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.

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