#MondayMusings – Creating a New Character: Backstory

Behind_the_curtain ETB ScreenwritingSome or the shows I am working with are introducing new characters.  One of the immediate questions is what is the character’s backstory?  How and when should a new character’s history or past be revealed?

When something is revealed is as important as what is revealed.  Layer your exposition like an onion— let each successive layer bring us closer to your character’s essential inner core. Let the audience experience the backstory bit by bit as it becomes relevant to an urgent present situation.

Let’s say a character comes from a very wealthy background.  What does it say about a character if this is something the character reveals immediately upon meeting another person?  What does it say about the character if this information is withheld until the middle of a relationship and the character knows the person well? What does it say about the character if this information is withheld until the end of a relationship?  When and how a character reveals information is a defining aspect of the character’s personality.

Before revealing a character’s past ask:  Why does the character need to reveal this information now?  What critical or pressing situation demands the backstory be revealed at this precise moment?  Is the exposition revealed to someone for whom this is new information?  Is the information revealed through some kind of conflict?  Is the exposition active and urgent?  Is it surprising?  Is it unexpected?  What circumstances make the past somehow vital, critical or necessary to the immediate situation at hand?

What is the least amount of backstory, exposition or explanation that the audience needs to understand the story now?  Cut this material to the bone. How can the past be made more alive or active by something that happens in the present?  How does the past have immediacy for your character?  Can your reveals be delayed to have a greater impact?

Be especially careful when using flashbacks.   A flashback takes the audience out of the intimacy and immediacy of the present situation and reminds them they are watching a television show or movie.  Although flashbacks can be effective in some cases, they are very expensive emotionally.   Make sure your story can afford them.   Is the flashback absolutely necessary?  Is it active?  How does it increase the pressure, stress or conflict in the present moment?

An audience is most interested in “what happens next.”  Audiences are much less concerned about “what happened previously.”  Don’t deflect or deflate audience interest by long digressions into the past or long explanations of how a character got to where he or she is right now.

Creating a New Character – Fear

edvard-munch ETB ScreenwritingI have been silent on the blog these last few days because I’ve been struggling with a terrible cold.  Not a pleasant way to spend a romantic holiday in Paris with my husband (he’s been sick too)– but there you have it.  It’s a good thing we are staying with loving family members who have taken good care of us.

I am now preparing for a television show I’ll be working with in Europe. I just received a bio which describes a new character soon to be added to the show’s ensemble.  It is a male character, a father, whose greatest fear is described as the terror that something might happen to his daughter.

When I first developed the Character Map I asked writers “What is your biggest fear?”  This kind of answer would often come up.  As adults we often fear most for those we love, especially our children.

I realized this was the wrong way to ask the question.  I then asked “What was your biggest worry as a child?”

This question yielded much more useful answers.  How do we turn around the character’s natural fear about a child’s welfare into something more specific to that particular character?

We must look at the ways the character is most worried about failing others and becoming unloved or unlovable.  This often is traceable back to the character’s own childhood fears.  These early fears powerfully stay with us and color our adult lives.

The question to ask the character (a father) in this case is– “How do you fear you might be the cause of something terrible happening to your child?”

This makes the fear specific and personal and keys it directly to the Character Type.  Here are some examples:

I fear I am not strong enough to protect my child.  If I show any weakness my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Will father (like Tony Soprano on The Sopranos).

I fear I am not good enough to protect my child.  If I don’t judge correctly or make bad choices my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Conscience father (like Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights).

I fear I am not cautious enough to protect my child.  If I don’t see all the hidden dangers my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Truth father (like the father fish, Marlin, in Finding Nemo).

I fear I am not extraordinary enough to protect my child.  If I don’t act with honor and heroism my family might be exposed to danger.  This at the root of the fear for a Power of Idealism father (like William Wallace in Braveheart).

