#TypesTuesday – Tywin Lannister and Power of Will

TYPES TUESDAY

Game of Thrones is back on HBO. In between waiting for the next episode to air, I continue to explore the offerings on Amazon Prime and Netfilix. I just watched The Great London Fire, a series on Amazon. It’s great fun to imagine that Tywin Lannister had a bastard son whose progeny eventually made it to London by 1666. And in the year of the great fire, one these progeny, Lord Denton, finds himself elevated to the head of security and spy master for King Charles II.

Both characters are played by the wonderful actor, Charles Dance. Both are Power of Will characters. Tywin Lannister is a King and Lord Denton is a henchman, but they share the same philosophy.

Power of Will characters believe that expanding their power base, extending their territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully theirs (according to them) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world.

Power of Will characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves and pounce decisively on the weakness of others. They have a kill or be killed framework for everything. They believe absolutely in the Law of the Jungle.

For more information on Power Will of Characters click HERE

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Turning Loss into Action

media_xll_3335913I have been consulting on the development of a new show in Amsterdam– a spinoff of one of my favorite shows– one I’ve been working on for about ten years.

In a new storyline, a major character gets some devastating news and experiences a tragic sense of personal loss.  We discussed how to spin this out over a multitude of episodes.

Whenever a character is disappointed, rejected, humiliated or spurned (or has a major set-back or stunning defeat of any kind), he or she experiences a sense of loss.  This could be a loss of self-esteem, pride, self-confidence, or hope for the future.  It could be the loss of a love interest, an important missed opportunity, a job loss, or a severed friendship.

The question is, how does experiencing this loss reveal character?  Is the character experiencing the full range of emotion?  Is his or her reaction played to the maximum effect and not rushed or short changed?  How does the character’s reaction provide plot and story opportunities?

The loss and grief cycle in a story should include these steps:

  1. Shock: Paralysis:  “I can’t believe this is happening.”  
How do we see the character in shock or stunned by the situation?  What does he or she do?
  1. Denial: Disbelief : “There must be some mistake.”  
 “This can’t possibly be happening.”  How does the character actively deny the situation?  What does he or she do that is contrary to the facts?
  1. Anger: Outrage:  “I won’t stand for this.”  “This isn’t right.”   “It’s not fair.” “Why me?” How does the character act out his or her anger.  What action shows the character taking out his or her anger on him/herself or others?
  1. Guilt/Shame/Blame: Fault:  “It’s all because of you.”  “I never should have…”
  What does the character do to shift the blame?  How does the character blame him or her self?  What does the character do as a result?
  1. Acting Out: Rebellion:  “Screw it.”
  “All is lost anyway.”  What does the character do to rebel against or defy the situation?  What happens as a result?
  1. Bargaining: Deal-making:  “I promise…”  “If only…”
  How does the character make deals or promises or beg for help?  How do we see this active desperation?
  1. Depression: Realization:  “There is no way out.”  “This is really happening.”
     How do we see the character come to grips with the reality of the situation?  What doe the character do?
  1. Testing: New Reality: “Maybe I can go on if I…”  “Maybe I still could…”  “What if I do this instead?”
   How does the character test or try on new ways of being, acting or thinking?  How does the character make the best of the situation, as bad as it is?
  1. Acceptance: Moving Forward:  “Even if the worst happens, I will be okay.” 
  How does the character accept his or her fate, however dire?  What leap of faith does the character make?  How does the character make it okay for him or her self    and/or others?

Show the character moving through the whole process of grief and anger.  Create plot points that incorporate each step.  Allow your character to fully experience and act on each step.   Create action (not just dialog) that reveal the character’s inner turmoil and troubled emotional journey.

Why is the Cop on the Job?

In a serialized cop drama the mechanics of “How” a crime is solved is so much less important than “Why” the cops are doing what they are doing and “Why” they are affected by the job. If there is no “Why” it’s just cops going through the motions, which can make a serialized story feel by-the-numbers and hollow.

The “Why” provides the emotion, passion, and inter-personal conflict between the individuals in the story (and all the internal conflict within the character). Too often writers simply project their general idea of being a cop and use the mechanics of “How” to put the cops through their paces— Instead of being specific about “Why” one particular individual is a cop and “Why” he/she does the job in a particular or unique way.

