TV Writing Seminar - Part 9

Other Things to Think About...(continued)

17. THE HERO'S CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Character profiles can be very helpful for beginning writers. Get to know your main character by asking some questions about him or her: A. Why do you like your main character? B. What don't you like about your main character? C. What are the moral flaws of your Hero? D. What does your Hero have to learn about how he interacts with other people? E. How will your Hero be enlightened and changed at the end of the story? F. What is your Hero wrong about in the beginning concerning himself? G. What intermediate insights is your Hero going to have along the way? Keeping a profile of your main characters can help you flesh them out and make them seem real. You may discover they have little traits and habits you weren't even aware of when you started.

18. THE HERO'S "GHOST" OR BACKSTORY: The Hero's moral flaws and weaknesses are usually dependent upon something haunting him/her from the past; often events and experiences that occurred before the actual story begins. (In King Con, the ghost takes place in the prologue, but often the audience won't see the actual events comprising the ghost, but may just hear about important things in the Hero's past from other characters when they talk about the Hero or from the internal dialogue going on in the Hero's head). If the ghost is effective, it should reverberate throughout the story and the Hero must struggle to overcome it.

19. THE PASSIVE PROTAGONIST: Be careful of creating a story and Hero where too many important external events happen to the Hero and He/She ends up merely REACTING as opposed to boldly acting. Thus, we end up with a rather weak and passive Hero who has no plan of action. (Hamlet is the exception that proves this rule, and it takes a writer of William Shakespeare's stature to pull this off.)

20. In Act One, because you want your Hero(s) to have a dramatic range-of-change, it is advantageous to have your protagonist(s) be in some kind of trouble, whether it's psychological, moral and/or situational. Overcoming a challenge or a problem is a classic way for a person to grow emotionally and mentally.

21. Sometimes the world/environment which the Hero and Villain are surrounded by when we meet them, are expressions of what they have become. (In Riding the Snake, we meet WHEELER at the country club bar; in Final Victim, we meet THE RAT in a dirty, dank garbage barge.) Be aware of the surroundings of the main characters and let the surroundings subtly tell the audience more about the character.

22. SIGNATURE LINE: A "signature" line of dialogue is one that is repeated throughout the story and may take on greater significance as the story/stakes expand. (e.g.: In the A-Team, Hannibal's often repeated line: "I love it when a plan comes together." was his signature.) Signature lines are most popular in television and movies, and if they are clever, can be a great addition to a show. In hardboiled detective novels, we often see the hardbitten hero wisecracking his way through a dangerous situation with a favorite signature line. Don't overdo it, though.

23. INITIATING INCIDENT: If Act I. is DEFINING THE PROBLEM, the incident(s) in Act I cause the Hero to form a goal and compel him to deal with the problem. The incidents increase the Hero's DESIRE to obtain the goal and impel him forward. (In King Con, there are 3 incidents: Beano is brutally beaten by Mob boss, Joe Rina; Carol Bates, Beano's cousin is killed; and the criminal case against Joe Rina is dismissed. These are all very powerful motivators for Beano and Victoria.)

24. THE GOAL: The goal is an essential part of drama. But not just any goal will do. In order for a goal to function well, it should try to meet three main requirements: First of all, something must be at stake in the story that convinces the audience that a great deal will be lost if the main character does not obtain the goal. Secondly, a workable goal brings the protagonist in direct conflict with the goals of the antagonist. Thirdly, the goal should be sufficiently difficult to achieve so that the character changes while moving toward it.

25. If you want your Hero to increase his DESIRE, then increase the MOTIVE. (In King Con, Beano's desire for revenge against the Rina Brothers greatly increases after they murder Carol.)

26. INTRODUCING AN ALLY: Drama needs someone else for the Hero to express how he feels. This character is often a "Truth-teller" who understands the Hero's moral and psychological weaknesses and is not afraid to point them out. This relationship can provide a very entertaining dynamic, while also providing great insight into the primary Hero. Sidekicks fall into this category.

