Ya' Gotta Have Heart! (But how?)



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  • Ya' Gotta Have Heart! (But how?)

    Lately in my life I've been emotionally shut-down, a problem I would classify as not a problem at all, save that it's leaking into my characters. And I'm doing a script where the characters have to draw the reader in completely or I'm, as Rowan Atkinson might say, up a certain creek without a certain instrument.

    It's not that the characters aren't rich, it's that they're downers. And with the story taking place in a poorly-run Victorian lunatic asylum, my script's downer limit is already being pushed.

    Does anyone have ideas about how to inject heart/warmth/a little somthin-somethin into characters who have to be closed off and defensive in order to survive?

    (And if this is all stemming from what I'm like at the moment, has there been something that especially helped you face your work with fresh enthusiasm? Something more invigorating than a beer and some nice Chinese take-out?)

  • #2
    Yeah, set it aside. Force yourself to work on something cheerful. Thinking happy thoughts actually does help your mood.

    When you're in a better place, go back and look at it. See what you can make of your story as it was.


    • #3
      That's good advice, but I can't use it in this case. I'm only 52 pages into it and I want to have the first draft done before a big move in March.

      Also, I can't walk away from an unfinished first draft. Even if it feels a bit off, I have to complete it - it's a compulsion. If not, everyday I take away from it is a day I feel like it's smarter than I am. When vanity=good work ethic, I'm all for it.

      Any other ideas?


      • #4
        Write the story. Get it out of your system. Who cares if all the characters sound like an autistic heroin junky. It doesn't matter. What does is it's in form, on paper with a story. A plot that moves.

        Because you'll be rewriting from scratch. If your characters aren't developed enough to move your story for you, then you got a hell of a rewrite ahead.

        Then go back to each character and give the same one different personalities. Find their peculiarities. What suits them. Go like this.


        Jeff Kanatou

        Surfer Jeff - Like, Dude. That pipeline was absolutely kickin'. Let's max on the road pop and head back t'morrow.

        Cowboy Jeff - Ain't never seen water like that. Rollin' hills, kinda like. Way it hits the shore like it's rode hard 'n put up wet but never gets far from where it come from.

        Pimp Jeff - Listen, Bitch. You see dat huge ****in' wave over there? I said look! That beach slappin' mutha****as me on God 'amn steroids. Get it? 'Cept I'm slappin' me a bitch, not a beach.

        Experiment with each. Maybe not to the extremes above but it's a great excercise in finding WHO will fit.

        Just my $0.02.

        And so on.


        • #5
          Thank you

          Revisionist: You've offered very good advice. Thank you!

          However, I don't think I was clear in my question. I apologize. My characters do move the story, they just don't move me. I want them to be more to the audience than just victims of an abusive system. Sure, they each have their own unique coping mechanism, but I want them to be more individual than that alone can accomplish.

          In short, I'm looking for my "I would like to live in Montana" moments.

          I think you're right about just smacking this script down then worrying about this problem on rewrites, though. Everything looks better with a finished first draft in hand.


          • #6
            Lately in my life I've been emotionally shut-down, a problem I would classify as not a problem at all, save that it's leaking into my characters.
            Actually this sounds to me like a bigger problem than your current script difficulties. So I think you should try and address it soon. Good luck!

            As to the script-

            Probably most of us (if not all) feel anxious and insecure about our first drafts, and are hyper-aware of their flaws as we're working on them. So it's nothing unusual/to worry about in itself.

            In your situation, I might try and quickly organize a read-through with a bunch of actors. Possibly now, or after you've completed your draft. That should throw out some useful stuff about your characters. Of course, these things can also backfire if you don't handle them carefully. Don't let it turn into a free for all script bashing session. (Ideally have somebody running it with experience in these things who you trust, if you're not experienced enough.) Try and keep it focussed on the characters.

            And don't expect the actors to deliver stellar performances right away; actors need time/work too, however talented they are/great their technique. Let them have the script well in advance of the read-through so it's not a totally cold reading if possible.


            Study a bunch of other *depressing* movies, and see if they offer any clues/tips. In your situation, I would probably take a look at THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, THE PIANIST, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES etc. Or maybe (to give you even greater distance from your material/subject matter) some war movies- APOCALYPSE NOW, PLATOON, FULL METAL JACKET.

            But both these suggestions are really 2nd/3rd best to the advice already offered up here: plough on to the end of your draft, and then go back to the drawing board if necessary.


