Mad Men – Emmy Winner

Mad Men follows protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of World War II. Don is a Power of Truth Character. He is an ad man, a master illusionist, twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. He has trouble discerning the truth about himself, his wife and his target marketing audience: (”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?”) He works in a cutthroat environment where duplicity, betrayal and infidelities are everywhere. He doesn’t fully trust anyone including himself.
Here’s how AMC describes the show on the official website: “Returning for its second season, the Golden Globe®-winning series for Best TV drama and actor will continue to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of Mad Men is moving in a new direction — can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity?”
That’s a description of a classic Power of Truth story.  Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a classic Power of Truth protagonist.  Note the tagline of the series:  ”Where the truth lies.”
These kinds stories are about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  What is real and what is an illusion? Who or what can you trust?
All these issues were front and center in the first season.  They had a real urgency and the potential for disastrous consequences.
Over the course of initial 13 episodes we learned Dan Draper isn’t who he seems.  He is leading a secret life on a number of levels.  He stole another man’s identity in Korea (by switching dog tags with a dead officer).  He is cheating on his wife.  He is a slick master of illusion in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions.  As the season progressed we worried and waited for hammer to drop.
Mad Men has authenticity working for it in even the smallest details.  Everything on the sets, in the background, what the people wear, how they talk, what they talk about is absolutely true to the period.

mad_men ETB Screenwriting


Mad Men won 2010 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. The show is about the world of advertising; a world of illusion, sleight of hand and outright deception. It is a quintessential Power of Truth story and is anchored by a wonderful Power of Truth protagonist, Don Draper/Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm). Surface laughter, glamour and the sophisticated tinkle of ice in a cut-glass tumbler of scotch obscures the dark and tangled subterranean underpinnings of both the man and the profession.

The show follows Don, a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of the Korean War. He is an ad man, a slick master of mis-direction in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions: “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”  He is adept at deception (and self-deception), twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. This is especially true with main client Lucky Strikes.  He and his client both know the product is poisonous but Don finds a way to make it attractive: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”  Don, himself, is anything but OK.

don draperHe has trouble coming to terms with the truth about himself, his failed marriage and even one of his target markets: ”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?” He is acutely aware that more lies beneath the surface of things than he understands or is willing to inspect.  When the new firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce brings in a female psychologist and focus group expert, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), to help determine what exactly women want, Don is hostile.  He refuses to participate in her work or answer any of her survey questions.  He rejects her notion that people’s childhoods are a predictor of who they are and what will influence or inspire them. Dr. Faye defends her research and says she can’t change the truth: “That Glo-Coat ad came from someone’s childhood.” Don cannot afford the truth. His entire life is based on the desire to make something true that isn’t, and vice versa.

In addition to issues of perception, illusion and deception, Power of Truth stories are also about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  Who or what can you trust? When does loyalty look like betrayal?  When does betrayal look like loyalty?

Peggy OlsonThese themes are especially relevant to Don’s evolving relationship with Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss).  Their relationship is quite similar to one in another Power of Truth story, Million Dollar Baby.  Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) and Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) also have a powerful mentor/protege bond.  Frank is a Power of Truth protagonist who is hiding from his past as well.  His parish priest observes: “Frank, I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can’t forgive himself for something.”

Initially, both Frank and Don are skeptical about a woman being able to “do the job” no matter how hard she works.  But both grudgingly admire the tenacity and raw talent they see in their young protege.  They want to toughen her up but yet somehow protect her.  They berate her and insult her but genuinely care for her.  Neither man is able to show affection that doesn’t also include harsh words (or hard truths).  Their relationships have a Father/Daughter dynamic that is profoundly meaningful to them both.  In making Peggy into a brilliant advertising executive Don could almost be following the advice of Eddie Scrap-Iron Durpis (Morgan Freeman) as he describes Frank’s coaching techniques:

Clint Eastwood Hillary SwankEddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: “To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything they know, you gotta make ’em forget even in their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”

The technique works on Peggy, who says to Don after a particularly rough exchange: “You know something. We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”  Those words are truest of her.  Peggy only really hears (or cares about) Don’s voice.  But Peggy is no push-over and that is what will make her great in her own right someday.  Eddie describes that quality: “All fighters are pig-headed some way or another: some part of them always thinks they know better than you about something. Truth is: even if they’re wrong, even if that one thing is going to be the ruin of them, if you can beat that last bit out of them… they ain’t fighters at all.”

Peggy has her own stubborn streak and sense of independence and fairness.  She confronts Don over her lack of credit on the Glo-Coat ad, talks back to him, refuses to get him coffee and is the only one who seems able to see and accept him for who he is.  She is the only one Don trusts enough to share bits of his past.

