WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

RELATIONSHIPS


Can we talk about relationships? Not yours... your character's.

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Imagine your protagonist is locked in a prison cell. Not just any cell, he's in solitary confinement. He can't see anybody, can't talk to anybody, and his meals are delivered through a slot in the cell door. How do you tell a story with this protagonist? He can't TALK - there's no one to talk to, no one to listen to, to one to relate to... he's completely alone. He can't DO anything - there's nothing to do in the cell. In movies like COOL HAND LUKE and THE GREAT ESCAPE when a character is put in solitary confinement they may spend a month in there, but we only see a few seconds. Why? Because without interaction with other characters, without RELATIONSHIPS, there is no story. Nothing can happen while the character is in solitary, you have to get them out into the general population before anything can happen.

It's the same with our screenplays. If your characters are isolated, nothing can happen. They need to interact with others before you can have a story. The more they interact, the more story you'll have. The more emotional the interaction, the more emotional the story.

The most important relationship in any script is between the protagonist and the antagonist. That's the source of the conflict, and story IS conflict. If there is no relationship between protagonist and antagonist, there is no story! Usually there is a basic difference in philosophy between your protagonist and antagonist. They may be both going after the same goal, but their methods are very different. That difference also gives you a clue to the theme of your script... or the theme of your script gives you a clue to the difference.

What is the relationship between your protagonist and the supporting characters? Your protagonist will have some sort of relationship with each of the characters in your script. That relationship may also be connected to theme.

Many of your supporting characters will have relationships with each other. They may have known each other longer than they have known your protagonist, or know each other only through your protagonist. They may hate each other or love each other or be past lovers or ex-friends or any of the millions of other relationships people have with each other.

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WHAT are these relationships? If a character is your protagonist's ex-wife he's going to treat her much differently than if she's the protagonist's ex-boss or a woman he's always had a crush on but never dated or a woman who has always had a crush on his but he's never been interested in or his best friend's girl who used to be his. The relationship between characters tells us how they will act around each other, what they will reveal and what they will conceal. If you don't know the relationship, you don't know what happens.

If two characters are meeting each other for the first time, you might think they have no relationship... but what are the circumstances of their meeting? If a woman meets a man in a bar they will have a different sort of relationship than if she meets him while interviewing him for a job or if she meets him while interrogating him as a murder suspect or if she meets him in a fender bender on the 405 freeway. All of these meetings might lead to a romantic relationship between the woman and the man, but each will be a very different kind of romance based on how they met. They relate to each other differently depending on the circumstances of their meeting.

Do they know about each other before they meet? There are six degrees of separation between all of us, so there's a good chance your protagonist knows something about most of the characters she'll meet BEFORE she meets them. They may have a friend in common, or an enemy in common, or run in the same social circles, or know about each other from work or media or reputation. That will create a preconceived idea of who the other person is that will influence their relationship. I call this the "blind date syndrome" - you think you know who someone is from a third party, but really you only know how that third party sees them... and your relationship will change as you get to know them yourself.

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Which is another aspect of relationships - they change and evolve. Your protagonist may start out not trusting a character and learn to trust them as the story progresses... which will change their relationship. This change isn't all at once - like an on-off switch - it's a gradual change that comes in small increments.

Look at all if the relationships in your screenplay:
1) How do they evolve? How do they change?
2) How does the STORY change the relationship?
3) How does the interaction between characters change the relationship?
4) How does the conflict change the relationship?
5) How does the conflict test the relationship?

You should be able to chart the changes in each of the relationships in your screenplay - with pivotal scenes where the relationships are tested and explode into dramatic situations. We want to show the emotions involved in the relationships... to get your protagonist out of solitary confinement and into the complexities of the general population... where he has a different relationship with every inmate and what happens one day in the yard can change the way the other prisoners treat him.

What are you in for? Relationships...



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Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

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