#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.”

#TypesTuesday – Land of The Lost and Power of Reason

Land-of-the-Lost-etbscreenwritingI am a Will Ferrell fan. I found Land of the Lost goofy and absurdist but certainly not his best effort. But there is an important lesson to be learned here about Character Types— Intelligence is not a specific attribute of any Character Type. Let’s look at this in relation to Will Ferrell’s character in the film.

Ferrell stars as discredited has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall. He has written a book on “quantum paleontology.” This new branch of science is a way to explore and find energy sources in an alternate dimension in which past, present and future mix. In an appearance on The Today Show, Matt Lauer reports that respectable scientists think Marshall’s ideas are mad. Like who? ” Marshall asks. “Stephen Hawking,” Lauer replies. Marshall goes nuclear: “You promised you wouldn’t mention that!”

Dr. Marshall is a Power of Reason character like scientists Dr. John Nash (Beautiful Mind) Dr. Gregory House (House), Dexter Morgan (Dexter) or Mr. Spock (Star Trek). Marshall is an expert in his field, even if it is a seemingly crack-pot area of inquiry.

Power of Reason characters tend to be portrayed as extremely intelligent. Dr. Marshall doesn’t have the usual penetrating insight, incisive wit and intellectual firepower present in those other character examples. What’s the lesson here?

Intelligence, like altruism or the capacity for evil, exists on a continuum in each Character Type. Any character, regardless of type, can be an idiot, of average intelligence or a genius. Any character, regardless of type, can be a force for good, apathetic or outright evil.

Seemingly idiotic or “mad” Power of Reason characters, like Dr. Rich Marshall, are often crack-pots whose theories just happen to be right. These characters usually work alone in a field no one is interested in, has dismissed, is discredited or is of dubious value. In Marshall’s case his social awkwardness and inability to read the subtleties of social or cultural situations combined with his arrogance and superior attitude (typical Power of Reason problems) tend to make him look even less intelligent than he is (and provides much of the humor in the film).

On the drama/horror side, Dr Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) is another Power of Reason character. He works alone in his lab mixing up chemical cocktails that will help him explore the nature of evil. He is warned against pursuing such a “mad” area of inquiry. Likewise, Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein) works alone on theories about the origin and transferability of human life. His work is held in contempt, distaste and ridicule by other scientists of the day.

When pressed about his “mad” ideas, Dr. Frankestein explains: “Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have your never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.”

Issues concerning the boundaries of sanity, the limits of order or of reason, the genesis of evil, the ever-present potential of chaos of time or nature and the perils of technology are very much at the center of all Power of Reason films, even comedic ones.

The Power of Reason eBook explains these characters in great detail. It discusses how all the character examples above are alike and how they are made distinctive or different.

#TypesTuesday – Mad Men and Power of Truth

mad_men ETB Screenwriting

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. As important as authenticity is, a series can’t survive on authenticity alone.

The story also needs a sense of urgency.  It’s this urgent dramatic thrust that is missing in the second season. Don seems to have settled into a feeling of utter weariness and discontent.  He’s increasing disenchanted with his job.  He seems bored and depressed (taking the afternoon off to stare laconically at a French New Wave film at the cinema).

This doesn’t make for compelling or urgent viewing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the second season opened to a series high of 2 million viewers.  People were curious after all the Emmy nominations.  But a significant percentage didn’t stick around to see a second episode.  Viewership plummeted to 1.3 million the following week.

My prediction is that if the pace doesn’t pick up, if Don isn’t in real danger of his lies and shady past catching up with him, viewers just won’t care.

Right now, Don just seems depressive and cynical.  If he doesn’t struggle harder to conceal his secrets, if he doesn’t start paying a price for his double life, if we don’t see more active stories about loyalty and betrayal (with dire consequences) I predict the show will drop viewers.

Another example of a Power of Truth character and show is The X Files and Fox Mulder.  That show’s taglines were:  “The Truth Is Out There,” “Deny Everything” and “Trust No One.”  These slogans with a slightly different context  could also apply to Don Draper.

You will find dozens of other examples and a full explanation of this Character Type in the Power of Truth eBook.

#TypesTuesday – Revolutionary or Rebel Part Two

che-guevara-etbscreenwritingI am back in sunny California.  Sea breezes and Mexican food tonight.  I had a wonderful time in Wisconsin and am lucky to have a beautiful lakeside apartment to stay in for the duration.  But it is always good to be back home.

I had a question about my last post.  Can a revolutionary also be a rebel?

The answer is real life, of course, is yes.  Real life is messy and complicated.  Storytelling is not.  The stories in film and television help us make sense of the world.  They lift us above the chaos of life.  They condense time, put things in context and give meaning to cause, effect and experience.

In order to have real power, a story and a character must have a single clear emotional focus.  That means a story must be about one true thing.  Intuitively, it would seem that if a story is about many things it would appeal to a wider audience.  In fact, the opposite is true.

When a story is about one true thing the audience brings their philosophy, experience and view of life and they measure that against the choices the character makes.  They bring their perspective to the story and test it against the one true thing on the screen.  In doing so, they make the story about themselves.

When a story is about too many things, it is confusing.  The audience can’t make the story about themselves because there is no clear hook or connection.  When a story is about too many things, it is about nothing.  The audience can’t find a clear way in.

Going back to the original question:  Is the character a revolutionary or a rebel?  What is the most true about the character.

Both a revolutionary and a rebel challenge the status quo.  Is the challenge to authority about changing or reforming a situation or society as a whole (the Power of Conscience) or is the challenge to authority about asserting personal individuality or personal autonomy against the dictates of the state or society (Power of Idealism).  (See yesterday’s post for examples.)

Once you’ve made your choice then bring all the decisions and conflicts back to that one true thing.  Answer all the Story Questions about that choice.  What’s a Story Question?

A character’s Story Questions are the defining personal, philosophical  and psychological questions that drive the character’s actions in the story.  They give the character’s emotional journey shape and meaning.

Each of the Nine Character Types wrestles with one specific and clear set of Story Questions.   The character’s answer to those questions define the one true thing at the core of the film.

What about a novel?  There’s more room to explore in the longer form of a novel.

The best novels also have a very clear set of Story Questions at their core.  These questions might be expanded upon in more depth in a novel than in a film.  But the best novels don’t stray from the essential truth about what’s driving the character forward through the story.  Clarity of emotional focus is essential in every storytelling medium regardless of length or form.