THE FINAL

FLIGHT OF

​ATLANTIS

The final flight of the space shuttle brought back a flood of memories reaching back to the beginnings of the reach for the moon.  I was in my early twenties and working as a film editor with one of the major studios.  That wasn’t what I wanted to do but it was very good money for a twenty-five year old just out of the service.  My goal was to be a writer but the studio wouldn’t read anything I wrote since all they saw was someone who cut film. 

An opportunity to write and direct my own work arose when I found out that the company building the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn II rocket had formed a large motion picture and television unit and was hiring people from show business.  I applied and went to work as a writer, producer, director at what was then called North American Aviation, now Rockwell International.  Inside its Downey California plant they had built the largest sound stage in the United States with all the latest motion picture and television equipment including some of the first videotape facilities in America.  The company also had its own microwave relay system to beam programming to Houston and Cape Canaveral.

I first saw the Apollo Command Module hanging from a giant swing outside the factory.  The full size test model swung back and forth over a huge pond.  At its highest arc the cables released the module and it splashed into the water simulating what would become a familiar sight to TV viewers: Apollo screaming through the atmosphere and making its splashdown in the ocean.

Over the course of several years I wrote, produced and or directed almost 100 documentaries, some only five minutes long others up to one hour including a documentary about space medicine, “Rx For Space”, that became one of the first color films broadcast by the Los Angeles public television station when it began colorcasting.

I bring up this title because it outlined the benefits to terrestrial society from advancements in space science and medicine.  Many of these advancements are only now coming to fruition after decades. Many believe the space program is an exercise in human hubris with high financial cost.  Nothing could be more incorrect.  The value to human beings in longer life, better medical care, new non-invasive treatment of disease, use of algae as a power and food source, hydrogen power, fuel cells, etc. cannot be calculated accurately.

Therefore it is imperative to continue manned space flight and exploration to the moon and planets in our solar system and eventually beyond.   Human curiosity leads to social, political, economic, and scientific breakthroughs.  Without the desire to reach beyond the stars we will stagnate and lose our capacity for creativity. 

JACK KLUGMAN
RECALLED

Dennis and I met through a mutual friend, both of whom had an interest in emerging artists.  Dennis collected unknown artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol, while our friend collected Johns, Stella and Bengston. 

On a particular summer day when we were both in our early thirties, we gathered in a patio bordering our friend’s tennis court and quaffed beer and ate nachos.  Dennis challenged me to a tennis game.   I was a moderately adequate player.  However I didn’t know that Dennis was a very good player. 

The game commenced and he played with a racket in one hand and a can of beer in the other whereas I, determined to do my best, smashed balls back.  I was a head taller than Dennis and in my hubris thought I could overpower him.  With laid-back insouciance, he commenced to take me down one set after another.   He never broke a sweat while I looked as if a waterfall had poured over me.

He forgave me for my lousy game and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about art – never about film or the film industry.  It was another time and another place.

A Nineteenth-Century Guide to Screenwriting, or

How the Victorians Invented the Screenplay

It may seem peculiar in the twenty-first-century to discuss screenwriting in the same breath as nineteenth-century fiction. After all, in that period the only visual representation that remotely resembled a motion picture was Muybridge's zoopraxiscope: a revolving device consisting of a series of still shots photographed in sequence that appeared to move when viewed through a narrow viewing port.  It had no story, only the novelty of movement.  The imagination of the viewer filled in the rest.

Once motion pictures began telling stories, filmmakers looked to familiar models on which to build screenplays.  The modern novel born in the nineteenth-century provided the model they needed.

To understand how Victorian fiction created the basic structure of motion pictures we have to examine the times in which those novels were written.  The years between the mid-nineteenth century and the early teens of the twentieth-century resonate with us into the twenty-first.  Parallels exist between our time and an age that we have romanticized all out of proportion to the truth.

The so-called Victorian Era was rife with upheaval.  The Industrial Revolution roared into Western civilization much the same way as the Technological Revolution roared into our own lives.  It brought with it a disruption of social values expressed in our time with films such as "The Sum of All Fears" in which we face the disaster of awesome technology falling into the hands of terrorists.  Middle class entrepreneurs found themselves swimming in money.  Think dot-commers. Greed and wealth went hand-in-hand.  Think Enron, Global Crossing and WorldCom.  "Wall Street" written by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone was one of the first screen stories to predict the fallibility of placing too much faith in financial players with loyalty only to the bottom line.