There are four basic categories of “Why” anyone becomes a cop (or a doctor, or any other professional):

1. It’s a job. Being a cop is solid union employment and a dependable way to make a living and support a family. The cop does what is expected and punches out. The cop puts in the time and is concerned and responsible on the job. But he or she doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a cop is a good opportunity for advancement. The cop is working to achieve something else. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, running for political office, becoming a consultant, etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a cop is a life mission or a higher calling. The cop is there to make a difference, have an important impact, or change people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the cop. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the cop’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a cop is not a good fit. The individual is a cop for the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the ideal of the job or the fantasy of being a cop. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job, and now is trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly policing, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation for anyone doing the job. This is a great opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in cop shows (or shows featuring the medical profession) everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in drama.

Layered onto “Why” someone is employed as a police officer (it’s a job, a career, a vocation, or a mistake) is the “Why” of the individual’s Character Type. Looking down on nine different police officers toiling away long into the night it might be easy or convenient to believe they are all working hard for the same internal motivation or with the same value system and world view in mind. But every one of the Nine Character Types sees the world very differently, believes very different things about how the world works, and sees the primary role of a cop from a unique perspective.

1. Power of Conscience cops believe policing is an important duty and carries with it the responsibility of making the world a better place. Doing the right thing is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what is the higher duty or the most right—law or justice. (These two principles are not the same thing). Hill Street Blues‘ Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) is this kind of character. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) is the comic version on the same show. Homicide’s Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is also a Power of Conscience character. Rylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant) in Justified is a more recent example. Although not a cop show, the sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead, was a Power of Conscience law enforcement officer.

2. Power of Will cops believe policing is a matter of strength and the ability to dominate the situation. The use of power is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what actually constitutes strength or power— excess or restraint. (Does compassion and tolerance make you stronger or weaker?) NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is this kind of character. A more recent example is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.  In The Walking Dead, Shane Walsh (Jon” Bernthal) is a Power of Will law enforcement officer.

3. Power of Ambition cops believe policing is a matter of winning or losing. Appealing to other’s self-interest is the way to get things done. Their struggle is with short cuts vs. the long hard patient slog—results or process. (If no one else plays by the rules why should they?) Hill Street Blues‘ John “JD” LaRue (Kiel Martin) is a Power of Ambition character. A more recent example is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) on The Wire.  Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) is another example of this kind of cop in The Shield.

4. Power of Love cops believe policing is caring for others and helping them succeed. Compassion and understanding is crucial to how they get the job done. Their struggle is when to employ “tough love” or just give up on someone. (When does empathy or understanding simply enable bad or destructive behavior?) NYPD Blue’s Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) is this kind of character. Another example is Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues. Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart in True Detective is a Power of Love cop.

5. Power of Idealism cops believe policing is a matter of individual style and personal excellence. Use of unique talents and refusing to buckle under to stupid bureaucrats is crucial to their method of policing. Their struggle is how to maintain their individuality and still be part of a larger organization. (When does being a maverick or a rebel cause more harm than good?) Homicide’s Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) illustrates the Power of Idealism character as a cop.  Another example is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) on The Wire.

6. Power of Reason cops believe policing is a matter of keeping personal self-control and maintaining the social order. Objectivity, expertise and a depth of knowledge are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to connect with their own emotions. Dexter’s title character (Michael C. Hall) is one of the best recent examples of this kind of character on the police force. Monk’s title character (Tony Shalhoub) is the comedic example. Sofia Helin as Saga Norén in the Swedish series The Bridge is another great example of this kind of cop.

7. Power of Truth cops believe policing is a matter of uncovering secret agendas and avoiding hidden pitfalls. Establishing trust, knowing who your friends are, and being attuned to conspiracies are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to accept the ambiguity of the job and the possibility of never finding real certainty. (Is the “truth” a moving target or something fixed and certain?) Homicide’s conspiracy obsessed Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) is this kind of character. Hill Street Blues’ loyal to the core Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) is another example.  Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) on the UK version of Wallendar is a Power of Truth detective so is Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rusty Cohle in True Detective.

8. Power of Imagination cops believe policing is a matter of listening to your instincts, following hunches, or special intuitive clues. Often access to what others cannot see or hear or a quirky special kind of insight is crucial to doing their job. Their struggle is how to interpret their unusual intuition or how best to communicate it to others. (Do they take me seriously or do they think I’m crazy?) This kind of cop is rare on television. Hill Street Blues’ Michael (Mick) Belker (Bruce Weitz) is an uncouth ruffian version of the Power of Imagination character.  Another example is police consultant Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) in Medium.

9. Power of Excitement cops believe policing is an adventure and a thrill ride. Their charm, good-humor and ability to get themselves in and out of traps is crucial to how they do their job. Their struggle is in following orthodox rules when it is so much more interesting to play fast and loose, improvise, and shoot from the hip. (Are we having fun yet?) Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is the quintessential example of this character.

The “Why” of policing combined with Character Type creates a variety of complex and interesting individuals. It would be possible, for example, to create four very different Power of Conscience characters depending on whether they view policing as a job, as a career, as a vocation or as a mistake.

