Map Yourself

virginia-woolf-etbscreenwritingIf you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.  Virginia Woolf

A good writer thoroughly understands his or her characters’ emotions, inner conflicts and the whole process of internal transformation. Great writers dig deep to find this emotional truth within themselves.  A Character Map charts internal conflicts and emotional transformation. In planning your story, each major character should be mapped. This process will help you get inside your character’s emotions. But first you have to start with yourself.

Why start with yourself? Answer:  You are a complex, interesting, fully-formed three-dimensional human being. You constantly wrestle with a variety of strong emotions and struggle continually with a whole range of internal conflicts. These are the kinds of characters you should write about.

Writers are always advised to write what they know. What writers (and all other human beings) know the most about is change. Living, by definition, is to change. Nothing in life is static. Change and transformation are all around you. Both impact and challenge you every day. Both offer opportunities and threats.

Now more than ever you live in an unsettling and constantly changing world– economic, cultural, political and social norms are shifting all around us. The world is in turmoil, full of uncertainty, evolving relationships, personal and professional ups and downs and conflicting responsibilities, loyalties, commitments and desires. Your characters should experience their world in exactly the same way.

You know from personal experience exactly how painful change and transformation can be. You have experienced extreme, dramatic and sometimes excruciating change. Your life has been full of unexpected reversals, complex dilemmas and difficult growth experiences– and so should the lives of your characters. (And there’s no reason why all this turmoil and pain shouldn’t be hilarious. Great comedians know– If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t funny.)

So how do you create fictional characters out of all of this? How do you create stories filled with the kinds of emotions and changes you’ve experienced? It helps to have a process to turn your own raw material into fiction. Mapping your own character will help you create more authentic fictional characters. By understanding how change and transformation works in your life, you will gain insight into how to use this powerful process to create complex, interesting fully-formed three-dimensional fictional human beings-characters who are emotionally true and who have a life and integrity all their own.

I believe the creative process always starts with your own emotional truth. The only thing that makes your story unique is your personal point of view. Human beings have been telling stories since we were able to speak. There are no new stories. The only thing new is you and the way you see and experience the world. Who are you? What do you believe? What insights do you have to share with the world? What is the truth as you see it?  All great writing moves from the personal to the universal.  The Character Map eBook will help you dig deep and find the personal truth that resonate as universally compelling stories.

#BeFabFriday – Joyce Carol Oates: Why We Write

Joyce-carol-oates-etbscreenwritingThe excerpt below, from the Preface: The Nature of Short Fiction; or, The Nature of My Short Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates, sums up why we tell stories. There is no “reality” without a coherent story.

Life has no meaning without the narrative we construct around it. How we experience reality, politics, country, ourselves and others has to do with the STORIES we tell ourselves (and others). Different Character Types have very different narratives, world views, and ascribe very different meaning to the same events.

Here is how the very prolific Ms. Oates (whom I once had the pleasure of meeting at Princeton University) puts it:

“We write for the same reason we dream- because we cannot not dream, because it is in the nature of the human imagination to dream. Those of us who “write,” who consciously arrange and re-arrange reality for the purpose of exploring its hidden meanings, are more serious dreamers, perhaps we are addicted to dreaming, but never because we fear or despise reality.

As Flannery O’Connor said (in the excellent book of her posthumously-collected essays Mystery and Manners) writing is not an escape from reality, ‘it is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.’ She insists that the writer is a person who has hope in the world; people without hope do not write.

We write in order to give a more coherent, abbreviated form to the world, which is often confusing and terrifying and stupid as it unfolds about us. How to manage this blizzard of days, of moments, of years? The world has no meaning; I am sadly resigned to this fact.

But the world has meanings, many individual and alarming and graspable meanings, and the adventure of being human consists in seeking out these meanings. We want to figure out as much of life as we can. We are not very different from scientists, our notorious enemies, who want also to figure things out, to make life more coherent, to set something in order to single out meanings from the great confusion of the time, or of our lives: we write because we are convinced that meaning exists and we want to fix it in place.”

Vulnerability Scenes

Everyone who has heard me speak or teach knows how fundamental vulnerability is to making a movie or television show memorable. The way an audience BONDS with a character is through scenes where the character is vulnerable. Here are some of my favorites– what are yours?

something-about-mary-etbscreenwritingHumiliation Scenes

SOMETHING ABOUT MARY: The scene starts with Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) gazing out a bathroom window, it appears he is window peeping, he panics and then his zipper gets embarrassingly (and painfully) stuck.

MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING: The scene starts with Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) stirring up trouble by taking Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) and fiancee Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz) for a drink at a Karaoke Bar. Kimmy is pressed into singing possibly the worst Karaoke debut in history. She completely “owns” it and turns everyone’s groans into cheers. This is also a great example of a comedic turnaround.