Aside from money, society also saw changing values in many other ways.  While we look on Victorians as sexually corseted, diaries and newspapers of the time reported increases in violent sex crimes.  A plague of sexually transmitted diseases -- notably syphilis -- affected every strata of society.  Consider that HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are with us today.

Victorian era writers reacted to their world in a number of ways.  Jane Austen surveyed the scene with a deep sense of irony.  An irony that finds itself at its height with "Emma". The theme of the novel is so modern that it became the source for a contemporary motion picture "Clueless" written and directed by Amy Heckerling as well as a film written and directed by Douglas McGrath that takes place within its own time

Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence" examines New York society in 1870 with a satiric eye, but it could be New York or Los Angeles, 2002.  Success necessitates that an attorney marries a trophy wife.  But he has a wandering eye and searches for the seductiveness of an illicit love affair with an exotic woman who has a checkered past.

The great Victorian writer, Charles Dickens, examined every aspect of life during those times: From the grimiest London cesspool to the heights of courage and daring.  Although "A Tale of Two Cities" takes place during the French Revolution of 1775, it reflects the mores and values of his time.  Dickens constantly searched for soul in an age gone mad.  So, too have we searched for soul within the confines of Vietnam or the Gulf War or Bosnia-Herzegovina or in the Middle East.  In the same way that Dickens reverted to an earlier time where heroism could be accepted, in our time we turn back to "Saving Private Ryan" or "Band of Brothers" where we can espouse simpler truths even if the veil of time obscures the terrible details of war's horrors.

With his novels of the first decade of the twentieth-century, E. M. Forster predicted enormous changes in society.  Pretense, Forster believed, was the mask behind which polite society hid its prejudices against the poor, ethnic minorities, and all those who didn't fit within the framework of the polite society.  He peeled away pretense and out times echo his in which prejudice still raises its ugly head.  We continue, as they did in 1910, to claim that the "other" will destroy our society.  France votes for a Fascist in reaction to its minority population.  Italy votes for a radical right wing government with its attendant bigotry. Recently, "Focus" written by Kendrew Lascelles from the Arthur Miller novel demonstrated that those forces remain powerful today.

Most novels of the era have an episodic structure.  Almost every chapter ends with a hook to get the reader back into the story much the same way that screenwriters use hooks, large and small, to lead viewers from one scene to another.

Scenes carefully lay out descriptions of the environment and carefully delineate characters who drive the story forward rather than go along for the ride.  It's as if the writers understood that visual elements of stories are as important as their literary qualities.

And why not?  Museum art and calendar art or daguerreotypes and tintype photos were the only visuals available. Story telling was the main source of entertainment.

Even if a person couldn't read someone could read to them. Therefore it became necessary to conjure up wonderful images of places and people who occupied those spaces. And since one did not read a novel all at once, it had to have cliffhangers so that the listener yearned to come back for more.

Writers such as Charles Dickens, first published their novels a chapter at a time in weekly newspapers.  The object was to make sure readers always bought the next installment.  Something interesting had to happen at the end of each chapter.  Since most writers were paid by the word, Dickens made sure he wrote enough to cover his bills.

How cinematic was Dickens?  He understood one of the main conventions of a motion picture. He understood the "inciting incident" necessary to start the action.  The inciting incident produces the central core of the story -- the reason for the story's existence.  As a result of this incident the main character or characters must fight or claw toward the resolution that appears in the third act.

Most of us who were forced to read "A Tale of Two Cities" when we were in high school or college only remember the opening of the novel:  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

And the end with Sidney Carton's heroic, melodramatic speech as he approached the guillotine in place of the romantic lead: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, then I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."

But what starts it all?  Above all things, the theme of "Tale" is rape.  Real and figurative rape creates the dynamics of the story.  An evil aristocracy entombs Dr. Manette in the Bastille when he discovers they have raped and murdered a young peasant woman.  Everyone becomes victim of the rape: Manette's daughter, Lucy, married to Charles Darnay, a son of the aristocrats who is condemned to death by the French Tribunal and lastly Sidney Carton who takes Darnay's place. Metaphorically, the book describes in vivid detail the rape of a nation gone made with bloodlust.

Motion pictures excel at metaphor.  Sayles' "Sunshine State" is a metaphor for the destruction of both the natural environment and a way of life.Kaufman's "Being John Malcovitch" explores fear of emotional attachments expressed through the puppeteer-hero's arm-length distance from real people.