The sidekick has had a place in fiction since the form was invented. Whether it is Captain Hastings to Hercule Poirot, Watson to Sherlock Holmes, or Jim Rockford's dad to Rockford, the ally is allowed to point out the lead character's foibles and follies, thus instigating change in the Hero's attitude or actions. The ally can also be used to convey information that you want the audience to know.

27. Particularly in a screenplay, it is important to put the preceding steps in motion early because you need DENSITY OF STORYTELLING; you need to accomplish a great deal of important FOUNDATIONAL story work in the first 30-40 pages of your screenplay.

28. The Villain can help define the Hero. Ideally, the Hero expands in terms of stature and quality as the Villain evolves from prospective opponent to actual opponent.

29. THE VILLAIN'S ALLY: Although of course not present in every good story, the Villain's Ally is often a very interesting character. (example: Johnny K. in Riding The Snake; the Vichy police captain in Casablanca) By nature, the Villain's Ally is torn... He or she is secretly working for the Villain, but comes to like and be influenced by the Hero.

30. FIRST EPIPHANY: The Hero's first major revelation usually occurs at, or near the end of Act One. Each time the Hero learns something major (and it must be MAJOR otherwise it's not going to be a powerful enough revelation) it should kick your story up to a higher level of energy, desire and motivation.

In King Con, a perfect example of this is when Beano discovers that Carol has been murdered. In Riding The Snake, the revelations that propel Wheeler and Tanisha into Act Two occur at the Pacific Rim Society, where they learn that the stakes of their investigation may be international.

31. THE PLAN: The Hero needs an intelligent plan of how to beat the opposition; then creative and resourceful improvisations to deal with the various attacks and counter-attacks escalating toward the final climactic confrontation. Even in a love story, someone is usually trying to win someone else's love and a "villain" is usually standing in the way. The concepts are the same regardless of the genre in which you write.

32. An "antagonist in motion" creates suspense and excitement. By opening a window into the Villain's "world", we can learn about his power and vision and moral arguments that help define his motivation. The Villain's power and intelligence, in turn, compels the Hero to "enlarge", otherwise He will be defeated. (Joe Rina and Willy Wo Lap are examples of powerful, intelligent Villains. I think Willy is particularly strong because he has a vision, came from poverty, and I tried to make him a very layered character.)

33. HERO'S FINAL EPIPHANY ABOUT VILLAIN: At this point the Hero gets the final piece of information He needs to do battle with the Antagonist. In a mystery, he may not even learn who his real enemy is until the Final Revelation, and in other genres, this information may reveal the true stature of his nemesis.

34. Hero encounters "Hell": When this occurs is flexible and can happen more than once. It can come at the end of Act Two, and/or before, during and/or after the final battle. (In Riding The Snake the dangerous journey into the Walled City, and the encounter in the drain under LAX; in King Con the Heroes "visit to death" occurs up in the hills at The Presidio.) During this dangerous encounter, the Hero is often moving through a constricting space, an increasingly intense crucible. Perhaps has to navigate through a gauntlet, a narrow gate, often with a visit to death.

35. HERO'S SELF-EPIPHANY: This should strip the Hero bare in some emotionally powerful and revealing way... the shattering experience of seeing himself as He really is. This self-revelation will either destroy our Hero or make him stronger and give him new light. A radical self-revelation may change the Hero's whole sense of who he is in one moment. A tragedy if at the end the Hero is "destroyed" instead of made stronger by the revelation.

Notice two common themes in good drama: The problem of personal identity and discovery, and learning when to fight and when to be tolerant. Apply these story suggestions while you are outlining, while you're writing your story, and after you have completed a first draft and are trying to spot the problems and areas of weakness.

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Don't let this excessive list of "Dos and Don'ts" make writing seem more complicated than it is.

Remember: writing should be fun.

Trust your instincts and use this list to troubleshoot problems when they pop up.