I fear I am not objective enough to protect my child.  If I don’t act rationally my family might be exposed to danger.  This at the root of the fear for a Power of Reason father (like Dr.Matt Fowler in In the Bedroom)

I fear I am not successful enough to protect my child.  If I don’t have enough money my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Ambition father (like Fletcher Reed in Liar Liar)

I fear I am not responsible enough to protect my child.  If I don’t have enough maturity my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Excitement father (like Samuel Faulkner in Nine Months).

I fear I am not useful enough to protect my child.  If I my family doesn’t realize I know best they might be exposed to danger. This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Love father (like Stanley Banks in Father of the Bride).

I fear I am not significant enough to protect my child. If I am too simple my family might be exposed to danger.  This is at the root of the fear for a Power of Imagination father (like Guido Orefice in Life is Beautiful).

The trick is to make the fear personal to the character and fit the Character Type.  Simply fearing for a child is too general.  The fear must speak directly to the character’s own Worldview, View of Love and how one protects and cherishes those one loves.  Or how specifically one might fail to do so.

Fear in Politics, Life and Storytelling

John McCain ETB ScreenwritingIn my Character Map workshops I talk a lot about fear.  This article from the Huffington Post makes a clear statements about fear in politics, everyday life and storytelling.  It is a wonderful summary of the discussion of fear I have with workshop participants. (The italic in parenthesis are my additional comments to the author’s statements.)

The following article excerpt was written by Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks:

If we could counsel John McCain at this moment in history, when he has squandered much of the honor and good will Americans used to grant him, we’d embrace him, look him in the eye and say this:

“Go ahead and let yourself feel scared. It’s normal, it’s human and it helps you connect with the rest of us. When you feel scared, let yourself feel it. (Face it) Breathe with it. Dance with it. Above all, don’t tempt the universe by shaking a fist at fear and saying that you will not acknowledge its existence. Doing that puts you on a collision course with the forces of nature, like shaking your fist at thunder and saying you’re never going to listen to it again.

Instead, let your fear in. Speak about it to the ones you love. (Make yourself vulnerable and let intimacy and love in.) …Ultimately, love is the best cure for fear. If you really want to have a great relationship with yourself and other people, love your fear (face your fear) just as it is, and watch the miracles that unfold as a result.”

What happens when you let yourself feel your fear is that it opens up a direct connection to your creativity. The more you’re willing to open up (face) and embrace your fear (and be vulnerable), the more creativity flows through you. We would never have believed that remarkable fact until we experienced the truth of it ourselves and saw it work its magic on many other people.

An Integrity Problem

Being cut off from fear or any emotion puts you out of integrity with yourself. As one our mentors, Jack Downing, M.D., put it, “Integrity glitches cause body twitches.” The source of John McCain’s odd display of twitches, jaw-clenches and chilly grins is a fault-line gap of integrity (and authenticity) at the center of himself, a place where he has cut himself off from fear and the rest of us.

He wants to become a super hero, The Man Without Fear. That’s not a bad idea for a cartoon, but in real life (and in most storytelling) it would be a disaster. In real life (and in real stories), we need real heroes, people who are willing to acknowledge fear (and face fear) and look within it, to the gift it brings.

Read the whole article here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathlyn-and-gay-hendricks/body-politics-the-source_b_134900.html

Equinoxe Germany

schloss-elmau-ETB ScreenwritingI’ve been at beautiful Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps.  http://www.schloss-elmau.de/ It was a fabulous setting for the recent Equinoxe Germany workshop.

Here is a description from the Equinoxe workshop website http://www.equinoxegermany.org/:

“An international jury selects 10 talented screenwriters to participate in the workshop. These ten screenwriters come to the one-week workshops and meet on the basis of one-to-one discussions with ten advisors from all over the world – internationally known and experienced writers, directors and producers– who without remuneration share their knowledge and experiences with the most promising talent the European and international film scene has to offer.”

“Twice a year scripts can be submitted for selection. Mid-May is the deadline for the autumn workshop. Beginning of November is the deadline for submission for the spring workshop.”