Dickens wrote "A Tale of Two Cities" in classic three-act structure.  Book One titled "Recalled to Life" sets up the conflict to come. Book Two, "The Golden Thread", the longest section, presents the conflict and tension.  Book Three, "The Track of the Storm" brings the romantic, heroic, melodramatic resolution to a close.

W. P. Lipscomb and S. N. Behrman, the screenwriters of the 1935 version of "A Tale of Two Cities", follow the book almost word for word, image for image.  It's as if the novel was a detailed treatment including the dialogue.

Besides metaphor, Dickens also used dramatic hooks or dramatic dialogue to draw us from one chapter to another -- or from one scene to another. 

For example, at the end of Chapter Three, Book One, Dr. Manette, now rescued and riding in the Dover Mail stage, raves about his burial in the Bastille.  A disturbed passenger blurts out:  "Eighteen years...Gracious Creator of the day!  To be buried alive for eighteen years!"

The last paragraph of Book Two leads us into the third act. Charles Darnay convicted in absentia by the Revolutionary Tribunal, places his life in jeopardy for a noble cause.

Irony is the center of Edith Wharton's novel "Age of Innocence" written during the Edwardian period but which retains many of the Victorian forms.  When we read a scene from the book and then review how Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese translated it to the screen we see how they changed very little.  The screenwriters make a few juxtapositions and deletions because they deal with a different medium and it requires its own language -- the language of cinema.  The character's inner thoughts in the novel become visual signals permitting viewers to grasp feelings and emotions. 

Wharton carefully peels back layer upon layer of each character until they're exposed. The author explores character as if she held an advanced degree in psychology.  She isn't alone.  Austen, Dickens, Forster and others in the pantheon of writers of a hundred or a hundred and twenty years ago exhibited the same insight. Surprises arise but always based on a careful foreshadowing of events.

Foreshadowing offers writers an opportunity to prepare viewers for surprises without giving away the store.  The "aha!" moment comes about when clues that may seem small and inconsequential (read that as covert) give logic to the moment. The audience is surprised but understands why the event occurred.  Begnini and Cerami's "Life is Beautiful" foreshadows both tragedy and triumph.  Tragedy when the hero's farcical translation foreshadows his death.  Triumph when his fantasy game appears to come true.

In "Howards End", E.M. Forster introduces a modern woman -- Margaret -- who makes the first advance against the wealthy tradesman, Wilcox.  The author sets the scene with the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen.  Margaret will eventually marry the newly rich and widowed tradesman Henry Wilcox setting off a chain of events that will change views on class and attitudes toward society.

Cinematically, Forster often opens each chapter with a piece of action or dialogue that grabs the reader immediately.  He doesn't tiptoe around and wait for something to happen.  He engages the reader immediately.  A lesson that screenwriters use over and over again to keep the action moving. 

In one chapter he begins with a shocking statement: "We are not concerned with the very poor.  They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet."  The screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, restates the prose as dialogue: "A word of advice.  Don't take up a sentimental attitude over the poor.  The poor are poor.  One is sorry for them and there it is."  The line expresses everything we need to know about Henry Wilcox.

Another chapter begins with "Leonard accepted the invitation to tea next Saturday.  But he was right; the visit proved a conspicuous failure."  The reader is set up for the coming storm in which Leonard feels used by the Schlegel sisters.  The storm that bursts forth eventually changes Henry Wilcox who comes to accept, through Margaret, that the poor are poor, but not necessarily doomed to perpetual poverty.  He also comes to accept that women have capabilities beyond that of mothers and wives.

Scorsese and Cock's screenplay of "Age of Innocence" foreshadows the true nature of the supposedly innocent, naïve young bride May Welland when she vehemently demonstrates fierce attachment to propriety.  Her determination pays off in the last half of act three.

Those wishing to write screenplays would do well to study these writers and others from the period to understand structure, character, and story development.   How-to books have their uses -- certainly as references, but nothing can take the place of reading novels by writers who understand and explore the human condition. 

To understand both text and subtext in a story you have to read these authors and critically view films made from those sources along with novels and films based on Emily Brontë's, "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre".  You should study Joseph Conrad whose "Heart of Darkness" was reincarnated by John Milius and Frances Ford Coppola as "Apocalypse Now". Digest Mary Shelley who wrote one of the definitive horror novels/social commentaries with "Frankenstein".  Discover the melodramatic, gothic George du Maurier, not as well-known, but who gave us a character film and TV writers use over and over again: "Svengali" from his book, "Trilby".