Peggy would rather be at work with Don than doing anything else. His world is the only world that truly interests her. It is the only thing she really wants: “I know what I’m supposed to want but it never feels right or as important as what happens in this office.”  Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) says basically the same thing to Frank Dunn: “Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?”

Peggy OlsonHere is a wonderful montage of clips that clearly delineate Power of Conscience character Peggy Olson.  Notice how many times the issues for her are fairness (or unfairness) (“I don’t know if you read in the paper, but they passed a law that women who do the same work as men get paid the same thing.  Equal pay.”); integrity (“Pete, just tell the truth. Don’t worry about the outcome.  People  respect that.”); propriety (“I’m from Bayridge, we have manners”); judgement (“I know what people think of you.  That you’re looking for a husband and you’re fun.  And not in that order.”)

Peggy is a good girl who sometimes does bad things. She is definitely the moral compass of the show. She even goes so far as to confront Don and demand that he hire the smarmy kid whose tag line Don drunkenly misappropriated for a Life Cereal campaign.

Hillary Swank is a Power of Idealism character.  She is much more passionate than Peggy and much more willing to bet everything on a single glorious moment. Peggy is more grounded and controlled even when she is acting out or being rebellious.  When she strips to call a lazy unctuous creative director’s bluff, it is about doing the work (and her work ethic) not being seductive.  Her sense of morality may be the one thing that Don can’t beat out of her.  Even if it is the ruin of her it is also what will make her great.



The Princess and The Frog

Spending so much time in airplanes, I had a chance to catch up on several of the movies I missed in theatrical release. I was particularly enchanted by Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. This delightful animated film is the best romantic comedy of the last couple of years. It hits all the most important emotional beats that make Romantic Comedies so satisfying. It’s funny, has a lush gorgeous design and a wonderful New Orleans score.
Despite some terrific performances the other films released this year in the genre fall into one of more the Rom Com Pitfalls. Here is how The Princess and The Frog avoided all the emotional stumbling blocks.

princess-tiana-and-paa4781Spending so much time in airplanes recently, I had a chance to catch up on several of the movies I missed in theatrical release. I was particularly enchanted by Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. This delightful animated film is the best romantic comedy of the last couple of years. It hits three of the most important emotional beats that make Romantic Comedies so emotionally satisfying. In addition, t’s funny, has a lush gorgeous design and a wonderful New Orleans score.  The film was nominated for 3 Oscars. It won 6 other awards (including a number of critic’s awards and image awards) having 24 major nominations in all.

Fundamental RomCom Elements

There are a number of fundamental elements that make successful romantic comedies emotionally appealing. (These elements are just as important in a romantic subplot or any other emotional partnership or buddy relationship.)  Despite some terrific performances, the other films released in the genre fell short in these key areas. Here is how The Princess and The Frog hit the most important three and scored a big hit:


1. There must be a real “battle” for a “battle of the sexes.”

In classic romantic comedies, the love interests take an instant dislike, have a deep distrust or are separated by major philosophical or personal differences. Love interests should have opposite World Views and views on what life and love is or should be. They should not agree on anything. Their values and views should be diametrically opposed.

A character’s World View is how the character believes the world works, his or her perceived role in the world, the character’s philosophy of life and love and a definition of what constitutes a personal goal worth pursuing.

The heroine in The Princess and The Frog, Tiana (voiced and sung by Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose), is a Power of Conscience character.  She is the daughter of a seamstress, Eudora, (voiced by Oprah Winfrey) and James, a day laborer (voiced by Terrence Howard).  Tiana believes in hard work, personal responsibility and setting the bar high for herself.   She is a dutiful daughter and is single-mindedly persistent in the pursuit of the dream she and her father shared.

Tatiana’s Frog Prince Naveen of Maldonia (voiced by Nip/Tuck‘s Bruno Campos) was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never worked a day in his life.  He is a playboy Power of Excitement character who loves parties, music and dancing.   He is handsome and witty and never met a responsibility he couldn’t charm his way out of, avoid or dodge.  He is angling for a prize that will help him maintain his carefree lifestyle.

CLICK HERE to read how recent RomComs The Proposal, It’s Complicated and The Ugly Truth fell short in this regard.


2.  The lovers must have a goal other than just falling in love or finding love.

Each of the character must be in pursuit of something other than love.  They both must have an over-arching ego-driven goal (one that benefits each personally).  Unless the character wants something specific for themselves there is nothing to give up or sacrifice for the love of the other person.

Tiana’s goal is to open her own restaurant, the dream she and her father shared.  She works double-shifts.  She forgoes parties and dates.  She saves every dime to make her dream come true.  Tatiana never allows herself any fun or frivolity. She doesn’t have time for romance or falling love.

