Chamber Drama

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  • Chamber Drama

    Hey guys,

    I'm working on a concept for a new screenplay. This will be a Chamber Drama, meaning a very intimate and small-scaled story taking place within an extended family. There's a lot of potential for reveals with all of the family members having a dark past. The characters are fascinating to me and I'm already looking forward to writing the dialogue scenes.

    However, I couldn't find an over-arching goal for my main character so far. I know that the goal in a Drama is much more subtle than in all other genres (basically defeating some kind of enslaving system, in this case the family), but I would love to make it stronger, more specific and give the story a better spine.

    Do you by any chance have tips on creating the goal?

  • #2
    Re: Chamber Drama

    You're right about the structural subtleties of dramas. I usually think about dramas being similar to disaster movies, except the disaster is personal and usually happened before FADE IN. In a traditional disaster film the disaster is a huge set piece that happens in, or at the end of, the first act.

    For instance, in Silver Linings Playbook both of the main characters deal with a personal tragedy that happened in the fairly recent past.

    HTH,
    Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

    -Steve Trautmann
    3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

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    • #3
      Re: Chamber Drama

      The goal depends on the character, and the character depends on the goal. Both depend on what kind of story you want to tell. Ask yourself, what is the premise of your story?

      If you want a better grasp of these subjects, I suggest reading The Art of Dramatic Writing. It's a sometimes rambling book, but it does an excellent job of explaining (with examples) the interconnection between your premise/controlling idea, the design of your main character(s), and the main goal they are trying to achieve.

      Your story should not be a potpourri of interesting characters and situations. Everything and everyone should be designed in harmony with a specific purpose in mind.
      Last edited by Ven; 10-03-2015, 01:08 PM.

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      • #4
        Re: Chamber Drama

        Hi Yaso.

        I know sometimes it's tricky to find a very appealing goal. I would try to be as specific as possible. If your story's theme is about defeating the family enslaving system, who represents that in the family? That will be the antagonist, and defeating him/her (not the "enslaving system") the goal.

        Following the Silver Lining Playbook example, his goal could be " to get his life back as it was". Too generic, that's the same as saying "I want to be happy" or "I want to destroy the family enslaving system". How is he going to do that?

        What about "to win back his wife". Better but still how will he do that?

        "To enter a dance contest with this crazy beautiful girl so that she, simply, gives her wife a letter". Well, that's a very precise goal that can be easily developed in a script. And in the end it has the same goal as the first one.
        Check out my website with my productions: http://www.picturesplusproductions.com

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        • #5
          Re: Chamber Drama

          My idea is that the main character comes to this house after 30 years of absence, bringing his father, his wife and son. He learns the ugly truth about his past, uncovers the lies his father told him, but forgives his parents and finds a new place in the family.

          The comparison with disaster movies is fascinating. I'll try that.

          I also have an edition of The Art of Dramatic Writing right here. A great read, in my opinion, but it didn't help me with this issue so far.

          Love stories are the easiest, because that's a clear genre. It gives you a clear spine. But I don't have that in my story.

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          • #6
            Re: Chamber Drama

            Originally posted by Yaso View Post
            Hey guys,

            I'm working on a concept for a new screenplay. This will be a Chamber Drama, meaning a very intimate and small-scaled story taking place within an extended family. There's a lot of potential for reveals with all of the family members having a dark past. The characters are fascinating to me and I'm already looking forward to writing the dialogue scenes.

            However, I couldn't find an over-arching goal for my main character so far. I know that the goal in a Drama is much more subtle than in all other genres (basically defeating some kind of enslaving system, in this case the family), but I would love to make it stronger, more specific and give the story a better spine.

            Do you by any chance have tips on creating the goal?
            The trick is not to think in terms of "goal" but to think in terms of "problem" -- because at the heart of every story there's a problem, whether it's a kitchen drama or a big action film or a genre film or any other kind of narrative story.

            There's a problem. It needs to solved. Somebody needs to solve it. They make choices to try solve it. They're good choices or bad choices. They solve it or they fail to solve it. The somebody is the protagonist. The choices they make express the theme.

            The story runs along two tracks -- the external track -- the physical action of the story. What the characters do and say and the decisions they make, and the internal track -- an internal conflict within the protagonist that is embodied in the decisions that they make and that is an expression of the theme that is going to be worked out over the course of the movie.

            This is sometimes called "want vs. need." The protagonist wants something but also needs something and those two forces are at war within him and that internal struggle expresses itself in the external struggle of the physical action of the story.

            In On The Waterfront, Terry Malloy wants to be loyal to his brother and his surrogate family, led by Johnny Friendly -- but he also has an awakening conscience that makes want to do the right thing. And that internal struggle works itself out over the course of the story. That struggle is embodied in decisions he makes. It's embodied in characters that represent that struggle -- his brother and Johnny Friendly on one side, The priest and the Eva Mary Saint character on the other, like angels and devils on his shoulders. So you have these thematic battle going on both inside and working itself out through the physical action of the story -- through what other characters to and what he chooses to do in response.