Without them, cinema might not exist in its present form. Filmmakers in the nascent years of the industry had only those references for making motion pictures. That alone might be the reason so many early films were loaded with melodramatic devices. Unfortunately, the lessons learned from reading the books -- or just hearing about them only touched the surface of the material rather than delving deep into the subject matter.

Part of the reason came from a distrust of the audience. Filmmakers felt that their audiences wouldn't sit still for thought-provoking cinema.  They presented "amusements" rather than subtext.  It took Griffiths in the United States, Lang in Germany, Abel in France, and other great storytellers to understand that great novels contained lessons they could use in the creation of a new language of cinema.  Those lessons became the mainstay of motion pictures into the sound era. Those novels created the arc in which characters change as a result of their actions and interactions.  They invented the hook or point of interest designed to drive readers farther into the story. Novels of the mid-19th and early 20th century focused on characters who drive the story forward rather than morality tales that propelled two-dimensional characters before them.

We might have discovered all this without the modern novel that began in the nineteenth century.  Or it may have taken a different direction.  Certainly, the three-act structure has been with us since humans started telling stories around the smoking embers of campfires.  However, the way in which we develop characters; the way in which we create dramatic devices to draw viewers deeper into the story was the result of novels written for a public anxious to read about class struggle, struggles within class or who wanted to smile with the author's satiric or ironic view of the world. 

Therefore, while not immediately apparent, writers of the Victorian era initiated the language of cinematic style within their prose.NO LIMITATIONS
The Screenwriter as Writer

One of the myths of the motion picture industry states that screenwriters only write for the big or small screen. Somehow writers become entrenched in this head-messing idea.  “My screenplay didn’t sell”...”my agent hasn’t called”...”Oh, My God, what will I do?”...”Do I have to go back to (choose your option) ‘waiting tables’ ‘working construction’ ‘become an accountant’?”

Sheer, unadulterated nonsense.

Some of the most prolific film and television writers have gone on to create memorable theater and profound fiction.  In a number of instances, playwrights and novelists have transitioned to film and television.

 The late Larry Gelbart, one of the creative geniuses behind the long-running television series “Mash”, wrote the Broadway farce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and the Broadway musical “City of Angels”. Woody Allen began as a comedian and joke writer and continues creating films as well as writing short stories, books and plays.  Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet went from stage to film, published novels and created series for television.  Before he wrote screenplays, William Goldman published several novels and had plays produced on Broadway.  Herman Wouk wrote gags for the Fred Allen radio show before he won renown as the writer of “The Caine Mutiny”, “Marjorie Morningstar”, and “Winds of War” among others. 

Of course the way a story is written depends on the medium. Motion pictures and television rely on the visual.  It’s difficult to get inside someone’s head unless you’re into voice over narratives or Shakespearean soliloquies.  The interior character has to be represented by exterior actions, reactions and dialogue. 

Novels and short stories, on the other hand, can delve into the workings of the mind and the psyche painting pictures for the readers of the interiority of characters as well as the environment in which they exist. While you can rely on art directors to create the ambience of a motion picture, the author of a novel must be his or her own art director creating an environment that intrigues and draws in the reader.

Okay, it’s difficult to switch gears.  But if you have written a damned good screenplay and can’t sell it, why not turn it into prose?  Why limit yourself to one medium when you have a world of art and literature at your feet?  The incredible desire to write one hell of a story for the screen indicates that it has within it the seeds of a great novel or play.

Consider how many films have been produced based on novels, especially Victorian and Edwardian novels.  Why do they work and why are they so valued?  Because most of them have intrinsic cinematic values. Read Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, Howard and the others.  They evoke wonderful imagery, dramatic and humorous dialogue, intriguing characters, motivation, psychological insights, and most of all great structure.

That screenplay gathering dust on your shelf is gold. A story good enough for you to spend months developing has potential far beyond the large or small screen. Consider the upside: the author of a book doesn’t have to worry about some producer or director taking over the manuscript and manipulating it so that it has no resemblance to your intentions. Plays are the same.  The ultimate authority when it comes to making edits belongs to the writer as his or her sole right. 

What a difference from motion pictures and television where the ultimate copyright owner is not the writer, but the producer or the studio that buys it.  There’s an axiom that after you sell a screenplay “they can paint it green” and almost every screen and television writer can tell tales where producers and/or directors changed the lead character’s gender or switched locations or flipped time periods

Of course selling your screenplay and seeing it produced is an emotional high.  Everyone reading this wants to make the big killing.  But take a look at reality (as difficult as that is).