Their values and their world views would not change but their attitudes would clash. For example: How these characters define their “higher duty” or what is the “most right” is hugely influenced by the reason they are on the job. Those different perspectives provide enormous potential conflict. Here is the breakdown:

1. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a job would probably believe the higher duty is owed to family. This cop would follow the rules, be conscientious, but not take the job home.

2. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a career would probably believe the higher duty is owed to the organization or society. The higher the cop rises, the more effective the position becomes to do good and improve the larger situation. This cop would be relentless in seeking opportunities to advance a larger moral agenda.  And the issue of “how much bad am I willing to do in service to a good cause” would be a recurring personal theme.

3. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a vocation probably believes the higher duty is owed to the victims of crime. This cop’s passion would be justice for the victims and punishment for the criminals. His or her personal life would be consumed by this life mission.

4. A Power of Conscience cop who see policing as a mistake would probably believe the higher duty is owed to one’s self. Policing can be a dirty murky business where there often is no right answer and true justice is hard to find. This lack of clear-cut black and white or right and wrong would probably be an unbearable burden on this individual– giving rise to external moral outrage and internal guilt or self-loathing. How can I be good or worthy in a cesspool?

Creating an ensemble which clearly addresses “Why” the cop is on the job combined with Character Type provides an endless source of internal and external conflict. Making use of the full variety of human experience in specific combination creates memorable partnerships, unforgettable enemies, and extraordinary individual characters.

#MondayMusings – In Italy with RAI Television

mont_perugia-05

I am on my way to Perugia, Italy to work with the talented team from RAI, the Italian State Broadcaster, much like the BBC in in the UK.

Although it is very basic it’s always good to start with the five most important questions in constructing a story.

What Does the Character Want?

What the main character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal. It is something that directly benefits the main character that he or she can physically have or obtain. It is concrete. It is specific. It is the finite object of the character’s personal desire. For example: Win the championship trophy, get the promotion, pay the rent, solve the crime, buy the fancy car, steal the jewel, get the girl (or guy), etc.

To obtain the want, the character must abandon the need.

What Does the Character Need?

What the character needs is an inner ache or yearning that the character is unaware of, denies, suppresses, or ignores. It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible human longing. It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional or spiritual urge or inner call to live up to one’s higher nature. For example: To become a better parent, to forgive another, to act with integrity, to find one’s faith, to become more altruistic, to be a more reliable friend, to face the truth, to love unselfishly, etc.

To embrace the need, the character must abandon the specific self-centered goal (or object of desire) and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns.

What is the Conflict Between the Want and the Need?

One of the most common problems with stories that don’t work is the lack of a clear and specific want vs. a deep and powerful inner longing. The want pulls us through the story. The need draws us deeper into or inside the character. If this bedrock conflict isn’t clear the story won’t add up to very much.

Does the Story Clearly Distinguish the Want and the Need?

Does the main character have a specific physical or concrete object of personal desire? What does he or she want? What is the concrete physical goal or specific objective? Does the main character actively pursue this objective through the story? Does the main character have a clearly delineated deeper human longing? What is missing deep inside the character?

What is the Price?

What is the main character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or to embrace the need? Is there a high cost for each choice?  If the character obtains the want and lets go of the need the character pays a high price in unhappiness and emotional loss.

Does that mean that no character ever gets what he or she wants? We know that’s not true. Characters get what they want all the time. But this happens in a one of two ways.

1) The character gets what he or she wants and finds that it is hollow:

For example, in Jerry Maguire, Jerry (Tom Cruise) gets what he wants, to get back in the agent game by representing a major NFL player. He finds his victory is hollow and emotionally empty when he realizes he has no one to call or with whom to celebrate after a big win. This is when he returns to his wife and family and embraces what he needs.

In Dangerous Liaisons, Vicomte Valmont (John Malkovich) gets what he wants: To seduce the un-seducible woman. He finds his victory is poisonous when he realizes he has destroyed the only woman he has ever loved and who truly loves him. The story ends tragically with his death and hers.

2) The character lets go of the want and embraces the need and then, in the classic comedic turnaround, he or she finds something even better or finds that the want comes around on the other side:

In life, this is the story of a young couple that wants to start a family. What they want is a biological child. They try and try to no avail. They realize what they need is to make a family with a child who needs them. They adopt and are deliriously happy. What happens one year later? The wife gets pregnant. This happy turnaround happens enough in life that we believe it in fiction.

