Fleeting Thoughts on Character Dramas, Writing In General
Got some feedback on the short and the feature this week. Easy to forget sometimes, but it seems that the no. 1 rule of dramatic writing (at least in the most traditional sense) is…
“…if your protagonist doesn’t have the potential to have everything to gain by making the choices that they seek to make throughout their story, your story will probably be lame.”
That’s sort of the canonical Egri/McKee way of approaching dramatic writing (at least from what I’ve read so far). Still, you can have drama if the protagonist(s) don’t have everything to gain, but your story might not be as interesting. I’m sure a lot of people don’t agree with this, but, I feel like it [having a character that can be established as having everything to gain by the actions that they take throughout a story] is pretty essential, unless you’re doing something a little bit more experimental (which is fine) or decidedly low-key (also great).
This discussion reminds me a lot of this scene from Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation.”
That all being said, I think that certain genres lend themselves to allowing writers to create conflict more easily than others.
Case-in-point…action movies. Asteroid speed towards earth. The President and all living beings have everything to gain.
Crime dramas/thrillers. Someone killed my wife and has framed me for the crime, causing police to come after me. Circumstances are understandably dire.
Horror films. There are fucking zombies everywhere. Two of them just ate my wife and dog.
Disaster films… Need I say more? Anything where you can add an imminent threat to life immediately gives your lead character anything to gain. This is why guns and death are so popular in student films.
Character-driven pieces, however…those are often a bit more difficult. That’s not to say that you can’t write a subtle action piece, but, think about it. You have to work considerably harder to show that there are things to be gained when no one’s thrusting a gun in the face of your dog/girlfriend/loving housekeeper/mother/attractive woman you’ve ingratiated yourself with while pursuing a cunning terrorist in the West Indies.
Then, take this type of character (I’m using license here and probably could have gone deeper, but you get the picture) for example:
“…My life has recently seemed to have taken a turn to become a dull, mockery of what it once was. I couldn’t tell you when it happened.
I think that my wife and I used to be happy, but now it seems to take everything in the world for us to just engage each other civilly on a daily basis. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if she were having an affair, although if I found out that she were, to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much I would even care. There’s this general level of…complacency (?) about her that’s emerged some time ago that has come to seem so…incredibly unappealing. I mean, she’s really allowed herself become a tool…it’s like she’s caught up in trying to maintain this facade of happiness and success (and then in turn projecting it on the rest of us) when in reality, we are all so obviously sad. So very sad. I couldn’t tell you when she became so driven in that way.
I hate my job. My boss doesn’t respect me but you can rest assured, the feeling is mutual.
My daughter’s in those awkward teenage years…I can’t remember if I were as angry when I was her age, but I miss her. We used to be best buds.
On some level, I just really wish that there were some way that we could all get back to the way that things were, before we all hated each other. I wish I could find some inspiration in just living and re-capture the sort of…zealous impulsiveness and carefree way that I’d had in my youth. To be quite honest, though, I really don’t know where I’d even begin. To a large extent, I think that I’ve pretty much grown complacent, myself. No, I have, I definitely have…I’m a total hypocrite. I’m really just as cynical as the rest of my family, and perhaps am even more so, because I’m completely and utterly aware of it, at the same time.
Jesus. When did this happen? ……..I guess I’ll just jerk off in the shower and head to work.”
Anyway, showing how this type of character has everything to gain in life is obviously way more challenging than it would be for a character in a genre film, but I think it has the potential to be just as rewarding, all the same.
What I wonder, as an aspiring writer-director who’s interested in doing character-driven stuff as well as genre work is–is Hollywood even interested in making movies like this, anymore, aside from releasing them in October-December, during Oscar season?
I recently read an interview from the great screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) that said that Hollywood would never make another movie like that, again. And everyone knows “Chinatown” is THE SHIT. And yet…is it me, or is it getting remade? (Is there no shame?)
I watched Coppola’s “The Conversation” a few weeks back…the drama in that story is soooooooooo….I wouldn’t say it’s “subdued,” but it is bloody subtle. And that’s pretty much what makes that film so darned great.
But in a time where (I would argue) that we’re becoming more and more inundated by advertisements than ever before, where people see a trending topic that’s been tweeted and immediately begin hopping up out of their seats to lay themselves prone across various objects, and our collective attention spans are just generally being whittled down, making us dumber by the day, does anyone even have the patience for the character-driven story, anymore?