If you do sell your screenplay chances are the contract may have a large dollar figure attached.  Let’s assume you will be paid $250,000.  I use this figure because it seems like a goodly sum of cash.  Note that in the Writers Guild Schedule of Minimum payments the minimum payment for an original high-budget screenplay (anything with a budget exceeding five million) at this writing is $102,980.  Let’s assume your agent does manage to get you an over scale payment. Most contracts are step deals.You’ll receive part of the payment up front, another payment when you deliver the rewrite, and the final payment when it goes to principal photography.  The process may take three to four years before it comes to fruition.  Assuming the final payment for your screenplay is $250,000, after four years you will have earned $62,500 a year less agent commissions, taxes, etc.  Starting salaries for first year attorneys are about $125,000 a year.  Therefore, writing for the screen or television is not going to make you rich unless, according to Writers Guild statistics, you happen to be in the one-tenth of the ten percent who earn a living at the craft.

The answer to all this, of course, is belief in yourself as a writer who has the potential for creating insightful stories.  Those stories may become motion pictures or end up on one of the premium cable channels.  If they don’t, there’s no reason to give up on them.  Leap at the opportunity to adapt your screenplays for other media.

As a writer with a long career in television, I faced the very same dilemma.  One of my screenplays was always received with a great deal of enthusiasm.  So much so, that I received assignments based on it. Unfortunately, no one wanted to produce it.  A friend recommended that I turn it into a novel for children.  It was published by a mainstream publisher and has sold over one-third of a million copies.  No one told me I had to change it. No one leaned over my shoulder staring at my computer to make sure I satisfied his or her idea of what the story should be.


Once I had that experience, I took another story and adapted it as a novel.  It too was published and has sold well.  A producer read it and optioned it and I wrote a new screenplay for which I was paid.  I have done the same with two other screenplays and publishers have expressed interest in them.

Of course I’m still writing screenplays – as well as novels and plays all of which have been produced. I call myself a writer because I write.  For screenwriting students it’s critical to keep writing – screenplays, journals, essays, short stories, novels, poetry all develop creativity and help germinate ideas that find their way onto paper.  If you do that, you have the right to call yourself a writer – or perhaps an author. 

My very first television writing assignment came from “Quincy, M.E.” In a way, it was remarkable.  I had never written a TV show in my life. Through a series of strange quirks I had a screenplay optioned by a major studio before I graduated college although it never saw the light of day as a motion picture.  That’s when I decided to become a documentary filmmaker but with dreams of writing narrative screenplays.  One show intrigued me, “Quincy”.  It was pro-social, had a message, but more intriguing had a character portrayed by Jack Klugman who fought the establishment. 

I studied the series, read scripts, wrote copious notes about the show’s structure and began collecting ideas from newspapers and magazines that I felt would fit the “Quincy” format.  With several pitches in hand, I called the producer with disastrous results.  I couldn’t get past his secretary.   Young and with no  idea how to get through the door, I started calling twice a day – morning and late afternoon when a miracle occurred.  The producer’s secretary had gone to a late lunch and he answered the call.  I told him I had some notions and he asked me to come in.  None of the pitches worked although I was told they were good: too similar to other stories; almost the same as ones in the pipeline, etc. 

A few weeks later the producer contacted me and asked if I would be interested in polishing a script.  I accepted.  There was one caveat, I had to discuss the script with Jack Klugman and tell him what was wrong with it.  It’s one thing to talk with the producer, another to talk with the actor who starred in “The Odd Couple”, had been on Broadway, acted in “Twilight” episodes, and now headlined one of the most popular TV shows on the air.

What could I do?  We discussed the script.  He thanked me and that was it.  I did my polish and later that week my phone rang at 10PM.  Klugman was on the other end berating me for not rewriting the script with the ideas I gave him.  I explained I was only being paid to do a polish not a rewrite.  “I’ll take care of that,” he said and hung up.  The next morning I received word that my assignment had been upped to rewrite – and more money.