Barack Obama – Three Factors of Character Type

small_obama ETB ScreenwritingI’ve written extensively on the differences in Character Type between John McCain and Barack Obama.  Both candidates’ response to the recent American financial crisis is further revealing of all aspects of their Character Types.

Today let’s take a closer look at Barack Obama’s response
A Character Type is made up of three key factors:

1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat.  It is a character’s immediate tactical response or maneuvers to deal with a specific problem or obstacle in the short-term.

2.  Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love.  It is a character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self.

3.  Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul.  It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character takes charge or commands to achieve a larger goal.  Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching objective.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Obama is a classic Power of Imagination character.

Interestingly, Obama’s tactical and strategic dynamics are exactly the same as McCain’s: Immediate Tactics (embrace) and Strategic Approach (withdraw). This combination manifests itself very differently because a Power of Imagination character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self is poles apart from that of the Power of Idealism character like John McCain.

1. Immediate Tactics: Power of Imagination characters embrace an opportunity, challenge or threat as something to be communicated to others. Power of Imagination characters believe they have a big message, an important directive or urgent call from “somewhere out there” or somewhere “deep inside.” They know in their heart when they have connected with something bigger and more extraordinary than themselves.

These characters are then compelled to embrace others and share their perceptions. They want others to embrace the common good inspired by their vision. Power of Imagination characters are the most unlikely of messengers. They usually people who are normally overlooked. As a young black man, with only a two year tenure in the Senate, Obama is a very unlikely Presidential candidate.

Despite their improbable chances, the power of their idea, message or inspiration forces these characters to gather others in some kind of common quest or group journey. These characters want to simply embrace and be a part of the group but, in the end, they are thrust forward to take on the hero’s role.

In the recent US financial crisis, Obama took a background role. He quietly worked the phones trying to bring members of Congress together in some kind of compromise. He only came forward when forced by John McCain to attend the Presidential level meeting with Congressional leaders. Afterward Obama said: “It is a mistake to interject Presidential politics into sensitive negotiations.” McCain characterized Obama’s low key unifying tactics as not providing bold enough leadership.

2. Long-term Orientation: Power of Imagination characters see the world as a vast web of interconnection. They take an inconspicuous background role in order to embrace and validate others and more effectively weave together collaborators who ordinarily would have nothing in common. They stress that whatever personal differences there may be, a common purpose should unite the group.

The Power of Imagination character’s philosophy might be stated: “We must be inspired to work for the common good and the welfare of the whole.” They believe: “All for one. One for all.” They value unity, cooperation and collaboration above all else.

Barack Obama often uses the words “we” and “us” in his campaign. “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.” “Now is the moment for us to come together and put the fire out (of the financial crisis).” “We have a daunting task ahead of us.” He sees leadership as being an exercise in building relationships and using teamwork.

These characters’ worldview can make them seem impractical, quixotic, dreamy and disorganized. Their extreme aversion to conflict and confrontation often inhibits setting appropriate boundaries, standing their ground and making difficult choices. At their worst, Power of Imagination characters dither, compromise, and endlessly discuss needed decisions for fear of offending someone or not including everyone in the decision-making.. At their best, they bring people together to work toward a common goal.

3. Strategic Approach: A Power of Imagination character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for the good of the group. These characters don’t want to impose themselves on others too stridently. They are extremely patient and are willing to work through thorny problems or difficult issues by listening to all sides. These character don’t particular seek individual credit. They much prefer to be subsumed in the team. Their challenge as leaders is to step forward decisively and make the hard potentially divisive decision on their own.

Obama’s actions during the financial crisis seemed cool and distant. He doesn’t exhibit a lot of passion, a sense of urgency or boldness. His Immediate Tactic: Embrace along with his Long Term Orientation: Embrace combine with his Strategic Approach: Withdraw creates a measured approach which is directed at patiently building consensus.

McCain sees a challenge in terms of a personal call to step forward as an individual hero. Obama sees a challenge in terms of bringing people together as a unified group. If this were a romantic comedy sparks would fly as the two characters exchanged gifts and filled in the missing pieces in the other.

