Sunday, 19 October 2008


According to William Faulkner, 'The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart.'

Try telling that to the makers of 'Butt Lovers #4'.

But there's truth in it. Most of us will have been told, at some point, that drama is all about conflict.

'Drama' actually derives from a Greek verb meaning 'to do'. As we now know, character is what character does. The hero's character is forged as he or she takes steps to achieve their objective in the face of obstacles.

It is what the hero does to overcome the obstacles which stand between him and his objective that forms the story. The drama is generated by the hero's struggle to reach his goal. What the hero does forms the drama.

As I've said before, it's amazing how many scripts get written in which the hero doesn't really seem to want anything. If the hero doesn't actually want something, there can't be anything or anyone preventing him from getting it. Ergo, no story. No drama. No conflict.

But there's an added refinement. Hopefully, you will never attempt to write a script without making sure, before you start, that you have got a


who has an


to achieve which they must overcome


It's vital that your hero wants something. We can look at this another way:


Fine. But why does the screenwriter want to write an award-winning screenplay? And what's really holding them back?

Why do you want to write a screenplay? Sigmund Freud believed that what the artist really wants is power, fame and the love of women (or men). Because the artist doesn't have those things he or she sublimates their desires into their artistic endeavours. With any luck, they become successful and achieve what they always wanted: power, fame and the love of women (or men).

What does your hero really want? Yes, yes, we all know that heroes want to save the world. But why bother? What's the real motivation? And what's really stopping them from getting off their backsides and doing a bit of world-saving?

You can add depth to your characters by remembering that we all have inner and outer objectives, and inner and outer obstacles.

Let's say that your hero wants to win an Olympic gold medal. That's an outer objective - it can be seen, it can be grasped - and the audience needs to know about it early on in your script.

Your hero should also have an inner objective. Where does the desire to win Olympic gold come from? It's a lot of bother. There must be a reason for the hero to go to all that trouble, and it isn't the desire for a bit of bling.

Similarly, maybe your hero's obstacle - the thing that's standing in the way of them winning the gold medal - is that they're grossly overweight. That's an outer obstacle. There'll be an inner obstacle, too, which probably accounts for them being overweight.

The hardest obstacles to overcome are the inner obstacles. And while the plot might be all about the struggle to win gold, the story is really about achieving the inner objective - a sense of self-worth.

The story takes place on two levels. On the one, 'outer', level, it's about someone who has to get in shape and beat the competition in order to win Olympic gold. That, basically, is the plot. But there's an 'inner' level to the story that is possibly more important. On that level, it's about someone who has to overcome crippling self-doubt, personal unhappiness and perhaps some kind of trauma in order to win the praise that they never received from their father and to rid themselves of their inner demons. The struggle then isn't against the other competitors so much as it is against themselves.

All your main characters - HERO, VILLAIN, SIDEKICK and LOVE INTEREST - should have objectives and obstacles if they're going to be real characters. But you can take that further. Give them some depth. Let them have inner objectives and inner obstacles in addition to their outward desires and external problems.

And be aware of your own inner objectives. Why do you really want to write a screenplay? What is your real motivation? How will it feel to achieve your own inner objective? Keeping that in mind just might keep you going when the going gets tough.

And remember, 'The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart'.

Because the real drama consists of the struggle to achieve what we really want in the face of what's really holding us back.

1 comment:

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

I don't understand how some screenwriters think they can write a screenplay without character and conflict... what's the f-ing point in writing a story if there's no conflict?!?!