After delivering the rewrite and receiving Jack’s approval, the producer informed me that eventually I could write my own episode.  True to his word he gave me good news that I had an assignment based on a newspaper article.  Los Angeles had torrential rains.  As a result a hillside cemetery collapsed on a neighborhood below.  That was it.  I had to come up with a compelling story.  The bad news – I had to deliver a completed script of 62 pages in 72 hours because they had to start shooting the following Monday.   Okay, that’s less than a page an hour if I didn’t sleep or eat.  I didn’t count on Jack.  He wanted to see me for 4 hours the next day to discuss my story.  I trekked to his Malibu condo where we tossed ideas back and forth until I came up with a different “Quincy” story.  Not a murder, but a forensic drama that could lead to death by disease.  Half a day without writing the actual script.  Then the rest of the day researching disease, LA city water supplies, and legal research into endowment cemeteries (ubiquitous PCs  and Google did not exist) that became a political “B” story. 

At 10pm I started writing and powered through until finished.  I had no idea if the script was good or bad.  On deadline I handed it in praying it worked.  Worst case scenario I could always go back to documentaries.  24 hours later Jack’s secretary called and ordered me to show up at Universal Stage 25 to see Klugman.  I knew he had a temper and went with trepidation.  Jack finished his scene, saw me, and clasped me around the shoulders.  “Best script we ever had on the show,” he exclaimed.  “No rewrite.  We’re shooting it the way you wrote it.”  It was the first and last time that happened to me.

William Morris heard about my script and signed me.  I went on to write several more episodes and as a result went under contract at Universal. Jack Klugman was instrumental in starting me on a journey I never regretted.  He will always be in my memory and part of my life.

Starvation increases endorphins, fires adrenalin through the blood stream, and ups the creative ante. If you believe that then thrust yourself into the entertainment business/art/insane asylum/

Since the birth of the motion picture industry in the late 19th century, dreamers have yearned for that moment when their names flickered briefly across the screen – screenplay by, written by.  Fantasies of accolades follow only to be drowned out by reality that asks “what have you done lately?”

Lawyers lose cases and continue working.  Doctors fail to cure patients and continue to have successful practices.  Writers fail and they’re out of work.  The entertainment industry is obsessed by the outward nature of personalities. If someone announces they are the greatest writer or director, agents and producers who have doubts of their own abilities may believe and thus films, television programs, novels drop off the end of the cliff into the black abyss of forgotten stories,

But the magic exerts magnetic power.  Evoking passion, laughs, screams of horror, or a unique emotional vision represents an ageless need to explain human nature and the world

 

“There is in writing the constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident.”

H. L. Mencken 

IT'S A WONDERFUL

LIFE

THE CHARACTER DRIVEN SCREENPLAY

BLOG

Michael Halperin

VICTORIAN

SECRETS

DENNIS HOPPER:

A REMEMBRANCE

As much as we enjoy focusing on archetypes, when developing characters for a screenplay, novel or play, it’s critical to examine all the other issues that make up compelling characters.  Archetypes are useful since they present us with valid, and forceful templates that have stood the test of time.  However they only work when we understand the principal aspects of the human condition. 

Mythology can give us Hercules and Odysseus.  Wisdom literature can give us Jesus and Noah. Modern myths gave us Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.  How we deal with these myths and archetypes is very dependent on understanding the source of conflict, the opposing forces in a character’s life, motivation, primeval driving forces, and existential crises within the character.

First and foremost, conflict is usually the result of family. Not necessarily family of origin but also the adopted family of a gang, clan or tribe.  Real families or surrogate families develop shifting allegiances based on existential crises as well as the emergence of the “secret” in the family.   Almost every great story reveals some kind of familial secret that once uncovered become the source of conflict.

Intertwined with conflict almost all characters display at one time or another – often at the same time – independence or a sense of rootlessness, interdependence with others or dependence on others.Independence is the loner character who wishes not to touch or be touched.  In America the best examples are seen in westerns with the lone rider entering the town to vanquish the villains and then riding out again, his horse his only ally.  Truly independent people (a rare commodity) are cut off from their heritage, their roots and thus not very interesting.  That’s one of the reasons we always get the back-story showing the human side, some might say the interdependent side of the character.

Interdependent characters are fairly normal.  They show mutual respect for the space of others and believe in the sanctity (in myth, the holiness) of time, place and action.  Unfortunately, they’re not too interesting as fodder for fiction since they have all the attributes of ordinary people.  However, as stated above, interdependence plays a part in all characters.

Dependent characters present major challenges.  They are the ones who bask in the sunlight of others and whose lives are determined by the other.  They can be followers, gang supplicants, or be driven into the nether world of psychosis where their personalities are completely subsumed. 

In my next blog I’ll identify several motion pictures that exemplify each one of these traits.  If you have any favorites, send your analysis to me. You’re invited to comment.

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