Or for example, in Pretty Woman, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) wants to pay the rent. That’s why she picks up Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) in the first place. It’s why she stays with him over the course of the story. When he offers to meet that want by buying her a condo (and pay her rent in perpetuity) she turns him down. What she needs is to live a life of honesty and integrity. If she accepts his proposition she will always be a whore. She rejects his offer and it is that act of integrity that brings him back to her as a real suitor and a true partner (rather than as a man who is simply “buying” her).

The tougher the choice is, the better the story.

Does the main character pay dearly for whatever he or she pursues and chooses? The price is the end of the long road where the character comes face-to-face with the ultimate truth. Who is the character really? This supreme price is what the audience is waiting eagerly to see.

If the price is not high enough, the story suffers and the audience isn’t really invested in the outcome.

Children’s Media Conference 2014

MALORIE BLACKMAN TO DELIVER CREATIVE KEYNOTE AT
THE CHILDREN’S MEDIA CONFERENCE 2014
 

Leading children’s media event to host Waterstones Children’s Laureate

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman will deliver the creative keynote at this year’s Children’s Media Conference (CMC) which takes place from 2-4 July 2014 in Sheffield.  The keynote is on Thursday 3 July.

Currently in its 11th year, the CMC is the premier event in the UK for supporting children’s media and hosts a global delegation of creatives, producers and distributors of kids’ content across all media.

This year’s CMC has a theme of Child@Heart and will include an impressive array of 50 conference sessions and masterclasses featuring leading children’s media executives from around the world.

Malorie Blackman was appointed the coveted role of Children’s Laureate in 2013 and will hold the post until next year. She has written over 60 books for children and young adults, including the Noughts and Crosses series of novels (Noughts and Crosses won the Red House FCBG Children’s Book Award as well as being included in the top 100 of the BBC Big Read), Cloud Busting (winner of the Smarties Silver Award), Thief (winner of the Young Telegraph/Fully Booked Award) and Hacker (winner of the WH Smiths Children’s Book Award and the Young Telegraph/Gimme 5 Award for best children’s book of the year).  Her latest book is Noble Conflict, a story of love, violence, trust and betrayal.

Malorie is a scriptwriting graduate of the National Film and Television School.  Her work has appeared on TV, with Pig-Heart Boy, which was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, being adapted into a BAFTA winning 6-part TV serial.  As well as writing original and adapted drama scripts for TV, Malorie also regularly wrote for CBBC’s Byker Grove.

In 2005, Malorie was honoured with the Eleanor Farjeon Award in recognition of her distinguished contribution to the world of children’s books.  In 2008, she was then honoured with an OBE for her services to Children’s Literature.

Malorie Blackman says: “All children have a right to be seen, heard and represented in the arts. The stories we tell as well as the stories we are told – in whatever form – define us as individuals and as a society.  They show us who we are and what we can be.  But are the needs of our children being met?  Are all of our children being represented?  What can we do to improve the situation?”

Greg Childs, Editorial Director at CMC adds: “Year on year, the CMC continues to explore issues that are relevant to the rapidly changing children’s media landscape. We are genuinely thrilled to have someone of Malorie Blackman’s standing to deliver this year’s creative keynote. With the theme of Child@Heart at the core of this year’s conference, we are excited to hear her thoughts on what appeals to today’s child.”

For more information visit: www.thechildrensmediaconference.com.

 

#TypesTuesday – What do Olivia Pope, Nicholas Brody, and Birgitte Nyborg have in common?

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.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on Scandal “saves people.”  She says she and her colleagues “wear the white hat.”  She is a “fixer” and her private practice is propelled forward by injustice and exonerating the wrongly accused.

U.S. Marine Sergeant, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) in Homeland violently turns against his country, initially, because of the grave injustice of a U.S. military drone strike on an Afgan school.  He adopts Islam and becomes a terrorist to expose and expiate what he sees as a morally corrupt war.

Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) in Borgen withdraws her party’s support for Labour when opposition leader Michael Laugesen cynically reverses his position on asylum seekers in a pre-election ploy for votes.  The injustice of this propels her to denounce Laugesen’s morally repellent stand and, in a surprise twist, she is elected  Prime Minister.

Power of Conscience characters really do 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 promoting what is right, seeking justice and fairness for others, in exposing corruption or  injustice, or in standing up against evil or wrong-doing. They worry about what is the higher duty and what exactly is required of them in response.  The question of what is the higher duty particularly plagues all these characters and is at the center of all their personal conflict.

In Scandal, Olivia Pope believes that  President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) is what the United States needs.  The question is how much wrong is she willing to do for a cause that is right?  She is one of Grant’s top campaign advisors and is willing to fix an election, lie about her illegal conduct, cover up his past wrong-doing in order to serve what she sees as a higher duty, getting an essentially good man elected.

