process, and when one does, one realizes that there are other characters at work here, characters that are mostly invisible to a writer whose understanding of character is limited to the cast of characters in the script.
A CHARACTER - a dramatic character - may be defined as a human or human-like person that wants something, and is driven by this need or frustrated desire to attain what he or she wants to such an extent that they are not prepared or able to wait for it to just happen, but actively go out, and in the face of threats, risk and personal safety, seek to claim, win, restore of grasp it. Given this definition we can see how the writer, too, is a character. The writer wants to write a story, and is driven by a writer's need to tell it in a way that evokes real emotion. They want to move and transform their audience. The audience, too, is a character, insofar as the writer conceives of them as something with a point of view and a susceptibility to be moved. In a sense, the audience is always an act of the imagination - that person or persons to whom the story is addressed. They have an attitude that the writer imagines and seeks to confront with the story. They are resistant to that story and that resistance goads the writer towards more vivid and confronting storytelling. Likewise, the writer is the product of a number of tribal circumstances or contexts that have affected and influenced his or her view of the world. The writer is a product of his or her environment, those cultural, societal, economic, legal, political and spiritual circumstances in which he/she came of age. The writer's tribe wants something too, and it's claims on the writer and the writer's sensibilities cannot be under-estimated.
When one writes a story or screenplay one must sit down and ask the characters - ALL the characters - what they want, and then allow them their voice in the evolving series of actions and events. Don’t get in their way - the writer that works as a 'medium' for these characters and their proclivities understands that the art of dramatic storytelling resides in the facility to get out of the way - to free the characters to become what they can (and want) to be. You must fight against the dumb inclination to promote yourself as the Grand Puppeteer - the leading mastermind whose weighty responsibility is to plot out a plan, regardless of what and who the characters actually are, emotionally and spiritually. Your job is not to tell the characters' story, but to free them enough so that they can tell you, and you can follow them. Sounds passive, doesn't it? But it's not. To do that you must fight the battle of your life, confronting all your demons and fears, your assumptions and expectations, concerning who and what you are. It is a battle to the death - the death of ego that is. So, follow them. See where their story goes.
Remember: everyone wants to live an ‘easy’ life, but nothing worth having comes easily.
Every choice comes with a price, every action comes with an opposite reaction. Your character can desire to live an ‘easy’ life as much as any other character… but fate always intrudes... if you have the courage to face it.