Prince Naveen’s parents have cut off his funds and he needs to find someone else to finance his amusements.  He is looking for a a wealthy American wife to bankroll his fun-loving spendthrift ways in exchange for a royal Princess title.  Naveen’s goal is to avoid responsibility and look good while doing it. He has never allowed himself to care for anything (or anyone) enough to really work or sacrifice for it.


3. Both love interests must grow or change through their relationship with one another.

Something profound should be missing in each love interest’s life, character and or personality. This missing piece is an important personal deficiency leading to overall unhappiness. The problem isn’t just that the character is missing someone to love. It should be key to his or her difficulties in life.

In contrast to this major deficiency, each character has an abundance of some other over-developed trait. This should be something the other love interest has “to a fault.” One person has too much of one thing and gives a gift of a bit of that quality to the other.

In The Princess and the Frog, Naveen falls under the black-magic spell of the evil Dr. Facilier (Keith David). The kiss Naveen cons Tiana into giving him turns her into a frog as well.  (After a catering accident Tiana puts on a spare princess gown and left-over tiara from her childhood friend Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody) and  Naveen mistakes Tiana for the princess he seeks.)

The quarreling amphibians flee into the bayou to escape Facilier’s nefarious scheme and evil clutches. Among the swamp denizens they meet in the murky swamp-land are a cowardly lion-like, trumpet-playing alligator, Louis (voice by Michael-Leon Wooley); a gap-toothed hopelessly romantic Cajun firefly, Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings); and the old-as-the-bayou-herself blind seer and witch doctor Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis).  It is the seemingly vague lessons that Madame Odie teaches that have the power to restore Tiana and Naveen back to humanity.

Along the way,  Tiana learns to relax and to value what is really important– a balance of love and work. She is ready to give up her goal to save the man/frog she loves.  Naveen learns to work like a sous chef, slicing and dicing, and offers to sacrifice himself and his own happiness to rescue Tiana’s dream.  A clever twist at the end involving a missed kiss and true self-acceptance, completes the exchange of gifts that sets the story and the lovers right.

CLICK HERE to read how The Proposal, It’s Complicated and The Ugly Truth fell short in the gift-giving department.   In contrast, this simple story of The Princess and The Frog hits three of the most crucial elements that make frothy RomComs such a satisfying emotional experience.

Invictus – Power of Conscience

A candidate’s Character Type determines how he or she believes the world works and how the candidate defines his or her role in the world as a leader.  Clinton and Obama each have a unique and contradictory philosophy.
Nine Character Type analysis works because it is drawn from real life and real people, and from how people actually clash in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.  For example–
Although candidates may try to massage their message based on polls and trends, a character’s fundamental understanding of the world and leadership does not change. If you look at how a candidate frames the issues, what slogan the candidate picks and the major themes in a candidate’s speeches, his or her Character Type becomes clear.
No Character Type is inherently good or bad, an excellent leader or a poor one; but each is profoundly different from the others.  Each sees different challenges, opportunities and threats and each views the world and his or her role as a leader from a unique perspective.

395651The excellent film, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela is a great study in Power of Conscience leadership.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency, justice and providing a good example.  These leaders believe that they have responsibility for others and a duty to protect the rights of all.  They are particularly sensitive to those who are disenfranchised, disadvantaged, disabled or unable to fight for themselves.  When he defeated the white Afrikaners politically he felt bound to protect their rights and interests as well.  These characters believe that equality and the rule of law is humankind’s salvation.

Power of Conscience leaders tell potential supporters: “Follow me.  I know what’s right.  I will be just.  I will be fair.  I will be responsible.”  They argue:  “Come along and fight the good fight.  Do what is right.  Justice will prevail.  Don’t argue.  I know the right path to take.”

The insistence that they know what is right can get these leaders into trouble with supporters.   This scene in Invictus, illustrates Power of Conscience leadership philosophy very succinctly.

As in Invictus, Power of Conscience characters tend to personalize their work, making their mission to improve the world an inseparable part of their own identity.  In life, Mandela has said:  “The struggle IS my life.”

An unwillingness to compromise on moral ground is the hallmark of these leaders.  In life, Mandela never compromised his principles to avoid punishment.  He refused several opportunities to get out of jail, which required him to recant or renounce one of his stands on justice or equal rights.

The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to lead by example and to be of service themselves.  This is illustrated in a wonderful scene with Matt Damon, playing Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, where the two men talk of leading by example.  Mandela poses the essential Power of Conscience question, “How do you inspire a people to be better than they think they are?”