In Homeland, Nicholas Brody is torn between his love for his family and the cause for which he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, to be a suicide bomber targeting the President and his top administration.  What is the higher duty?

In Borgen, Birgitte Nyborg is continually torn between her duties as Prime Minister and her family.  While doing what is right for the country she must neglect important personal obligations and disappoint those she loves. Her need to do right by her countrymen costs her her marriage.

Other sides of this issue tear the characters apart in terms of what is the moral imperative and what is politically expedient.  All these characters struggle between what is right and what is possible (and the attendant compromises needed to get anything done). How much compromise is too much?  Law vs. justice is also an issue.  What is legal isn’t always just.  What is just isn’t always legal.  Again, it all goes back to what is the higher duty?

Without laws there is no civilization.  Without mercy and being just there is no humanity.  This is the quandary for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) on The Walking Dead. He is a Power of Conscience character who leads a band of survivors during a Zombie Apocalypse.  Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), his one time police partner, argues the group needs to do everything and anything necessary to survive.  No matter how unjust, no matter what moral or civil laws are broken, survival is the highest value.  Rick believes that to survive in such a way makes them all less human.  And yet, Rick is driven to do terrible things, always struggling with what is the higher duty.

Power of Conscience characters fear not living up to their own internal standards or sense of propriety, honesty, and decency.  They are afraid of being or becoming unworthy.  These characters don’t fear failure in the eyes of the world; they fear not living up to their own (often impossibly high) standards. They are some of the most conflicted characters on television.

 

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Advice from Script Lab on Scenes

I agree with every word of the following post by Script Lab.  Writers– take this to heart!

Scenes can come in all shapes and sizes: a one-sentence establishing, a half-page aftermath, a three-page reversal, the list goes on. And clearly there’s a lot that goes into crafting a great scene: start late; get out early; maintain conflict; keep lines of dialogue brief; keep action paragraphs short; maximize white space; avoid “I” and block pages; incorporate subtext and indirection; create audience connection through suspense, mystery, and revelation; and show the story in a visually interesting way, all while writing with a unique original voice. But that’s all execution.

Screenplays are built on “What happens next?” and, therefore, the root of every scene comes down to two fundamental objectives: (1) moving the story forward and/or (2) revealing character. The very best scenes do both.

But here’s the hard part, and something I call the 100% rule: if you’re not 100% positive that at least one of these two scene objectives is necessary, you must absolutely kill it! Even if you love it, even if it’s funny, or witty, or clever, if it doesn’t move the story forward or reveal some essential complexity of character, you simply do not need it.

Dexter Finale vs The Breaking Bad Finale

The difference between the Dexter series finale and the Breaking Bad series finale is the difference between exposition and revelation. The Dexter finale was exposition, defined by various dictionaries as “writing or speech primarily intended to convey information or to explain; a detailed statement, description or explanation.” I would throw in a justification or excuse as well (more about that in a minute). The Breaking Bad finale was all about revelation, defined by various dictionaries as “something revealed, especially a dramatic or striking disclosure of something not previously known or realized.”

Dexter’s final season was filled with rather convoluted plotting and a lot of discussion about what a sociopath can and cannot feel, what is the nature of a monster, and the role of Dexter’s “dark passenger”.

It reminds me, on a lesser scale, of the husband of a friend of mine. This smart, handsome, funny man is a narcissist. He is consumed by the desire to look a decade or two younger than he is and he endlessly trots out of tales of his former glory days as a man about town and a minor player in music business celebrity comings and goings.

Every aspect of his life is in service to his vanity. He explains this by talking about his difficult childhood and his boyhood low self-esteem and insecurities. Or he charmingly says: “I guess I am just a selfish bastard.” Or- “I know I am such a narcissist.” It’s said with a wink and a nod or a shrug and a shake of the head. It is as if admitting this passes for real self awareness or actually excuses his behavior.

Meanwhile, his kids go to a sub-standard school because he overspends on luxuries large and small and the education budget is shot. He justifies the lesser school by saying he wants his kids exposed to a real cross section of life and not just well off entitled little brats. Meanwhile, his kids will suffer for having had  inferior schooling.

His work history is intermittent and he still has dreams of “making it” on a more glamorous stage than the one on which he currently lives. He and his wife took out a $15,000 credit card based home equity loan to pay for a much needed bathroom renovation. Circumstances intervened and the renovation was delayed and the money banked. When tax time came, he sheepish admitted he had been drawing on the loan with his own credit card and the whole amount was now gone. He had frittered it away on himself and small presents here and there to make himself feel better. No new bathroom and a new $15,000 debt.