            So the challenge is to be very focused -- to understand what the central problem is, and then to find a way to externalize that problem -- that's what "dramatizing" means -- in characters and action.

            NMS

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            • #7
              Re: Chamber Drama

              Originally posted by Yaso View Post
              My idea is that the main character comes to this house after 30 years of absence, bringing his father, his wife and son. He learns the ugly truth about his past, uncovers the lies his father told him, but forgives his parents and finds a new place in the family.

              The comparison with disaster movies is fascinating. I'll try that.

              I also have an edition of The Art of Dramatic Writing right here. A great read, in my opinion, but it didn't help me with this issue so far.

              Love stories are the easiest, because that's a clear genre. It gives you a clear spine. But I don't have that in my story.
              So why is he coming home now, after all this time? That could give you at least an initial direction. Family dramas often have a superficial goal - planning the big anniversary party, saying goodbye to grandma, getting a prized possession back, introducing the kids to Uncle Al who can get them into Princeton, etc. Maybe he decided to finally stop by for Thanksgiving so his son can meet his family, then they all got snowed in.

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              • #8
                Re: Chamber Drama

                Your idea sounds somewhat similar to Festen (1998), a fantastic film and worth watching if you haven't already done so.

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                • #9
                  Re: Chamber Drama

                  Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
                  The trick is not to think in terms of "goal" but to think in terms of "problem" -- because at the heart of every story there's a problem, whether it's a kitchen drama or a big action film or a genre film or any other kind of narrative story.

                  There's a problem. It needs to solved. Somebody needs to solve it. They make choices to try solve it. They're good choices or bad choices. They solve it or they fail to solve it. The somebody is the protagonist. The choices they make express the theme.

                  The story runs along two tracks -- the external track -- the physical action of the story. What the characters do and say and the decisions they make, and the internal track -- an internal conflict within the protagonist that is embodied in the decisions that they make and that is an expression of the theme that is going to be worked out over the course of the movie.

                  This is sometimes called "want vs. need." The protagonist wants something but also needs something and those two forces are at war within him and that internal struggle expresses itself in the external struggle of the physical action of the story.

                  In On The Waterfront, Terry Malloy wants to be loyal to his brother and his surrogate family, led by Johnny Friendly -- but he also has an awakening conscience that makes want to do the right thing. And that internal struggle works itself out over the course of the story. That struggle is embodied in decisions he makes. It's embodied in characters that represent that struggle -- his brother and Johnny Friendly on one side, The priest and the Eva Mary Saint character on the other, like angels and devils on his shoulders. So you have these thematic battle going on both inside and working itself out through the physical action of the story -- through what other characters to and what he chooses to do in response.

                  So the challenge is to be very focused -- to understand what the central problem is, and then to find a way to externalize that problem -- that's what "dramatizing" means -- in characters and action.

                  NMS
                  NMS, then where does a "goal" come into all this? Many action, adventure, and fantasy movies seem to be all about the protag's "goal" and the obstacles he/she faces without considering the protag's "central problem."

                  Are you talking only about dramas?

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                  • #10
                    Re: Chamber Drama

                    Originally posted by Rhodi View Post
                    Your idea sounds somewhat similar to Festen (1998), a fantastic film and worth watching if you haven't already done so.
                    Second THE CELEBRATION.

                    Also check out Woody Allen's SEPTEMBER, Haneke's AMOUR, and (though less a subtle family drama) Linklater's TAPE.
                    ihavebiglips
                    Member
                    Last edited by ihavebiglips; 10-07-2015, 01:48 AM.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Chamber Drama

                      Originally posted by jonpiper View Post
                      NMS, then where does a "goal" come into all this? Many action, adventure, and fantasy movies seem to be all about the protag's "goal" and the obstacles he/she faces without considering the protag's "central problem."
                      I wouldn't pretend to speak for NMS, but as an SF&F fan and Shaw Brothers chop-socky fan etc. I'd put a lot of pressure on your use of the word "many" here. Yes, "many" do, but the question is, do many good genre films do this?

                      A good fight choreographer, or a good SFX team, can make a "meh" movie into at least a tolerable way to to pass the time. Empty calories. Oh wow, a boss fight? I never would have guessed. Gosh, I wonder if <Hero> will be able to <Insert Artifact A> into <Slot B> in time to save <Moral stand-ins for red-blooded American Commonfolk>...

                      That's the "goal". But what I think NMS is calling the "central problem" is what separates something like LotR or The Raid: Redemption from the rest of the pack, irrespective of their fantastic production values.

                      Frodo's real problem is Norman Rockwell salt-of-the-earth moral innocence battling the temptations of cosmopolitan modernism. Rama's real problem is whether duty and honor can, nay, should triumph over corruption and betrayal.

