Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 7

Mind Worms And The Essence of Drama

Mind Worms And The Essence of Drama

Have  you ever watched the movie, The Game? Michael Douglas plays a person with every material advantage who is, nevertheless, precariously close to killing himself. Here’s the setup:

“Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker, but his success has come at a cost. He is estranged from both his ex-wife and his only sibling, his younger brother, Conrad (Penn). He remains haunted from having seen his father commit suicide on the latter's 48th birthday. For Nicholas' own 48th birthday, Conrad presents Nicholas with an unusual gift—a voucher for a "game" offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Conrad promises that it will change his brother's life.” (The Game, Wikipedia)

If you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, hang on just a moment longer.

Mind Worms

In “Story” Robert McKee writes that in the Middle Ages scholars had the notion of a Mind Worm. He writes:

“Suppose a creature had the power to burrow into the brain and come to know an individual completely—dreams, fears, strength, weakness. Suppose that this Mind Worm also had the power to cause events in the world. It could then create a specific happening geared to the unique nature of that person that would trigger a one-of-a-kind adventure, a quest that would force him to use himself to the limit, to live to his deepest and fullest. Whether a tragedy or fulfillment, this quest would reveal his humanity absolutely.”

Consumer Recreation Services, from The Game is basically the modern equivalent of the Mind Worm! (BTW, if you’ve never seen the movie, Roger Ebert’s review of “The Game” was right on target and, as his reviews always were, beautifully written.)

I’ve talked about The Game and Mind Worms to lead up to what McKee says is the essence of dramatic storytelling: fully developed characters placed in a world designed to test their strengths and play on their weaknesses, to force them not only to face themselves as they are but to push past what they thought were their limits and be reborn, a new self. Or fail and die.

That’s dramatic storytelling in a nutshell. The question is: how does one do that? Today I’d like to talk about part of the answer to that question by discussing the difference between what McKee calls characterization and True Character. Let’s dive in.

The events a character experiences must fit the character.

Characters aren’t human. They aren’t persons. They’re better! Why? Because they are intentionally designed to be clear and knowable. It is possible for me to completely understand a character. I’ve never been able to say that of a flesh-and-blood person. Just when I think I have them pegged they will do something that completely bewilders me.

Character Design: Characterization vs True Character

You’ve likely heard this part before, but let's review it since we’ll be building on it in what follows:

1. Characterization

A fictional human’s characterization will include some or all of the following:

- physical appearance
- mannerisms
- style of speech
- gestures
- gender and sexuality
- age
- intelligence
- occupation
- personality
- attitudes
- values
- where he/she lives
- how he/she lives

A character’s characterization is the sum total of the observable qualities. They are what makes that character unique.

2. True Character

As we’ve seen, characterization is about the outer, the observable. True Character is about what is inside.

- Is the character loyal or disloyal?
- Are they honest or dishonest?
- Loving or cruel?
- Courageous or cowardly?
- Generous or selfish?
- Willful or weak?

True Character is expressed through choice necessitated by dilemma

McKee writes:

“How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is—the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character.”

The key to True Character is desire

What does the character want? McKee writes:

“A character comes to life the moment we glimpse a clear understanding of his desire—not only the conscious, but in a complex role, the unconscious as well.”

Which suggests a number of questions:

- What does the character want/desire?
- When do they want it? Now? Soon? Later?
- What is their overall desire, their chief desire?
- Does the character know he/she wants this?

What we mean by a “three-dimensional” character

But having a single, unitary, desire isn’t enough. McKee points out that truly great characters have one particular trait in common: they have contradictory desires.

Kinds of contradiction

This fundamental contradiction can take a couple of forms.

1. Contradiction deep within the character.

The character has contradictory desires. For example, Macbeth was torn between ambition and guilt.

2. Contradiction between characterization and True Character.

Another common kind of contradiction is that between the characterization—the character’s observable qualities, those that make her unique—and her True Character.

For example, a effusively complementary, gorgeous beauty queen might be seething with bitterness and anger.

That’s it! In my next post I’m going to pick up on Robert McKee’s contention that the entire story world is formed—or should be formed—as a kind of fiery forge or crucible to push the character to, and then past, his limits. That’s the heart of drama.
Photo Credit: "Love is in the Air..." by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 16

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Andrew Stanton was "the second animator and ninth employee to join Pixar Animation Studios".
He was designer and writer on Toy Story (1995), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He went on to write and direct such worldwide hits as A Bug's Life (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL·E (2008), the latter two both winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature. (Andrew Stanton, IMDb)
Not many people can say they've won two Oscars. Here are some of Mr. Stanton's words of wisdom for the struggling wordsmith:

Everything Must Lead To A Goal

Everything you write, from the first to the last, leads to a singular goal. Ideally, it confirms some truth, it deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.

Make Your Reader Care

We connect to other people through stories.

Your readers want you to make them care. They want to care emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically.

The Promise Scene

A promise scene is a scene at the beginning of a story that assures your readers/viewers that your tale will be worth their time. For instance, some stories begin with a storyteller, a guy at a bar saying, "Here, let me tell you a story." That's a promise.

Andrew Stanton remarked that a well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshopt. It propells you though thestory to the end.

Make The Reader Work For It

Your reader wants to work for their meal, so to speak. They just don't want to know that's what they're doing.

We're born problem solvers. It's what we do. We deduce, we deduct. It is the well organized ABSENCE of information that draws us in.

Andrew Stanton calls this the Unifying Theory of 2+2. Make the audience put things together. Don't give them 4, give them 2+2.

Stories are inevitable, if they're good, but they're never predictable.

Well Drawn Characters Have A 'Spine'

Judith Weston talks of characters having a "spine".  Andrew Stanton describes this as an inner motivation, a dominant unconscious goal they're striving for. It's an itch they can't scratch.

For instance, Wally's inner motivation is to find the beauty, Merlin's is to prevent harm. Woody wants to do what's best for Andy.

(To read more about this idea see Judith Weston's book The Film Director's Intuition.)

Like us, characters often aren't consciously aware of their inner motivation. A major thereshold is passed when we mature enough to acknowledge what drives us and to take the wheel and steer it.

As in life, change is fundamental in story because life is never static.

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

 Honest conflict creates doubt in what the outcome might be.

Pixar's Rules of Storytelling

 Since it's beginning, Pixar had certain rules:
1. No songs
2. No 'I want' moment
3. No happy village
4. No love story
5. No villain.
In the first year, Pixar's story wasn't working and Disney was panicking. But they believed in themselves and they figured it out.

Remember: Storytelling has guidelines NOT hard and fast rules.

Some people will tell you there's no secret to storytelling. That's hogwash. There is a secret and this is it: Instilling WONDER in your audience. Wonder is honest and innocent. Watch Bambi. The very best stories are infused with a sense of wonder.

Here's another secret:

Capture a truth from your experience and use it to drive your story

Andrew Stanton's parents told him he had been born so premature their doctor didn't believe he would live. But he did. He was given a second chance, a chance he is grateful for. Andrew Stanton used this private truth to infuse emotion into a pivotal scene in finding Nemo.

Don't be shy, use the values you personally hold.

Andrew Stanton's TED Talk

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 29,012 words and hope to reach 31k tonight. (Yea!) Last night I tried Jeffrey's Scott's outlining method in Excel. Wow! It was a revelation. I'm kicking myself for not doing something like this before. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl.)

Other articles you might like:

- Andrew Stanton's advice is very similar to that given by Donald Maass: Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page.
- Story tips from Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story.
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman

Photo credit: "0216" by Cia de Foto under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0.