BRIDGET JONES: The scene starts with Bridget (Renee Zellwegger) showing up at a party in an embarrassingly tight Bunny costume scene. No one else is wearing a costume. She was never told the party plan was changed.

8068-19818Rejection Scenes

TOOTSIE: The scene starts with a montage of Michael Dorsey’s (Dustin Hoffman) audition scenes. He is told he is too short, too tall, too young, too old etc.

JERRY MACGUIRE: The scene starts as Jerry (Tom Cruise) is frantically watching the lights blinking out on his phone as all his old clients hang up and avoid him.

WITNESS: The scene starts as Det. Capt. John Brook (Harrison Ford) stumbles on Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) bathing in her room. She drops her towel and he turns away. The next scene finds him in agony in his room.

et5Unfairness Scenes

ET: The scene starts with Elliot (Henry Thomas) spotting the strange creature E.T. No one believes him and his brother makes fun of him.

TITANIC: Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) is framed for stealing a jewel. He protests his innocence. No one believes him except Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) He is taken away in handcuffs.

HOME ALONE: The scene starts with Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) fighting with his brother. He is blamed for creating a mess, despite his protests, he is sent to his room.

WIZARD OF OZ: The scene starts with Mrs. Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) reporting Toto attacked her cat. Despite Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) protests Toto is taken away.

casablanca-train-rain-etbscreenwritingAbandonment Scenes

CASABLANCA: The scene starts as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is waiting for Ilsa. He gets a goodbye note from her and is left at the station to board the train without her.

ET: The scene starts as the Mother Ship leaves and ET is left behind.

Laughing Until It Hurts

PeopleLaughingIn going through my files I found an interesting article as a companion piece to the article on play I posted yesterday. It is a meditation on the seriousness of comedy. This reflection originally appeared in the 2005 City of Angels Film Festival materials. I have added my comments and asides in parenthesis.

“Comedy is never the gaiety of things, it is the groan made gay,” wrote drama critic Walter Kerr. This is the great irony implicit in comedy. It feels good to walk out of a theater laughing. But we often go into the theater not feeling so good. Many times, what makes us laugh is seeing that other people are not feeling so good either.

(I agree and would further add that human vulnerability is the essence of comedy. In fact, I defy anyone to think of a comedic situation where someone was NOT being made incredibly vulnerable– being humiliated, rejected, embarrassed, abused, kicked around, ridiculed, getting a comeuppance or being punished. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t funny!)

…Comedy at its best stares the (weakness and vulnerability of the) human condition straight in the face but comes out smiling. It comes out smiling and, sometimes, laughing at the most gravely serious situations….

Groucho Marx made a distinction between amateur and professional comedians: An amateur thinks it is funny if you dress a young man as an old lady, put him in a wheel chair and push the wheel chair down a hill toward a stone wall. For a pro, said Groucho, it’s got to be a real old lady.

…Both tragedy and comedy take human imperfection into consideration. Tragedy is about the human striving to achieve the divine, but falling just short. It is an upward reach for the divine. (And the inability to grasp it.)

Comedy is about the downward pull – the very things that make us (weak and) fallen creatures. The more serious the subject, the more comic potential exists. Mel Brooks said getting a hangnail is tragedy. Walking down a street, falling in an open man-hole and (going splat) is comedy.

As such, comedy inherently transgresses. It focuses on the (tender) underbelly of humanity and opens it to ridicule. Tragedy is the substance of drama, but comedy is the further reflection (and the smile of recognition at our shared stupidity, weakness and frailty).

…Perhaps laughter is a form of grace. A gift which enables us to cope with lacking that which seems both so close and so far away simultaneously – the divine. (Perhaps it is also the way we cope with the fallibility and disappointments of simply being human.)

Quoted from Michael C. Smith Producer of the 2005 City of the Angels Film Festival

Mobile Micro-Blog Novel Writing

texting-mobile-novel-etbscreenwritingThe potential new genres for writers on the Internet are seemingly boundless. The “cell phone novel,” or keitai shosetsu, is a new micro-blog novel form. It’s typically written by young women entirely on their mobile phones.

These text message based formats have become a best-selling genre in Japan. The authors publish under one-word pen names and usually remain anonymous. The stories are about love and loss, tragedy and recovery, betrayal and resolution.

Below is an excerpt from a Time Magazine article about the phenomena of moble-novel writing.

Today, there are a million titles in Maho i-Rando’s online library — one for every six members, who are mostly women in their teens and 20s. That represents a lot of phone time. “Young Japanese access the Internet more from their cell phones than their PCs,” says Misa Matsuda, a professor of literature and sociology at Tokyo’s Chuo University. “Cell phones occupy pockets of spare time in people’s daily lives — especially for exchanging nonurgent e-mails, playing games, visiting fortune-telling sites. Keitai shosetsu fit in that tradition.”