Improving themselves, others and the world at large is of paramount importance to Power of Conscience characters.  They are disciplined, principled and challenge others to take the moral high-ground. In life, Mandela has said, “The time is always ripe to do right.”

Power of Conscience character lead by getting out in front the crowd, taking a strong principled stand (often against popular opinion) and speaking out against whatever they view as wrong, unjust, unfair or corrupt.  They understand and are willing to pay the price for acting on their beliefs.

Cougar Town – When a Character Doesn’t Ring True

cougar-town-etbscreenwritingI caught up with the Cougar Town premiere online and thought it was absolutely terrible.  The best words I have to describe this raunchy and demeaning show are desperate, pathetic and insulting.  Courtney Cox’s character asks her son why he doesn’t laugh at her sex-obsessed jokes and he says:  “Because they make me sad.”  Bingo!

I have nothing against sex-obsessed women who fret about aging and the difficulty of finding love.  I am a big fan of Sex and the City. But that show has something that Cougar Town lacks– authentic characters who feel real. Carrie and her crew each has a distinct and very specific take on sex and romance that defines who she is, how she sees the world and what love means to her.

Carrie Bradshaw is a well-defined Power of Idealism character.  Throughout the series, she is obsessed with the emotionally unavailable Mr. Big.  These characters believe that what is perfect but unavailable or unattainable is infinitely more desirable than what is flawed but possible or achievable. They are always reaching for the unreachable star.

Charlotte York is a Power of Conscience character and the most conservative and uptight member of the ensemble. While the show focuses on sexual liberation, Charlotte is the voice of more traditional values.  Perfection to her is what is proper and socially correct.

Samantha Jones is a Power of Will character and views sex as power.  She is always the one in control of the sexual power in her relationships.  She decides when, where, how much and what kind of sex she will have.  She is loud, lusty and unashamed of her passions.  She is unapologetic when she decides to move on to new conquests.

Miranda Hobbes is a Power of Ambition character.  She is extremely career-minded and has her sights firmly fixed on a prestigious law partnership.  She often views sex as a distraction to her work.  In one episode she and her lover fight over the fact she wants to schedule sex and refuses to let passion distract her from important work-related obligations.

Each of these women is thoroughly believable and acts consistently with specific attitudes about life and love.  I recognize women I know in the characters in Sex and the City.

Cortney Cox’s character is is poorly defined, cartoonish  and utterly inauthentic.  She acts like a thirty-year old Judd Apatow guy trapped in a one-note joke about being desperate but clumsy in the attempt to get laid.  I have no idea what her cardboard cut-out character believes about life or love or why she is doing what she is doing.  To you tell you the truth I don’t really care.  Someone please put this excruciatingly pathetic show out of its misery.

Here are some additional reviews that hit the nail on the head.

WALL STREET JOURNAL   (T)his is the 21st century, where pole dancing passes for a statement of female liberation. So it should come as no surprise that Jules will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still “hot.”  Such a quest could be made funny, but here it mostly isn’t. Ms. Cox is struggling with some ugly material and often seems desperate.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE  Cougar Town is one of those shows with a trendy topic at its core, but it’s hard to see how the show will work long-term, and the screechy and semi-frenetic tone set by the pilot doesn’t help.

VARIETY  (T)he execution here is consistently about as subtle as a kick to the groin — and represents the least appealing component in ABC’s quartet of new Wednesday-night comedies.

HOLLYWOOD REPORTER  Cougar Town is a mess of a place no one would want to visit, even for a half-hour. With a little luck, though, it’ll have a short shelf life.

Power of Conscience


Power of Conscience characters know instinctively if something is wrong, unjust, unfair, improper, corrupt or out of line.  Their judgment and response is swift and immutable. They are propelled forward by personal outrage and moral indignation, usually on another’s behalf.

These characters believe they are their brother’s keeper.  They feel responsible for the greater good and for doing good.  They wrestle with how far they should go in seeking justice and fairness for others, in exposing corruption and injustice or in standing up against evil or wrong-doing.   They worry about with what is the higher duty and what exactly is required of them in response.

The answer, in a drama, is everything this character holds dear. Over the course of a drama these characters are drawn further and further down the path of righteousness.  They are compelled to do one small thing, then another and another until, in the end, they have sacrificed their personal concerns, their safety, their security, their family, their fortunes or often their lives.

They can be a force for good or evil in a story.  In their Dark Side these characters believe the ends justify the means (evil behavior for a good or moral purpose).  At their worst they can become rigid, accusatory, sanctimonious, judgmental and hypocritical.

On the comedy side, Power of Conscience characters are often pious hypocrites who are exposed in a comedic way or respectable establishment types who get a humorous comeuppance. Or, they can be straight-laced or uptight individuals who need to relax, be more spontaneous and have more fun.