                      To bring this back to family-focussed chamber dramas: I'm actually a little shocked that the OP would be starting something like this without a central problem already in clear view. Like starting a murder mystery and asking, "not sure who the victim should be, or how they were killed... any advice?" It's up to you, but typically a protagonist whose central problem is to "win" against his family is 1) trying to escape 2) trying to force one or more of them to contrition for past wrongs, or 3) trying to learn to accept that this is the only family he will ever have, and reconcile himself to his place in the universe so he can better learn how to love unconditionally.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Chamber Drama

                        Originally posted by jonpiper View Post
                        NMS, then where does a "goal" come into all this? Many action, adventure, and fantasy movies seem to be all about the protag's "goal" and the obstacles he/she faces without considering the protag's "central problem."

                        Are you talking only about dramas?
                        Not at all. The central problem defines the goal. If there's no problem to be solved, either external or internal -- well, then -- there's nothing for anybody to do, except go out for lunch. Maybe not even that. Everybody's just sort of sitting around.

                        For any story to happen, something's got to go wrong. There's got to be a problem of some kind. That can be an asteroid heading or earth or your Mom is developing Alzheimer's, or your is dysfunctional, or you've been ordered to take that hill with your exhausted platoon, or there's an evil empire controlling the galaxy or you've been swept away to a bizarre world full of munchkins and evil witches and need to find your way home.

                        They're all problems.

                        Before you have a goal, there has to be a problem, because the goal is the solving of the problem -- and problems in movies have an external and internal component.

                        The external stuff is the physical representation of the internal stuff. The internal stuff is what's going on inside the head of the protagonist or protagonists. It represents the thematic aspect of the story -- the moral issue that's going to drive the decisions that the protagonist will make.

                        That's because stories aren't simply about problems or goals but about characters that make choices to achieve their goals.

                        The choices happen outside -- they're part of the external conflict -- but they are the externalization of the working out of the protagonist's internal conflict.

                        Conflicts between love and honor, between family and doing the right thing, between staying a child and assuming the responsibilities of adulthood.

                        That's stuff that's going on inside a character's head, but whatever the story is, the storyteller is going to a find a way, through action, through other characters, and through the decisions that the events of the story compels the protagonist to make -- to externalize that internal stuff.

                        What is The Godfather about?

                        It's about family, specifically, it's about a man who loves his family but wants to do the right thing -- but the events of the story are going to force him to choose between those two things.

                        And he chooses his family over doing the right thing. And the events of the story makes us sympathize with him. We support his choice. It seems like the natural, even the inevitable choice, even though it's the wrong choice.

                        And everything that follows from that choice leads inevitably to a tragic outcome in which Michael Corleone ends up, essentially with nothing. There's nothing left of the idealistic man that he was at the beginning and he can only hold onto his wife through a lie, so he doesn't even have the family that he's given everything to keep.

                        But again -- internal struggle is dramatized through external action.

                        I don't like simply talking about "goals" because stories aren't simply about goals, they are about problems that need to be solved. They are about conflict and conflict isn't simply external but internal.

                        NMS

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                        • #13
                          Re: Chamber Drama

                          What overshadows the story is that the father fled with his son, betraying the mother by leaving her behind. The son, MY MAIN CHARACTER, who is all grown-up now, doesn't know the truth. He always thought that his mother didn't want to come with his father. The story starts when he, his father, his wife and son arrive for the mother's funeral.

                          My main character has a clear need: He needs to overcome the hatred for his dead mother, the other family members (offspring from a new husband) and his father. But I still can't see a clear goal in there. I mean ... he needs to do something. It can't just be sitting around waiting for the funeral to be over. I could have him investigate the truth, but that's kind of a cop-out and would feel forced to me. He's not a searcher in this regard.

                          By the way, great shoutout for FESTEN, SEPTEMBER, AMOUR and TAPE, guys! My biggest inspiration was JAYNE MENSFIELD'S CAR, but there are a lot of chamber dramas out there. What I found particularly intruiging was THE MAN FROM EARTH, which ends up being more on the fantastical side, with a very revelation-heavy plot.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Chamber Drama

                            Hi Yaso.

                            What is your inciting incident (or whatever you call it)?

                            Without it, that's exactly what would happen: the protagonist would sit during all the funeral, then go back home and continue doing whatever he was doing.

                            Something must happen before (or during) the funeral that makes he jump into the story. He doesn't know it yet but that will create his goal. It can be something he finds as a consequence of the funeral, it can be something the father or a third person says... A funeral is a "great" place to meet people you don't see often and they could have another version of the story.
                            Check out my website with my productions: http://www.picturesplusproductions.com

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                            • #15
                              Re: Chamber Drama

                              Originally posted by 14001 View Post
                              Hi Yaso.

                              What is your inciting incident (or whatever you call it)?

                              Without it, that's exactly what would happen: the protagonist would sit during all the funeral, then go back home and continue doing whatever he was doing.

                              Something must happen before (or during) the funeral that makes he jump into the story. He doesn't know it yet but that will create his goal. It can be something he finds as a consequence of the funeral, it can be something the father or a third person says... A funeral is a "great" place to meet people you don't see often and they could have another version of the story.
                              Hey, 14001 ... my best guess is that the inciting incident will be when his half brother reveals the truth about his father that split the family apart.

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