            • #7
              How about giving the audience, and yourself, something we can all root for that would make the situation less bleak, and that would make us all feel better? One little girl, misdiagnosed, that if they can just get her out of there...


              • #8

                Thank you for taking the time to share that idea. I think it's brilliant. At least, I hope it's brilliant. In my script *all* the lead characters are misdiagnosed, and the most up-beat one is still quite ill with the fever that once lead to her delirious ramblings in the first place.

                Maybe I'm just being as unimpressed with my characters as I am with people lately. I'm trying to assume that's not the case though, as that's sort of a best-case scenario so I don't want to rely on it too much.

                Thanks again!


                • #9
                  Re: Brilliant!

                  Sound like a writer I'd collaborate with.

                  I've done the switcheroo between scripts before(it helps), but do an of your patients act wild and crazy in a comical sense?

                  Maybe a split personality gentleman who's 6'-9" but his other self is 4'-2". Not suggesting any changes, but humor always elevates the down-and-out syndrome juuuust enough to help on the balance of the story.

                  Good luck and remember, when all else fails give your characters Gummi Bears.




                  • #10
                    Re: Brilliant!

                    Gummie Bears are out of the question - dang 1880's setting - but humor is something I'm actively looking for in the script.

                    It's hard because the setting plays out more like concentration camp than a typical hospital. Try picturing a prisoner of war movie where almost everyone but the leads pull out their own hair, talk to themselves, or cry all the time

                    (I know many 'insane' people do not act like that, but they're in an abusive, underheated, underfed institution. Gah - next time I start a project like this just smack me over the head.)


                    • #11
                      Re: Brilliant!

                      Don't get so hung up on commerciality Willoughby. Write what grabbed you in the first place. If it is a screenplay, that will become apparent. If it isn't, that will too. Writers write. Often what you thought was a great idea ends up sucking for sucksville but sometimes you've got to go down the road a ways to find out.


                      • #12
                        Re: Brilliant!

                        "how to inject heart/warmth" ...have yr characters played by the Muppets?:lol

                        But seriously, check out a film based on a book by W.P.Blatty --I think it was called "The Ninth Configuration" -whole flick takes place in a lunatic asylum fro US soldiers - there are moments of absurdist humor & human warmth. Think of yr char's as fully rounded people & they'll come out & grab the reader/audience. One thing thats done here & in Marat/Sade & maybe other lunatic asylum works ( maybe this is a genre?) is have the inmates put on a PLAY!


                        • #13
                          Re: Brilliant!

                          Hmmm. Movies like Papillon and Cuckoos next come to mind.
                          You know, crazy/sick IS funny/quirky, in fact they have more liscense, so let yourself be free with that.
                          I have been having some of your same challenges for awhile, now. I just can't crawl into the characters...and I think it's because I'm not opening up or 'channeling' ( stupid word, but you get my jist) with the characters. In my case, I think I did too much background work, it it opened up possibilities that have made it all a bit muddled and off direction. Anyway, best of luck with it all, and don't forget to give yourself liscense to find your/your characters quirks.


                          • #14
                            Re: Brilliant!

                            Don't know if this'll help or not...the script I'm working on now - my major characters are dramatically flawed, but I've honed them with the intent that the audience can't help but fall in love with them. Poor, lovable bastards, you just want them to win at this quagmire called life.

                            For me, it's a personal thing right now. I am so sick of reading books, and watching films about people who I could care less about, that I have intentionally set this task before me. So maybe you can think about that - if you're feeling apathetic toward humanity, challenge yourself to write these characters of yours so that even you feel for them. Give them backstory - you don't even have to write it down, since you're on a deadline - just dream it up lying in the tub with a glass of wine (or scotch)... Make yourself care about them - then they'll have heart and you might even find a bit of your own too!

                            Good luck.


                            • #15
                              Re: Brilliant!

                              Another to check out is "Girl, Interrupted."

                              Some questions to consider: Who are these people? What do they love? How do they hold onto their humanity despite inhumane conditions? What do they hope for, dream up, imagine might be the greater reason behind this life?

                              As far as feeling disheartened about life, I have those days when people in general seem pretty rotten. One thing that helps me is to find one thing during those bad days to be happy about. I don't mean some pansy-sniffing gratitude attitude. I mean one realistic thing to be happy about. Just one on those days when it seems like the world is completely dark. It could be something as big as "I'm happy that a tsunami didn't come wash away my house" or as little as "I'm happy that I got some seriously good almond chicken for lunch." It helps to provide perspective, that not all of life is cruddy.

                              And maybe your characters could have those good moments, too.