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Film examples include:  Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich; Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List; Queen Elizabeth in The Queen; Norma Rae in Norma Rae; Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons; Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider and Frank Galvin in The Verdict.

Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami; Dwight Schrute inThe Office; Bree Van De Kamp in Desperate Housewives; Charlotte York inSex and the City and Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons are great television examples.  See the Power of Conscience blog posts for more examples.


Power of Conscience eBook

The Power of Conscience Character Type eBook explains how these characters are alike and how each character is made individually distinct.  It will help you develop unique, original, evocative and authentic characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.

Discover the Power of Conscience character’s specific goals, unique emotional obstacles and very distinct responses and reactions to any opportunity, challenge or threat.  Create this character’s Immediate Tactics, Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach in a way that is recognizably “true” at every step of the story and during every moment of screen time. The audience will instantaneously recognize and relate to your character because your character is complex, three-dimensional and “feels real.”

This eBook is thorough analysis of the Power of Conscience Character Type in his or her many guises and roles as a protagonist or a member of a larger ensemble.  It is packed with numerous examples from film, television and even real life! Examples from scores of scenes and dozens of quotes from film and television characters clearly illustrate this character’s motivations and psychological dynamics in a story.

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Comprehensive Analysis

The Power of Conscience Character Type eBook illustrates exactly how to create and differentiate this character based on his or her:

(1.) World View (beliefs about how the world works) What are the essential core beliefs that motivate a Power of Conscience character’s ordinary actions?

(2.) Role or Function (position in the story or role in the ensemble) What do the other players look to a Power of Conscience character to do or provide in the story?

(3.) Values in Conflict (competing values that push the character to extremes) What opposing choices or goals establish the Power of Conscience character’s moral code? What is this character willing to fight, sacrifice or die for? And why?

(4.) Story Questions (emotional journey in the story) What personal issues, dilemmas and internal conflicts does a Power of Conscience character wrestle with over the course of the story? What does this character ask of him or her self? What is this character’s Leap of Faith in an emotionally satisfying story?

(5.) Story Paradox (emotional dilemma) What is the duality or the contradiction at the heart of a Power of Conscience character’s story struggle? How is the character’s internal conflict expressed in actions.

(6.) Life Lessons (how to complete the emotional journey) What must a Power of Conscience character learn over the course of the story to make a clear, satisfying personal transformation? What actions lead to this character’s emotional salvation?

(7.) Dark Side (this character as a predator or villain) What happens when a Power of Conscience character’s actions are driven entirely by fear? How might or how does the story end in tragedy?

(8.) Leadership Style (what defines and qualifies this character as a leader) How does a Power of Conscience character convince others to follow? How does this character act to take charge and command?

(9.) Film Examples (the Power of Conscience character as a protagonist)

(10.) Television Examples (the Power of Conscience character as central to an ensemble)

(11.) Real Life Examples (historical Power of Conscience figures on the world stage)

#TypesTuesday – Some Character Type Examples

woman-making-list-etbscreenwritingA reader wrote in and submitted a list of film and television characters and questions about identifying the Character Types. She did a great job identifying the characters but most of her “misses” were in the area of the Power of Truth.

Power of Truth characters can be a bit tricky. People who have difficulty with or question their identity of sexual identity (Alan Harper) people who don’t know who they can trust or question the truth and believe in or discover conspiracy theories (Michael Scofield) and spies and those who conceal their identities or live by subterfuge and their wits (Aladdin) are usually Power of Truth Characters.  The full list is below. See if you agree. If not tell me why:

TV Shows

– Rachel Green ( Jennifer Aniston ) in Friends : Power of Idealism

– Chandler Bing ( Matthew Perry ) in Friends : Power of Excitement

– Monica Geller ( Courtney Cox ) in Friends : Power of Reason

– Fran Fine ( Fran Drescher ) in The Nanny : Power of Love

– Maxwell Sheffield ( Charles Shaughnessy ) in The Nanny : Power of Conscience

– Lucas Scott ( Chad Michael Murray ) in One Tree Hill : Power of Idealism

– Peyton Sawyer ( Hilarie Burton ) in One Tree Hill : Power of Idealism

– Michael Scofield ( Wentworth Miller ) in Prison Break : Power of Truth and Prison Break is a Power of Truth TV show

