Two stories

I enjoyed ScriptShadow's recent post on How To Write A Great Script. The twelve points seem like basic, obvious stuff. But most of the scripts I read fail on exactly these points. I guess they aren't so obvious.

One of the biggest issues I've found in scripts involves a combination of numbers 3 (a main character we want to root for), 6 (conflict), 7 (obstacles) and 11 (heart). Far too many writers resist making things difficult for their protagonists – they resist giving the protagonists difficult choices (7); they resist pitting those protagonists against equally compelling antagonists (6); they resist making their protagonists wrong at crucial moments – even though WE ALL KNOW that flaws are the best way to make protagonists more human-slash-likable (3); and in the end, they resist making their protagonists suffer the consequences of their mistakes (11).

I can't use examples from recent scripts I've read (confidentiality agreement, natch), so I'll offer a real life story instead:

hen I was in college, I worked in the dorm kitchens. At one point, I was assigned to assist an older employee who had returned to her job after a stroke. I worked as hard as I could since the woman needed my help to keep her job and qualify for her union pension. When my time assisting the woman ended, she threw me a surprise celebratory breakfast, presented me with a family heirloom brooch, hugged me tearfully and told me that she thought of me as the daughter she never had.

Isn't that a nice story? It's also boring as hell. And uninformative. You learn nothing about me, the protagonist, from that story – and you probably don't care to.
Now let's see what happens when we add a little 3, 6, 7 and 11 to the story (which is how things went down in real life, by the way):

I started the job with all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings but quickly found out that the old lady was a BITCH. She was MEAN. She only had one functional hand, but that thing was a CLAW. When she wasn't grabbing me and yanking me around, she hit me with her cane. Seriously – she HIT ME. She hovered over me all the time, making derogatory comments about everything I did. Nothing was ever good enough for her. After a month of misery I could no longer drag myself to work. I went tearfully to the office and told them that even if the old woman might lose her pension, I still couldn't take the abuse. I begged to be reassigned, and, mercifully, they complied.

On the day I left, my tormenter turned into my fairy godmother. She threw that celebratory breakfast, presented me with the heirloom brooch, hugged me tearfully and told me that I was the daughter she had never had – and explained that if she had ever been hard on me it was because she knew I could take it and use it to achieve great things. She would be proud of me to the end of her days. Sniff. And CRAP. The old witch had a motive and everything. I still took the transfer, but every time I look at that brooch I feel like shit. And I kind of deserve to feel like shit.

But YOU like me a little more now, dontcha? :-)

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