How does this relate to Dexter? At the end of the day it isn’t enough that Dexter admits he is a monster or now that he has feelings he can’t bear them. He is a serial killer. He wants to kill. He might have channeled this through training and adherence to “the code” but it’s a compulsion like drink, drugs, or pedopfilia.

Dexter’s excuse or justification is that he experienced a childhood trauma and only kills bad people– oh, except those whose deaths directly or indirectly were caused by their getting too close to his secret or those who died mistakenly or accidentally. The truth is he enjoys killing.

He loves the building desire and the pent up release that comes from stalking and murder. He loves it more than he loves his son. He wants it more than he wants the woman he loves. He is more strongly bonded to it than he is bonded to his sister. Explaining this, justifying this, naming this, or intellectualizing about this is not revelation. It is exposition. Dexter is as self-deluded in the finale as he was in the first episode. Don’t get me wrong, much about this series was brilliant. But, like my friend’s charming narcissist husband, at the end of the day the justifications, excuses, and explanations just get tiresome and tedious. The Dexter finale feels empty because it is empty.

In contrast, Walter White has a revelation in the Breaking Bad finale. He realizes he didn’t do what he did for his family but for himself, for the thrill of living on the edge, and for feeling really and truly alive when in danger. I suspect that given the choice, even knowing exactly what the end would be, Walter White would do it all again. He is the worm that turned. Pushed around, cheated, and abused by the system, he rebels. White’s moment of clarity in the finale reminds me of the line from Paradise Lost— “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” No excuses. No justifications. It was a fitting end to a brilliant series.

Casualty

It all started pleasantly enough. The sun was shining, it was warm, and I was hurrying along the tree-lined road. The concrete island in the middle of the street was not exactly where I should be crossing but… I was in a hurry and the regular crossing was further down the way.

As I rushed across intersection, my foot slipped and I took a tumble toward the pavement. My head hit the pavement so hard it shattered my sunglasses. The plastic pieces cut my forehead above and near my eyebrow. Blood ran down my face. I tried to break my fall with my left hand. My fingers were forced into an almost right angles to my hand. In other words, two fingers were now in an an “L” shape! My knee was slammed and skinned.

But momentarily, almost as my head was hitting the pavement, several people rushed to my aid. A nurse showed up out of nowhere who checked my vital signs and made sure my neck wasn’t broken. Then the ambulance drove up. I was whisked off to A&E or the emergency room.

One of the burly young ambulance EMTs had his name written in elvish on his arm. How nerdy is that– and how nerdy is the fact I recognized it as elvish. He’s the dad of small daughter and has a job that daily points out just how fragile the human body is and the staggering variety of ways in which it’s possible to injure it. So he has a guardian angel prayer on his inner bicep. Then he’s got a full guardian angel on his upper shoulder. I felt very protected.

Now the irony of all this is– next week I am going to work with the writers, directors, and producers of Casualty. The show is a long running drama on the order of ER. I’d never been in a British emergency room before and my bed was placed with a full view of everyone coming and going. It was the perfect vantage point. In came the young and old, the critical and the minor accidents, like me.

I had an X-ray to make sure my fingers weren’t broken. They weren’t, only severely dislocated. Then a doctor who specialized in anesthetic injected my fingers and joints and the bone doctor snapped them back into place. I didn’t feel a thing except a small pop. They were straight again! I had another X-ray to make the bone didn’t when the fingers were repositioned. While I was waiting I was served a selection of sandwiches and a very nice milky tea. The report came back from radiology, all was okay. My fingers were taped, I got a few stitches and I was sent on my way.

I asked the doctor who administered the anesthetic why he chose that particular specialty. He said there was great variety of cases. You are only responsible for one patient at a time. And when you are done, you are done. You leave your work at work.

That brings me to the point of this post. There are a number of ways to approach being in the medical profession —

1. It’s a job. Being a doctor is solid professional employment and a good way to make a living or support a family. The doctor does what is expected and punches out. He or she puts in the time and is concerned and responsible when on the job. But the doctor doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is age-appropriate and financially feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a doctor is a good opportunity for getting ahead in life. The doctor is working to achieve advancement either in the organization (or hospital) or in the specialty. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, achieving greater recognition, becoming a sought after expert etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work, discipline, and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a doctor is a life mission or a higher calling. The doctor is there to make a difference and impact people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the doctor. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the doctor’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a doctor is not a good fit. The individual is in medicine for the wrong reasons, the wrong motivations, or to please someone else. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the ideal of the job or the fantasy of being a doctor. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job, and now feels trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly in medicine, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation “Why” anyone works at the hospital. This is a great area of opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in medical shows, or shows about other professions, everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in a drama.

