Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Do Your Characters Run Amuck?

I once told someone that my characters tend to tell me exactly what they wanted to do. After offering to give me the number of a really good shrink, he conveyed that, though this was interesting, it might be a sign of of a problematic story.

Of course, the stubborn, arrogant writer that I am, smiled and said fuck you. No, not really. I smiled, but held the f-you in.

It’s only recently that I half-agree with him.

How the hell can you half-agree with someone? Married people do it all the time, but, anyway.

My characters still tell me where they want to go, leading me off in directions that I had not intended. And I absolutely love and hate when this happens. I love it, because, when this happens, I know I have succeeded in giving each, individual voices. They have their own minds, thoughts; a life all their own. I hate it, because my little darlings are running amuck. By the way, I love that word - amuck, amuck, amuck.

Okay, back to what I was saying. Analogy time. If I’m the parent and they’re the children, and they start to tell me what they want to do, that can only mean that I have not given them enough guidance. They may need a little more structure, be it a better understanding of the rules of their world; an understanding of what their goals in life should be; perhaps a little more constraint and focus.

Okay, enough with the analogies. As screenwriters, we tend to get a little touchy about RULES.

Oh, no, she’s a rules kind of gal.

Yes and no.

Each one of my stories have their own set of rules. I’m creating a world with people that interact in a very precise way. Because of this, I have to set up parameters, or RULES. These are not rules dictated by outside forces, though they may share extreme commonalities with rules of other stories, especially if you believe that most stories are just a rehashing of the same old stories told over time. But they are rules that I have established specifically for the world, characters and goals that I have created. Parents will tell you that flexibility is the key to managing a household, but, in addition, there must be a strong set of governing rules before negotiations can take place.

We have 120 pages - nowadays less - to tell our story. It’s compact. Its goal is to rise above all the other stories out there. How do you create something that strong, that powerful? Ask Rocky. Ask any parent who’s child does NOT run amuck in the supermarket. Ask Jack LaLane. It’s called discipline. It’s called laying a solid foundation - structure - with a precise set of boundaries, and a clear- cut goal.

It’s called screenwriting.

And I need to get back to it.

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