It was a male writer known as Yoshi who had the idea of bringing out the first keitai shosetsu in book form. In doing so, became one of the first to break away from the pack. His self-published Deep Love (2002) was a collection of racy tales about a teenage prostitute in Tokyo that had previously appeared online. As a book, it sold 2.5 million copies and became a manga, a TV series and a film. It was also greeted as a one-off — the product of a quick-thinking writer-entrepreneur. But Maho i-Rando members soon began pleading with the site’s owners to see their favorite stories in hard copy, too, and its first books debuted in 2005. “Mobile novels are created and consumed by a generation of young people in Japan that demands to be heard,” says John Possman, former head of Tokyo entertainment consultancy Dragonfly Revolution. “It is truly pop culture.”

It has also become big business. In major book wholesaler Tohan’s 2007 best-seller list, five out of the top 10 books in the fiction category are keitai shosetsu, including the top three. The new genre is provoking fierce indignation among Japan’s literati, many of whom think that keitai shosetsu should stay on cell-phone screens. But it is undeniably shaking up a publishing industry whose sales have been declining for a decade. A professional author of fiction is lucky to sell more than a few thousand copies of a title. A popular cell-phone novelist sells several hundred thousand, and recruitment for new talent is intense. “Find the novelist in you!” online ads cry. “Make your debut!”

They are written with the participation of the audience. A girl will start posting her “diary” on a site called “Magic Land.” Readers begin to comment, add their own experiences and advice and urge the writer on. U.S. sites devoted to mobile novels are in beta launch here.

Write Every Day

martin-scorsese-etbscreenwritingA friend posted this quote on FaceBook and I thought it was worth repeating–

“But the more important thing is to write everything down. I would say, Write down what’s going on around you, what’s going on in your family, on the street, and with your friends. Just keep writing and writing. You don’t even have to think it’s a script. Write down as much as you can, and then out of that you might eventually be able to pull a picture which, over the years, I have been able to do.” Martin Scorcese

Here’s how to put that philosophy into practice every day. Below is a FREE LESSON from the One Hour Screenwriter eBook.

Sit back and remember your most risky behavior. It could be an act of rebellion, a gamble (successful or unsuccessful), a brief adventure, a moment of daring, a crazy scheme, a wild leap of faith, a transgression, a crime or any other reckless activity.

What exactly did you do? Did you get away with it? What consequences did you pay? Was it worth the risk? Or did you have regrets?

Describe as completely as you can a situation when you left caution to the wind. Who or what prompted you to undertake this dicey activity?

Was anyone else involved? What was their contribution to the situation? How did you feel before, during and after taking the chance you took?

Can you remember what the day was like and what you wore? What are your other sense memories (sight, sound and feeling) of that risky moment in your life? How did the situation or activity engage all your emotions?

Did you make a personal leap of faith to do this? Did the activity make you feel stronger or more confident?

Did it make you feel foolish? Was there a let down afterwards? Was there relief? Was there exhilaration? Write about everything you felt.

Was this activity something you agonized about and summoned the courage to undertake over time, or was it an impulsive action taken in the heat of the moment? What made the experience memorable?

Take 10 to 15 minutes to complete this exercise. Do not censor yourself; write whatever comes to mind. Don’t be worried about being articulate, artistic or interesting, just write. Let your memories flow freely.

Now write this exercise from your character’s point of view. What are the riskiest things your character does in the story? How does that make your character feel?

Ask your character the same questions above. Your character should have several risky moments in the story. What are they?

List and describe these moments as completely as you can. Add this material to your Film Project Notebook.

The One Hour Screenwriter eBook explains how you can use your own life experience to write a script. The eBook breaks the writing process down into easy, clear bite-sized increments. You are guided step-by-step through writing your story. Order your copy today!

#TypesTuesday – Some Character Type Examples

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

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

TV Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Aladdin in Aladdin : Power of Truth

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

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

The Realm Within

pans-labyrinth-etbscreenwriting… (W)e stand at the rich uncertain dawn of a new level of scientific innovation. The wireless technology we carry in our pockets today was the stuff of the science fiction in our youth. Our technological arrogance mirrors more and more the Wellsian dystopia of dissatisfaction, while allowing us to feel safe and connected at all times. We can call, see or hear almost anything and anyone no matter where we are. For most people then, the only remote place remains within. “Know thyself” we do not.”

The above quote is from Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, and author Chuck Hogan writing in The New York Times about the sudden spate of Vampire movies and television shows like HBO’s True Blood or all the variations on the Dracula tale.