#ThinkpieceThursday – McCain and Obama: Character Consistency in Storytelling

Obama Mccain ETB ScreenwritingThe U.S. election drama has me riveted.  It is an amazing opportunity to see two Character Types play out their roles on the world stage.  Here are two articles that demonstrate how consistently Character Types are viewed.  The same basic qualities are highlighted in nearly every analysis and review of the candidate’s campaign performance.

Here is what the co-author of McCain’s memoirs said about the stories McCain loves and how they connect with his own story:

The John McCain (as he describes himself in) “Faith of My Fathers,” for example, bears more than a little resemblance to the fictional Robert Jordan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mr. McCain later celebrated (this Hemmingway hero) in another book (about himself) with Mr. Salter, “Worth the Fighting For,” which was named for a line of Jordan’s dying thoughts. (Jordan) was “a man who would risk his life but never his honor,” Mr. McCain wrote with Mr. Salter, a model of “how a great man should style himself.”

Each book is heavy with premonitions of mortality. Robert Jordan and John McCain each confront great tests (the temptation to escape a doomed mission for one, the offer of early prison release for the other) in the service of a lost cause (the socialists in the Spanish Civil War, the Americans in Vietnam). And in accepting his fate, each makes peace with his father and grandfather.

Mr. McCain’s admirers, like Mr. Timberg, have often puzzled over what drew him to Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.” It is a convoluted psychodrama about a young man with a club foot; he seethes with resentment over his disability and nearly ruins his life in the thrall of a waitress-turned-prostitute who rejects him. But the character’s final realization could fit almost as well near the conclusion of Mr. McCain’s memoir: “It might be that to surrender happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”

“That explains it,” Mr. Salter said when he heard the line. “Perfect McCainism.”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/us/politics/13mccain.html?hp

Power of Idealism characters have a sense of doomed destiny.  They reject the offer of ordinary escape (and a happy life) in favor of the valiant, but doomed attempt.  They embrace glorious defeat (or death on the battle field) in order to live out their own scenario of courage and personal honor.

Here’s what a recent article by a conservative New York Times columnist said about Obama:

“(O)ver the past two years, Obama has… shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day. There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious (or I might add the collective unconscious). Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity…

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner (on his quest), seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

…It could be that Obama (as a president) will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/opinion/17brooks.html?hp

Power of Imagination characters are humble and self-effacing quite naturally.  They seek greatness from others and draw their inspiration and power from the bottom up (rather than display it from the top down like John McCain does).

Obama’s grass roots campaign and masses of small individual donations also displays this Character Type’s bottom up view of things.  The danger is they are always collecting allies and consensus and avoid stepping out decisively or with passion on their own, ahead of the crowd, to really lead.  They can be a bit dull and do seem quite ordinary.  Their leap of faith is to move away from the unity of the crowd and make hard decisions that could be divisive.

John McCain – Three Factors of Character Type

john_mccain ETB ScreenwritingI’ve written extensively on the differences in Character Type between John McCain and Barack Obama.  Both candidates’ response to the recent American financial crisis is tremendously revealing of all aspects of their Character Types.

A Character Type is made up of three key factors:

1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat.  It is a character’s immediate tactical response or maneuvers to deal with a specific problem or obstacle in the short-term.

2.  Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love.  It is a character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self.

3.  Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul.  It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character takes charge or commands to achieve a larger goal.  Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching objective.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Today let’s look at John McCain.  He is a classic Power of Idealism character.

1. Immediate Tactics: Power of Idealism characters embrace an opportunity, challenge or threat as a personal test of courage. They see difficulty or opportunity as an individual call of destiny. When presented with a challenge or threat, their first response is to move toward it as a mission or personal call to greatness.

These characters believe their immediate tactic must be a grand gesture or bold move. They want to display individual heroism or do something uniquely dramatic. They believe their extraordinary actions will somehow inspire others to follow their lead.