$ $ $ $ $ $

As a side note, the whole experience cost me exactly nothing. No charge. Zip. Zero. Nada. My care was prompt, professional, and very concerned and personable. Despite paying the equivalent of a mortgage payment for health insurance in the US our deductible is $1600. The whole bill including ambulance would have cost several thousand dollars– or my deductible at the very least. When I tell this to my British friends they shake their heads and mutter softly, “Madness. Absolute madness.”

Power and The Game of Thrones

Soap Operas were the first television broadcast formats to use non-linear narratives. These programs have always featured interrupted story lines, shifting character focus and point of view in various episodes (and a large cast with whose characters regularly drop in and out of particular story lines), as well as alternating story arcs which advance separate but related story lines, or different characters that deal with different aspects of the same plot. There is frequent use of flashbacks, dream sequences, and other disjointed uses of time.

Popular and critically acclaimed Prime Time programs that are perceived as innovative and highly original use a combination of many of the same storytelling techniques. Why do shows such as The Game of Thrones feel fresh, inventive, and avant-garde to television audiences while Soap Operas often feel tired, old fashioned, and provincial? The answer can be found in two words– Great Characters.

If you look at the structure of The Game of Thrones it is about 80% eating or drinking and talking, walking and talking, having sex and talking, or riding and talking.  A few spectacular set pieces or violent action sequences do punctuate all of the talking but the show is primarily about relationships and power, relationships and love, or relationships and trust or betrayal.  This kind of relationship drama is the foundation of a soap.

The Game of Throne brings its relationships to life with complex characters that have a specific point of view and whose actions are always consistent with their particular way of looking at the world, their role in the world, and their philosophy of life, love, and power.

Let’s take a look at the main Game of Thrones characters in relationship to how they understand power and its use.

The first major character introduced in the series is Eddard “Ned” Stark. He is the lord of the Wintefell and head of the House Stark. He is a Power of Conscience character.

These characters know instinctively if something is wrong, unfair, or improper. They have a keen sense of justice and feel responsible for doing the greater good. In Ned’s own words: “The law is the law.” “You think my life is such a precious thing to me, that I would trade my honor for a few more years …of what?”  These characters look at power as their sworn duty to do right and take responsibility. Ned is tested by an offer to save his children by confessing to a treason he did not commit.  He believes his higher duty is to his family rather than his word.  He is beheaded any way and his children hunted down or dangerously trapped.

Catelyn Tully is the wife of Ned Stark and Lady of Winterfell. She is fiercely protective of her family. Catelyn always follows her heart rather than her head where family matters are concerned. She is  jealous of Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow. She resents that her husband brought the boy into HER family.

Later in the story, Catelyn is consumed with avenging the deaths in the House of Stark. She is a formidable adversary and, like most Power of Love characters, wields an iron fist in a velvet glove. She finds her power in protecting and pushing her family forward.

Robb Stark is the eldest child of Lady Catelyn and Lord Eddard Stark. He is declared King in the North by his bannermen and family allies after his father’s execution.  He is leading forces in a rebellion to break the North from the control of the Iron Throne.

Robb is a Power of Idealism character.  He is a warrior/savant called “The Young Wolf” and instinctively knows how to strategize and win battles.  Like Jaime Lannister, another Power of Idealism character, Robb is an extraordinary warrior and believes the rules don’t apply to him.  And like Jaime, Robb is in love with someone forbidden to him.  He is a doomed romantic who secretly weds a woman who will cost him his life and his war. His power is his ability to inspire others and in his extraordinary fighting abilities.

Jon Snow is Ned Stark’s second son.  He was born of an undisclosed romantic liaison.  He, like his father, is a Power of Conscience character.  Jon feels unworthy as Ned’s bastard son and joins the Rangers to find a good and moral purpose for his life.  But, like all Power of Conscience characters, the issue soon becomes what is the higher duty or most important moral purpose?  Does he try to help and save his brother, Robb, and the Stark family?  Or does he remain true to the vows he took as a Ranger to protect only the Wall and hence the entire realm.  Jon finds power in being a good and righteous man, he often doesn’t know what such a man looks like in the dark and complicated world he faces.

Sansa Stark is the elder daughter of Catelyn and Eddard Stark. She is raised as a true high-born lady with all the traditional feminine charms and graces. Sansa is also a Power of Love character. She is a young romantic and lives for day she will marry her handsome prince and have his children.

When her Prince Joffery turns out to be a cruel little sadist she, like most Power of Love characters, believes if she loves him long enough and well enough he will have to love her back. These characters often see their own value reflected in the eyes of another.  Sansa sees her power as a dance of romance and courtly love.  But she too, over the course of the series, reveals the strength of steel inside her velvet glove.