The internal conflict central to “Know Thyself” is key to making any script work. Over the course of a really satisfying film or television show a character makes that risky and dangerous “voyage within.” A character’s internal obstacles and emotional journey rivets the audience much more so than any external or physical threat the character faces.

A character’s internal conflict should create the kind of personal choice that pushes the character to take actions that define what is most fundamentally important or true in a character’s life. The character should be forced to make a stark, definitive and active choice of one fundamental value over another.

As one value is ultimately chosen, the character negates or surrenders the other competing value. Competing values are neutral. They are a simple (often one word) expression of a fundamental truth or an ideal a person holds dear. No value is inherently better or worse than another. For example: Freedom and Security are two fundamental American values.

America sees itself as “the home of the brave and the land of the free.” Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of the nation. But to survive, every nation (or character) must be secure in its person, property and borders. Security is also a fundamental American value, especially in these potentially very dangerous times. The question is: What happens when a character (or country) is forced to make starker and starker choices in favor of one value over (or to the exclusion of) another?

How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be secure? As citizens are pushed to give up more personal autonomy, liberty or privacy, when do they cease to be free?

Alternatively, how much security are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be free? If civil libertarians too often thwart important safety measures, can a nation be adequately protected and its citizens secure? As the risk rises and a nation (or person) is pushed to the brink, it is forced to chose one value over the other. In a script, a series of choices should lead to a final definitive action that negates or eliminates one value in favor of another.

Any decision driven by fear is a bad decision. Fear clouds judgment and it shakes a character’s confidence in his or her higher nature. The price of fear is often the sacrifice of a character’s soul and his or her truest most authentic self. Any decision driven by faith ultimately leads the character closer to those “better angels of our nature.” But the price of faith is high. It can lead to the sacrifice of a character’s life. When a character makes a decision based on faith he or she looks fear in the face and does not blink. The character realizes that even if his or her worst fear is realized, he or she will be okay. A bedrock of peace and serenity accompanies the character even if the price is death.

For example: In A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carleton says (as he goes to the guillotine standing in for his friend): “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Although all characters struggle with external events and obstacles, the deepest conflicts and greatest battles are always within the character. The Character Map eBook help you chart the values and emotional tensions deep inside the character and how those tensions lead to his or her transformational choices.

Why a Character’s Worldview is Important

anais-nin-etbscreenwriting“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin.  That is an incredibly important concept in creating authentic characters. Understanding the very different World Views of the Nine Character Types can make an tremendous difference in clarifying and sharpening your writing.

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

It is impossible for a character to act inconsistently with how the character sees him or herself. For example, a Power of Truth character believes the world is full of hidden pitfalls and secret agendas while a Power of Excitement character sees the world as as a grand playground filled with unlimited opportunities. A Power of Conscience character sees the world as a moral proving ground while a Power of Ambition character sees the world as a ladder of status, success and achievement. A Power of Idealism character sees the world a canvass on which to make a personal mark, unique statement or work of art while a Power of Imagination character sees the world as an opportunity to collaborate and build a community with others. A Power of Reason character sees the world as a logical puzzle to be solved with intelligence and factual expertise while a Power of Love character sees the world as an opportunity to love and be loved. A Power of Will character simply sees the world as a battle ground or jungle divided into predators and prey.

Each of these Character Types will react very differently to any challenge, opportunity or threat that comes across their path.

Digital Rights and Publishing

movable_type-etbscreenwritingThis just in from Cynopsis Digital

The Gutenberg revolution continues. Google is now enabling authors and publishers who sign off under various Creative Commons licenses to distribute their works for free using the Google Books platform.

Creative collaboration, mash-ups, remixes and reuses is this a good or bad thing for writers?  You decide. Full article is below.

The Creative Commons organization has been busy this year launching programs like the Attribution-ShareAlike agreement with Wikipedia that enables interoperability between Wikipedia licenses. This new alliance allows independent writers, artists and publishers, both existing Google Partners and non-partners, to distribute, commercialize and protect the reuse of their works.

It’s a flexible license built for the digital age, with settings that authorize creative remixes and mash-ups that give credit where credit is due. Books that have been made available under a CC license have been marked with a matching logo on the book’s left hand navigation bar, allowing users to download the books and share them freely. “If the rightsholder has chosen to allow people to modify their work, readers can even create a mashup – say, translating the book into Esperanto, donning a black beret, and performing the whole thing to music on YouTube,” writes Xian Ke, Associate Product manager, Google Books in a blog post.

Google says representatives of the Book Rights Registry intend to allow rightsholders to distribute CC-licensed works for free, pending court approval of a settlement. In the meantime, Creative Commons proponents such as Lawrence Lessig have make their works available on Google Books using the CC licenses.”

Check out the videos on creative collaboration on Creative Commons and take a look at the Books Rights Registry on Google.