– Lincoln burrows ( Dominic Purcell ) in Prison Break : Power of Will

– Charlie Harper ( Charlie Sheen ) in Two and a Half Men : Power of Excitement

– Alan Harper ( Jon Cryer ) in Two and a Half Men : Power of Truth


– Dr. David Huxley ( Carey Grant ) in Bringing up Baby : Power of Reason

– Susan Vance ( Katherine Hepburn ) in Bringing up Baby : Power of Love

– George Wade ( Hugh Grant ) in Two Weeks Notice : Power of Excitement

– Lucy Kelson ( Sandra Bullock ) in Two Weeks Notice : Power of Conscience

– Tracy Turnblad ( Nikky Blonsky ) in Hairspray : Power of Idealism

– Brian O’Conner ( Paul Walker ) in The Fast and the Furious : Power of Conscience

– Dominic Toretto ( Vin Diesel ) in The Fast and the Furious : Power of Will

– Sally Albright ( Meg Ryan ) in When Harry met Sally : Power of Conscience

– Harry Burns ( Billy Crystal ) in When Harry met Sally : Power of Truth

– Kathleen Kelly ( Meg Ryan ) in You’ve Got Mail : Power of Imagination-

– Joe Fox ( Tom Hanks ) in You’ve Got Mail : Power of Truth-

– Aladdin in Aladdin : Power of Truth

– Giselle ( Amy Adams ) in Enchanted : Power of Imagination

– Robert Philip ( Patrick Dempsey ) in Enchanted : Power of Truth

#TypesTuesday – Hank Hill and Power of Conscience

hank-hill-etbscreenwritingKing of the Hill will have its series finale on September 13 at 8pm. The animated show features the Hills, a small-town Methodist family living in Arlen, Texas. The series grounds its humor in the mundane aspects of everyday life, finding big laughs in small moments and ordinary situations. In 2007 Time magazine named King of the Hill one of the 100 greatest television shows of all time. A one-hour episode will mark the end of the series, a primetime fixture on FOX for 13 seasons.

Animated series offer an interesting view into character development. The best of these kinds of shows use the humor of exaggeration and present clearly articulated examples of character. King of the Hill is no exception. Here’s a look at Hank Hill, family patriarch.

Hank Hill is a Power of Conscience character. He was a conscientious Eagle Scout as a kid. He is a decent, hard-working, traditionally-minded American as an adult. Hank strives to be a good a father and a good husband. He is very conservative and old-fashioned. Hank can’t get his head around new fangled notions like yoga, tofu and meditation.

He played football in high school. He was a good player who had promising prospects until an ankle injury sidelined him during a championship game. In typical Power of Conscience fashion, Hank believed the accident was “punishment” for his passionate over-enthusiasm for the game. He’s been uptight, controlled and rather stiff emotionally ever since.

Hank sells propane and propane accessories at Strickland Propane, a family run business. He believes that success comes through honesty and hard work. Hank sometimes naively believes that everyone shares his innate sense of right and wrong. As a result he can be too trusting. For example, for the past twenty-five years, he has bought cars at sticker price from Tom Hammond’s used cars. It never occurred to him that Tom wouldn’t give him the best price as a good neighbor.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingIn true Power of Conscience fashion Hank has wrestled with the question “What is the higher duty?” When, for example, it comes to Strickland Propane his personal devotion to his work and boss wins over complete honesty. In one episode, Hank covers up Strickland’s illegal price fixing agreement to prevent his boss going to jail. He considers Strickland to be family and family is where Hank’s highest duty lies.

Despite his bias toward traditional male activities, and his frequent worries about his son, Bobby (“That boy ain’t right”) Hank, wanting to be a good father, pretends to be interested in Bobby’s passions— cooking, dancing and theater. As a result, his son is well-adjusted, confident and happy despite being over-weight and terrible at sports. Hank, in fact, is Bobby’s hero.  He will be missed! RIP Hank Hill!

#TypesTuesday – Shelley Long and Power of Conscience

shelley-long-etbscreenwritingFormer Cheers star, Shelley Long is returning to television comedy. She plays the ex-wife to Ed O’Neill’s character on the new ABC sitcom Modern Family. Long is fondly remembered for her portrayal of Diane Chambers, a repressed uptight Power of Conscience character.

Power of Conscience characters fear not living up to their own internal standards or sense of propriety and decency. These characters need to relax, have more fun and become less dogmatic. They need to less concerned about “getting it right” or being proper or perfect and just enjoy life.  They need to be more spontaneous and less concerned about correctness or doing thing the prescribed way.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingThis entry from Wikipedia illustrates Diane’s problem in Cheers exactly:

After having a number of sexual affairs throughout Europe, Diane tries to atone for her behavior by working at a Boston area convent. She returns to Cheers again after a visit from Sam in the Season 4 opener. Sexual tension ensues and Sam eventually proposes to Diane over the phone in the season finale.

