Monday, December 12, 2005

A Little Help With Characters

Vogler's Seven Main Archetypes

Any writer, be they writers of screenplays or novels or stories, needs to get themselves a copy of, "The Writer's Journey," by Christopher Vogler. Vogler discusses the basic building blocks of storytelling as taken from mythic structure. He uses some of today's popular movies to illustrate how they've followed that basic mythic structure.

One of Vogler's basic building blocks are his seven main character archetypes. While nothing is better than reading Vogler's book, you can find a brief annotated list at this link. Go ahead, give it a read and see if you recognize some of your own characters there or better yet, get inspired to write something new!

The Enneagram: A Power Tool for Screenwriters
by Judith Searle

The system of personality typing known as the Enneagram offers a powerful technical tool for developing original and dimensional characters. Familiarity with the nine basic types can help us sharpen conflicts between characters to make dramatic situations more compelling. Being aware of the connections between story genres and Enneagram types provides insights into why we are drawn to create thrillers, romantic comedies, science fiction or other kinds of stories.






Sunday, December 11, 2005

Writer, Critique Thyself

Project Greenlight's messageboard community (as well as several "writer's online communities") spawned numerous learning opportunities for its members. The online fellowship spun off into individual friendships, writer groups that met in person, online review swap groups, the sharing of links and other resources, tips about making industry contacts and so much more.

I would say that many of Project Greenlight's participants were "unschooled" in the craft of screenwriting and by unschooled, I mean either they'd never taken a class or read a book on the subject or made any serious effort at honing their craftsmanship. Indeed, at Project Greenlight, having slapped together what the writer thought passed for a screenplay in the week or two prior to the contest deadline was considered by most in the community to be an admirable achievement. That's not a put-down, that's simply a statement of fact. EVERYBODY WAS A BEGINNER ONCE UPON A TIME.

There ain't nuttin' wrong with just starting out. Those who have a sincere avocation for writing will persevere until they achieve their goals. Those who are in it for the ego strokes to be had from an online community will fall deeper into their self-made pit of frustration and despair, lashing out at any and all perceived insults to their self-proclaimed genius and most likely nonexistent talent. These unfortunate souls sometimes even make targets of those they imagine to be talented or knowledgeable. Pssst... it's called jealousy.

One important component of learning is to learn how to accept valid criticism and how to give valid criticism. Do you need to be an official guru for that? Of course not. In fact, much of the value I got from participating in critique exchanges was just getting the "average" movie fan's take on whether or not they'd be interested in seeing my story made into a movie. Hey, I could follow all the guru rules and dot every "i," but if that movie audience member is bored stiff, I don't have a chance.

So those serious about their craft listened, responded, asked questions, agreed, disagreed, but they took what learning they could get from the opportunity and incorporated it into their mental library and moved on.

The unfortunate ones, those in search of the ego strokes, would start flame wars and stalk and bully and harass any and all persons naive enough to get involved in anything resembling criticism with these folks. Even if the well-intended halves of these wars moved away from a particular writer's community, the Enraged Egos never gave up, pursuing selected victims anywhere they could be found in cyberspace.

And it's these folks, in it for the ego strokes, who fancy themselves as writing prodigies who will never move beyond their tiny cadre of like-minded Success Wannabes. And wannbes is all they will ever be until they learn to get along with rest of the human race.

Name any major successful Hollywood figure that you would also classify as a "prima donna." I'll bet they didn't start out with a pole up their butt. I'll bet they put a body of work behind them, they survived "x" number of years or were lucky enough to get "x" amount of work in order to BUILD UP TO their prima donna status.

You, as the newbie, do not start out on Square One as top of the food chain. You must show actual gratitude for any and all morsels of criticism that may be thrown your way even if you know for damn sure that guy/girl's an idiot. Yes. That is correct. You exhibit good manners at all times no matter the circumstance. Grace under pressure if need be.

Good manners. It does open doors. And maybe, in the end, you really will have the last laugh. In the meantime, show that your mamma raised you right.

As for the losers and the flamers and the stalkers and the lamers... they'll still be doing what they do best, too.

So... your first critic and your harshest critic should be your own writer self. As you read back through your own words, you need to develop a sense of what flows, what makes the story a story, what makes you give a shit about those characters. Find the weaknesses, find where it clogs, ask yourself, "What exactly have I done to make my reader - in this case, me - want to know how this thing turns out?" Do I feel the pull toward The End? Do I absolutely need to know what The End is?

Be honest. At least with yourself, be that. Then go back and rewrite. Polish. And if necessary, rewrite some more. Then take your baby out into the world and see how it gets treated there.

And remember... say, "Thank you."

A p.s.: I've found that even my own friends who work in some capacity in the movie or television business hesitate to agree to give my work a read until I absolutely reassure them that I won't hate them if they should hate my stuff. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to getting a read is that person's fear of trampling all over your dreams. Nobody wants to be responsible for doing that. So don't ever go there with those whose help you seek.

RECOMMENDED ARTICLE: "How Do I Critique My Own Work?"


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