Screenwriting Lessons

The tremendous response I received from yesterday’s blog about my five year old’s very bad day https://jennswondering.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/when-a-good-boy-is-really-bad/ reminded me of a screenwriting professor at USC. He said three things that come into my thoughts every now and then.

1) You are not going to put up with Los Angeles for long. I always wondered if he said that to discourage me from trying to succeed as a screenwriter because I wasn’t good at it, or if he was expressing his own dislike for Hollywood, although he was a great success and so planned to stay. I probably should have asked before leaving.

2) Kill the dog. If anyone had a dog or a horse in their screenplay, he always found a point when that animal, he claimed, had to die for the benefit of the story. And the funny thing was, every time he recommended it, students gasped in horror, “Can the little girl die instead?” or “What about the cowboy?” He found it very strange that writers cared more for their fictional dogs than their fictional people.

3) The worst written character is often the hero. I was concerned that my lead character was the most boring in the entire screenplay, and he replied that that was because most writers protect their main characters from wrongdoing, weakness or anything else that might cause an audience to judge. It was as if we were protecting our innermost selves. Villains and minor characters, he said, are easier to write because we actually care less about them, so make them more colorful, more flawed, more vulnerable.

When I wrote yesterday about my son’s very bad day, turning a typically wonderful lead character into a momentary villain, and revealing my own poor parenting morning, suddenly friends, fellow bloggers, family and people I barely know were engaged in my story.

Everybody likes a character with flaws so we can root for them to overcome. I need to remember that next time I am about to decide not to share a bad boy moment.

Thanks, professor.

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