Diane wants to be proposed to in a more romantic fashion, and so she dosen’t give him an answer. Sam proposes again on a moonlit boat ride during the premiere of Season 5– only to have Diane say no because she thought that Sam was “on the rebound” from his break-up with a Boston city councilwoman.

Diane later changes her mind, but finds that Sam is not willing to propose again. After she begins to cry, Sam does propose, but Diane says no again, fearing that he was only reacting to emotional blackmail. Sam chases her out of Cheers and she falls and she sues him. Sam proposes in court only to have her reject him for yet another reason why it’s not “right.”

The Queen – Power of Conscience

The Queen, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, is a pitch perfect character study.  Anyone interested in writing complex, interesting characters that are fully formed three-dimensional human beings must see this film. The Queen is a masterful example of character development.
The film takes place in August 1997, in the days after Diana (divorced from Prince Charles), dies as the result of a car crash in Paris.  At the same time, Tony Blair settles into his new position as Labor Prime Minister.  Blair makes a stirring and immensely popular speech in tribute to Diana, no longer the Princess of Wales but forever “The People’s Princess.”
The Queen and Royal Family, at Balmoral Castle for the summer, opt to maintain royal protocol in seclusion.  They are publicly silent about Diana’s death. Many people felt Queen Elizabeth acted in a cold and disconnected manner immediately after Diana’s death. They saw her as a villain in Diana’s story.  But there are two sides to every story.  And…
Every Antagonist is the hero of his or her own story.
Stephen Fears’ brilliant film looks at the story from what was the commonly supposed antagonist’s point of view.  We see behind the stiff royal veneer and into the heart of the complex human being that is Queen Elizabeth.
In the film, the Queen has her own emotional journey during the tragic events that ended Diana’s life.  She wrestles mightily with her own internal values.  Queen Elizabeth makes a leap at the end of the story that requires as much strength and courage as any epic physical battle.
Her action in making that leap defines what it is to be a good leader.  In what must have felt like a moment of personal defeat, Queen Elizabeth emerges publicly triumphant, her reign is secure.
General writing note:  It is a great exercise to look at how your story might play out from the antagonist’s point of view.  What is his or her emotional journey?  If it is just a one-note descent into evil, your antagonist is a cardboard cutout rather than a real human being.  With what competing internal values does your antagonist wrestle?
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Great characters wrestle with competing internal values.
Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as a Power of Conscience character.  (In my view of television and film there are Nine Character Types, each with their own internal competing values, worldviews and emotional journeys.)
Power of Conscience characters function as the voice of moral authority in a story.  That clearly is how the character of Queen Elizabeth sees her role in the world.
The Queen says repeatedly that dignity, reserve, proper conduct and devotion to duty define the good example that exemplifies her moral authority as a leader.
Her restrained actions in all things are perfectly in sync with her philosophy.  Her formality, insistence on protocol, and proper conservative dress physically define who she is and what she represents.
When Diana dies, Queen Elizabeth’s subjects require something more from her.  They need emotional solace, personal connection and a sense of shared grief.
Tony Blair suggests that to be a good leader, in this particular moment, Elizabeth must reach out in a way that is the antithesis of how she sees her role and how she defines her own good example and leadership.
His advice flies in the face of everything the Queen believes is right.  He suggests that her definition of her duty and what is proper must now give way to the actual needs of her subjects.
Her choice, as presented, is  will she serve royal protocol or truly serve her subjects?  Blair believes the survival of the monarchy is at stake.  Her own survival as a leader is at stake as well.
Great characters have mixed motives.
When Queen Elizabeth returns to Buckingham Palace at Blair’s very insistent recommendation, she sees the angry notes left on the flowers at the palace gates.  We watch her begin to comprehend how out of touch she is with the sentiments of her people.
We also see the potential reservoir of good will she can tap, when the little girl offers the bouquet of flowers.  After Queen Elizabeth offers to place the bouquet at the gate, her people finally show their respect, by bowing and curtsying as she passes.
Queen Elizabeth sees that she has no moral authority if her subjects dislike and resent her.  She cannot be any kind of a leader if her people abandon her emotionally.
Against every instinct that was born and bred in her, against all her past experience and against all the advice given to her by both her husband and mother, Queen Elizabeth makes the speech that she must make to reconnect with her subjects.
Is her leap also an act of personal survival?  Absolutely.  People rarely have singular motivations in the choices they make.  Most motives are mixed.  Queen Elizabeth’s choice isn’t any less courageous and requires no less strength for being mixed.
Her action is also a classic paradox of great storytelling.  In what Queen Elizabeth views as a moment of personal defeat is, in fact, a moment of public triumph.
She gives her subjects what they truly and deeply need in a time of trouble and turmoil.  Her action is the definition of good leadership.  She emerges triumphant and we can’t help but love and respect her for it.
General writing note:  Actions that spring from motives that are purely noble don’t contain the shades of gray that depict both the shadow and light in every human being.  Actions that spring from mixed motivations are much more fascinating to watch.  A bit of shadow often makes the light more clearly visible.
A character’s greatest strength is also his or her greatest weakness.
Queen Elizabeth’s sense of decorum, dignity, reserve, devotion to duty and her sure sense of what is right and proper are her greatest strengths  as a monarch.  These great Power of Conscience qualities helped her lead her people though good times and bad.
In this moment of crisis, however, she relies on  these strengths to a fault.  These very traits cause her trouble because, in the extreme situation of Diana’s death, they make her appear as if she is cold, lacking in human care or feeling, rigid and inflexible and is simply substituting stiff and stuffy standards of protocol for genuine human connection.
Diana’s death creates the crisis that forces Queen Elizabeth to surrender all those qualities that had been her salvation in the past.  The public response Tony Blair suggests would make her feel exposed, open and vulnerable.
The crisis demands she surrender all her strong defenses.  By allowing herself to be more open, and therefore more vulnerable, she emerges stronger than ever.
General writing note:  Find ways to turn a character’s best qualities against him or her.  Explore the dark or troublesome side of your character’s strengths. Discover ways to create a crisis situation that force your character to sacrifice or surrender those qualities.
Make your character take some significant action that makes the character feel open, exposed and vulnerable.  Turn that openness and vulnerability into the character’s ultimate salvation.
For more information on how to create the internal dynamic tensions that make characters complex and fascinating order the Character Map eBook.
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The_Queen_etb_ScreenwritingDecorum is the Highest Duty