Arya Stark is the third child and second Stark daughter. She is a rebellious, high-spirited girl who doesn’t fit in with the other young ladies of the court. She wants to excel as a swordsman and fighter.

Arya is a Power of Idealism Character. These characters want to find their special place in the word, be extraordinary, and be called to some great destiny (often as a warrior). They reject the demands of  traditional authority to maintain and protect their own individuality and personal freedom. Arya seeks the power of having the ability to be fully and truly herself.

Brandon is the fourth child and third  Stark son. He is a Power of Imagination character.

These characters can see, hear, or “feel” things others cannot. Bran has a mystical connection with his direwolf, has prophetic dreams, and has a growing access to the “old magic” as the story goes on.

He is seemingly small, insignificant, and a cripple due to a fall. But he has great inner powers yet to be revealed.  Brandon’s only access to power as a connection to the mystical, magical, and the divine.  “You can’t kill it you know, the raven is you.”

Robert Baratheon is the (late) King of Westeros. He took the Iron Throne in a war known as Robert’s Rebellion. He is a Power of Will character.

Tywin Lannister, another Power of Will character, lusts for domination and control, but King Robert lusts for wine, women, hunting, and eating.

He is a Power of Will character in the tradition of Falstaff. Robert is volatile, dangerous and is entirely ruled by his appetites.  Power to Robert is living large and lustily and answering to no one.

Cersei Lannister is the wife and later widow of King Robert. Cersei is the only daughter of Lord Tywin Lannister.  The House of Lannister is one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Westeros.

Cersei is another Power of Love character.  She exercises power through her son, Joffery.  Although she know how dark and cruel his heart is she still loves him as fiercely as a mother lion.

“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”  “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”  She finds her power behind her son’s throne.

Ser Jaime Lannister is a knight of the Kingsguard, a position he has held for twenty years since he was made the youngest Kingsguard ever. He is the eldest son of Tywin Lannister and is his sister’s incestuous lover.

He a Power of Idealism character and is acknowledged as one of the best warriors in the land.  Jamie is unique and extraordinary. He makes his own rules and follows his own peculiar code of honor.  His power is in his extraordinary and unique abilities.  “There are no men like me. Only me.”

Tywin Lannister is Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, and Warden of the West. He is one of the most powerful lords in Westeros and father of Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion Lannister.

He is a Power of Will character. These characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves, pounce decisively on the weakness of others, and swiftly avenge any wrong (or perceived wrong). “Do you think I’d be where I am if I had lost a battle?” These characters show no mercy and expect none.  His power is in his strength and ruthlessness.

Tyrion Lannister, is the third and youngest child of powerful Lord Tywin. Tyrion is a dwarf, and is sometimes mockingly called The Imp or The Halfman. He is a Power of Truth character.

Unlike Varys who is a sly secret-keeper, Tyrion is a bold skeptic and cynical truth-teller. He often says what others are too afraid, too embarrassed, or too timid to say.

The major theme in his story going forward is betrayal or seeming betrayal by nearly everyone. Power is an illusive thing for Tyrion, it resides in loyalty and trust.  Both are so rare in Westeros as to be almost nonexistent.  He survives by his keen wit, cynical nature, and his powers of perception.

Varys is a eunuch, a secret keeper, and the Master of Whisperers (the head of the royal Spy Network). He is an advisor on the king’s small council.

Varys is a Power of Truth character. These characters believe the world is filled with hidden dangers, illusive enemies and concealed pitfalls. His philosophy might be stated: “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.”  He believes power is “a trick, a shadow on the wall”.  Power is perception.  “It resides where people believe it resides”.

I liked what the AV Club has said about the series– “Each storyline is separated into roughly equal-sized chunks, then split between episodes. Every week, viewers drop in on one of those storylines for a few minutes, hopefully departing enticed to come back the next week by a cliffhanger (or two). Some episodes focus more heavily on certain characters, but each hour goes out of its way to drop in on as many characters as possible, just to keep the audience aware of what’s going on. As in soaps, this creates stories that don’t so much build as exist in an eternal present. The show has climaxes and traditional stories, but it seems to constantly be moving forward. There’s always something else coming, and the series has to maintain the illusion that whatever finality there is offers more of a comma than a period.”

I would add that the gaining or losing of power and how power is best used are the underlying theme that tie all the far-flung action of the show together.  This theme provides a sense of continuity to what’s going on in every part of the world and across all the battle fronts (foreign and domestic) on which the war is being fought.  Power is what binds the characters to the story and also binds the disparate action of the episodes together.