When confronted with a challenge, opportunity or threat, John McCain opts for a big “game-changing” response. When financial crisis seemed inevitable, McCain boldly announced he was suspending his campaign. He parachuted into the middle of the crisis in Washington, calling for a Presidential level meeting of the candidates and Congressional leaders. He made a dire and dramatic pronouncement that “the country could be plunged into another Depression by Monday.” He then claimed victory for himself as the leader of his party before the actual vote.

2. Long-term Orientation: Power of Idealism characters view life through a very idiosyncratic lens. They withdraw from the crowd, popular opinion or conventional wisdom to protect or promote their own individuality and special distinctiveness. Their philosophy is to follow their own personal star or individual sense of destiny regardless of the cost.

Noteworthiness, individuality or personal eccentricity is what these characters value most highly in themselves and others. John McCain proudly calls himself a maverick or an outsider. He is especially proud of his special or unique status as a Viet Nam POW.

These characters are lone wolf heroes. If they must go down in flames to prove their heroism so be it. McCain has often said: “I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war (in Iraq).” He sees his position on an unpopular war as a heroic offer of personal sacrifice for the nation.

McCain most often uses the word “I” in his campaign speeches. “I would fire the SEC chairman.” “I am suspending my campaign.” “I will follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell.” He sees leadership in terms of a singular heroic action leading the charge.

These characters believe that passion is everything. At their worst, Power of Idealism characters suffer from delusions of grandeur. They can be self-destructive and/or self-harming. In their Dark Side they are narcissistic, melancholy, self-pitying, cynical and embittered.

3. Strategic Approach: A Power of Idealism character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for personal reasons. These characters delay taking action until they are certain how they feel about something. They must feel sufficiently inspired, encouraged or affirmed in order to act or move forward.

When impassioned or inspired, these characters lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity. They engage others by a personal appeal to valor and courage or a romantic call for patriotic action. But they are not overly concerned about the consequences of their bold gesture.

They withdraw from the tedious small tasks involved in the daily execution of a command. These character’s greatest liability as a leader is that they often lack the patience to see through the practical application of their dramatic appeal. They don’t always adequately follow-up. They are often unprepared (or not inspired) to make the niggling, routine or ordinary small sacrifices long-term leadership requires.

Power of Idealism characters are rarely interested in sticking around for the clean-up after their big moment is over. They would rather withdraw into the glorious memory of the grand occasion or glorious battle. These characters need to act in the normal and ordinary course of things. They need to learn that everything doesn’t have to be individually suited to their personal sense of destiny or their passionate individual temperament.

John McCain took a long time to recognize the financial crisis. When he felt a call to action was necessary, he took the problem on personally, made a grand gesture and then said very little in the Presidential level meeting he so urgently called. His bold interjection of personal Presidential politics actually derailed an early accord that was building in Congress.Then he withdrew and left it to others to complete the task.

McCain’s actions during the crisis seem erratic because the dynamic opposites of his Immediate Tactics (embrace) and his Strategic Approach (withdraw) pull him in two different directions. He has been criticized for a lot of “sound and fury” that is followed by very little of the detail-oriented and painstaking leadership that solving a complex problem requires. He has admitted that the details of economic policy are not his strong suit. All of this has produced a whipsaw effect that makes him seem unstable.

Tomorrow I will look at the dynamic opposites in Power of Imagination Barack Obama’s Immediate Tactics and Strategic Approach. Interestingly, Obama’s dynamics are exactly the same: Immediate Tactic (embrace) and Strategic Approach (withdraw). This combination manifests itself very differently because a Power of Imagination character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self is poles apart from that of the Power of Idealism character.

Long-term Orientation is the prism through which a character sees everything. The same tactics and approach can create totally dissimilar strengths and weaknesses, problems and opportunities because the two characters view the world so differently.

New Book With A Powerful Backstory

bookcover ETB ScreenwritingAdrian Mead sent me the following announcement about a new screenwriting book with a compelling backstory. Here it is in his own words:

“I pressed the button on the phone and the first sound I heard in the headset was a child sobbing.  She was barely able to speak, kept saying the same thing over and over…”I just want it to stop.”  It was Monday morning 7.30 am.   My very first call as a ChildLine volunteer counselor.

