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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why Must There Be Suffering? It's Fun!

Why is there suffering in stories? Why is it essential to put your characters through the meat grinder? Because there is suffering in life, and all good stories distill the essence of real life in a concentrated time frame.

It's like Hitchcock's famous quote:"Movies are real life with the boring parts taken out."

Then it falls to us to answer the larger question, so that we can understand it's purpose in the first question of this post. Why is there suffering in life?

Because we come into this life as dense beings, aware mostly of ourselves and convinced that the world is centered around us. Loss, emotional pain, physical pain, threat of extinction, any suffering breaks us down, and makes us compassionate to the pain felt by others. It makes us realize there is more to life than our own wants and needs, it makes us reach outside of ourselves as the only way to survive, when all hope and physical abilitiy seems lost.

It's the old saying:"there are no athiests in a fox hole". Suffering makes you reach outside of yourself to the moment when you go "please God or whatever else is up there, please please help me." This call to something greater, this letting go, is the deepest transformation a person - and therefore - a character, can go through.

That is why your character has to suffer. It's the only thing that is going to break them down, shatter their patterns, crack their shell, bust up their narccistic nature and make them realize there is not only more to the world than what's under their own skin, but their potential is magnified when they call on something higher to be more than they currently are, to be all that they can be - and finally discover their fullest potential.

There are mary variations of the higher call. It can be falling in love, dying for love, surrendering to God - possibly in a death state - and coming back with higher powers (Star Wars and the Matrix touch on this), or just literally "breaking" and coming back from having one's character broken a better stronger person (Paul Newman in Hud). That, of course, is the definition of "Shaman" not only a person who is a medium between the visible world and the invisible world, but literally a "shattered man".

You must be broken down, shattered, and suffer, to expand, to grow, to transform, and become a new complete and fully realized "you".

This would be considered a "birth and death" cycle in spiritual terms, and in one life there can be many such cycles. For best storytelling, often the chracter refuses to embrace hardship and suffering as tools for change and growth. They rail against it, fight it, resist it at all costs. Then, appropriately smashed and flattened at the end of the second act, they must rise again like the phoenix, and realize only now that their whole way of looking at life was limited, wrong, near sighted. Now with expanded understanding and a new and fuller depth of spirit, they bring a fantastic new authority and power to their finale.

Fortunately for the rest of us, we don't have to do that, if we choose not to. We can embrace hardship as the teacher it is and grow faster than our characters might.


Blogger Warren said...

Hey Philip,

Great post. I hadn't heard that Hitchcock quote before. And all that makes great sense about breaking down the character, or maybe the character's identity (?), through suffering. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005  

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