The Queen, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, is a pitch perfect Power of Conscience character study.

Anyone interested in writing complex, interesting characters that are fully formed three-dimensional human beings must see this film. The Queen is a masterful example of character development.

The film takes place in August 1997, in the days after Diana (divorced from Prince Charles), dies as the result of a car crash in Paris.  At the same time, Tony Blair settles into his new position as Labor Prime Minister.  Blair makes a stirring and immensely popular speech in tribute to Diana, no longer the Princess of Wales but forever “The People’s Princess.” Read the full story »

Terminator Salvation vs Star Trek – What Is Fair?

Terminator_Salvation_John_Connor-etbscreenwritingThe Importance of Worldview

I had an interesting question forwarded by a reader on FaceBook. I described John Connor (Christian Bale) in Terminator Salvation as a Power of Conscience character. Power of Conscience characters are most deeply concerned about rightness, fairness and the higher duty involved in anything they do. (See Conscience Blog Posts). The question was: Aren’t all characters to some degree “fair.”

The answer of course is, yes! But the key factor is: How does that particular Character Type define “fair.” That definition varies widely. Each Character Type views the concept of fairness very differently and acts accordingly. Let’s look at Terminator Salvation and Star Trek for examples.

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Power of Conscience

A Power of Conscience character (John Connor in Terminator Salvation) values doing good, the higher duty and moral correctness most highly. Fairness for this character is doing right by others. Fairness means taking the moral high ground in any decision.



Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism

A Power of Idealism character (Marcus Wright in Terminator Salvation and James T. Kirk in Star Trek) values individuality, personal excellence and authenticity most highly. Fairness for this character is persevering the unique rights of the individual. Fairness means allowing each person to decide his or her personal destiny according to one’s own uniqueness and standards of excellence (even if the individual choice rebels against the rules, norms or morals of society).


Power_of_Reason ETB ScreenwritingPower of Reason

A Power of Reason character (Spock in Star Trek) values objectivity, expertise and rationality most highly. Fairness for this character is deciding purely according to the facts and not being swayed by emotion. Fairness means looking at a situation objectively and proceeding logically (even if that decision is personally or socially painful).



Power_of_Will ETB ScreenwritingPower of Will

A Power of Will character (Nero in Star Trek) values strength, power and territory most highly. Fairness for this character is what preserves the strong, culls the weak and decisively leads the pack. Fairness is the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest. Fairness means the biggest most powerful dog wins. (“Win or die there is no compromise”).



Fairness Depends on Point of View

These are four very different ways of looking at and defining “fairness.” Each of these characters would make a very different determination about what is fair and would take very different actions given exactly the same set of circumstances.

It is very tempting, individually, to believe that everyone views “fairness” exactly as “I” do. In fact, different Character Types view philosophical concepts like fairness, love and social or personal responsibility very differently. They each have very distinct ideas about how the world works and very specific ideas about what is owed to the self and to others. It is this distinctiveness which will clarify, sharpen and set your characters apart from general stereotypes when you are clear about your character’s type.