When I first heard that ChildLine were opening a new office in Edinburgh I started to think about volunteering.  Their website stated, “ChildLine is the UK’s free and confidential, 24-hour helpline for children in distress or danger”.  What would I be letting myself in for?  I mean, play me the scene where the mother elephant reaches her trunk through the bars to caress Dumbo and I’m bawling like a baby.  How would I cope?

The interview process and training was fascinating. Yes there are calls about abuse, however children also call to talk about bullying, family break ups, exam pressures, homework, puberty, and pretty much anything they feel unable to discuss with parents, teachers or friends.

The fantastic training and the short time I have experienced as a counselor so far has definitely given me new skills and an insight into my own psyche. I’m convinced it’s also made me a better writer and director.”

Okay, at this point you may be thinking, “What’s all this to do with me?   Well, here’s where you come in.

Apart from a tiny admin cost, all proceeds from sales of MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER will go to ChildLine.  By making it exclusively available as a download we can maximize the funds the charity will receive.

MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER is now available for the price of £7.79.  You can download your copy from the MeadKerr site at:   http://www.meadkerr.com/book.html

American readers take note:  Your dollar is going further these days as the pound has been dropping.  This makes the book doubly a bargin.  It will give you great insight into working across the pond.  Here is what UK writing pros have had to say about it–

“In the confusing forest of screenwriting books here is a sturdy oak: simple, honest and true. Highly recommended.”  Ashley PharoahCo Creator of Life On Mars. Ashes To Ashes. Where The Heart Is.

“Every aspiring writer should be forced to read this, at gunpoint.  If I’d had this when I first started writing, I’d have cried a bit, but would have been so much better prepared. You need to read this book immediately.”  James Moran  ScreenwriterSeverance. Doctor Who. Torchwood. Primeval

“I love this book, it just tells you how it is and what you need to succeed.”
Tony Jordan  Screenwriter  Creator of Hustle, Holby Blue. Co Creator of Life On Mars

This book tells you everything you need to know about beginning and building a career as a professional screenwriter. I wish I’d read it when I was struggling to break into the industry. It’s engaging, inspiring stuff – realistic without being cynical, practical without being soulless – and for anyone hoping to make a living as a writer for TV or film in the UK it’s pretty indispensable.  Rob FraserScreenwriter for Taggart, Holby City, Monarch of The Glen and more.

Here is a direct link to ChildLine if you want to know more about the organization  http://www.childline.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx

Antidote to Bad News

girl-blowing-bubbles-etbscreenwritingRecent days have been a barrage of bad economic news in the U.S. Here’s something that may prevent us all from jumping off a bridge. The following article is a great argument for rediscovering how to laugh an play.  Both are great antidotes to creative dry spells and all those things that seem to want to paralyze our desire to write.

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http://www.letsplaymore.com/art_work_vs.html

In a world that demands more and more of us every day at work, at home, with family activities and with life in general, sometimes good, plain old fashioned play gets lost in the mix. People who want a rich full life might be better off pursing play rather than wealth to get all that will make them happy.

Play brings the gifts of energy, joy, relief from worry, clears our minds, and tickles our imaginations and so much more. For a healthy balance in our busy lives play time, for us, needs to be an honored. We need make time for play as much as we make time work and chores.

To get to this point there are five easy steps that you can take that will bring you in full balance.

First, make a list of all the ways you played as a child. If you have to call a sibling, friend or ask your mom and dad because you have forgotten, do that! Make this list long and then sit back and take a look at it. As you read each thing that you enjoyed as a child try to bring back the feeling of doing that thing. When you bring play back into your adult life you want to re-create those feelings you had as child when you did what felt natural and easy for you.

Now write down what would give you that same feeling today if you did it. If you used to climb trees, what could you do today that would feel the same? If you aren’t about to physically be climbing anything, think about how it felt to be in the tree. What would feel like that now? Sitting in a gazebo? Being in a forest? Just talking with good friends? Think about the challenge of the tree climb and the fun you had when you got there. What would challenge you now?

If it was kick the can, dolls, soldiers, even video games, what was the feeling and how can you re–create that in your life now?

The next step is to make a list of all the things you are doing that are fun and playful or that you –could do that would be fun and playful. Work on this list until there are no less than 24 things on the list. Now next to each one write when was the last time you did these things. Write out when you are going to do them if you know it is planned in the very near future.

In this step you are trying to see how well you make the time to do the things that are playful and fun for you. Now ask yourself, what is stopping you? Some may cost money you don’t have at this time. Some may require more strength than you have at this time. You may be working long hours. You may be doing things with your kids or parents that take a lot of time. Next to each item write down what you believe is keeping you from doing this playful thing. Next to that statement write one or two ways around that problem.

Your next step is to look at the next four weeks in your life. If you can get them in one sheet in front of you that will help, or four sheets, each with one week on them. Now get yourself a highlighter, pick a color that will forever more be the color you associate with play time for yourself. Now you are to highlight different times in the next four weeks when you will be doing some, one or all of the things that are on your list from step two. Make the time to play just like you would an appointment to get your hair cut or go to a meeting. Be realistic; do not highlight times when you know you will have to be someplace else. If the time slots you have are very small and not enough to do the very thing you want, use this short time to plan other times or research or prepare or shop for the play you will be doing.

One woman I met told me she worked hard all year, never played except for two weeks when she traveled to an exotic locale. In quizzing her further I found that not to be true. In reality she spent at least five hours every single week she was not on the actual vacation researching and learning as much as she could about the place she would be traveling to. In essence having a vacation while she planned for the one she physically took. She was getting as much joy out of this research as the actual trip she told me. Play can be so many different things for different people.

Your next step will be to believe play is important. People tell me all the time they want balance in their lives and then when I ask them to do the three steps above, and stick to them they give me a thousand excuses why they can’t. If I truly believe something is important you will do it. Giving to charity is important, so people do it. Taking care of our children is important so we do it. Working to make a living is important so we do it. Play is important, do it!

The last step to a healthy balance in life is to make our work play as well. Work is to be enjoyed. Not the perfect job. Not the perfect work. Work in general. Make your workday fun. Start every day with a smile and go uphill from there. Enjoy your journey to the office. Plan to have a good day. Talk yourself into it, playfully. See the good things in your work. Enjoy whatever it is you do. There are no big jobs and little jobs, there are jobs. Make yours playful and fun for you. Don’t get into the misery others talk about, make your own joy. Find simple ways to make yourself smile during the day. Do your best at what you do and know that that is the highest form of play, doing a good job and being proud of it.

The Invitation

oriah ETB ScreenwritingI am back from Australia.  I had a wonderful time in Melbourne and Sydney.  Both are beautiful cities in their own way.  This trip, as my trips always do, has convinced me yet again that the creative people I work with know EVERYTHING.

When I was in my Master’s Program at the UCLA Film School I got a handout with a copy of a wonderful poem published in a book by Jean Houston, A Passion for the Possible. For me, the poem definitively sums up what the audience is looking for in the characters of a screenplay.

In my discussions, workshops and consulting I had been crediting the poem to Houston.  One of the writers I worked with in Melbourne knew the poem and told me it was, in fact, titled The Invitation and is attributed it to Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

She sent me Oriah’s Website and I Googled further and sure enough.  There the poem was.  Copyright © 1999 by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  Apparently, it was just reprinted in Houston’s book.

It is a wonderful poem and I am sure the book based on the poem must be extraordinary as well. I have it on order.   You might want to check out the book as well.

Here is the poem from the book The Invitation —  And the best description I’ve ever found of what the AUDIENCE wants to know about your characters.

The Invitation
(by Oriah, Mountain Dreamer)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream or
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.