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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Drama is conflict. Someone wants something; they can't get it. To make it a complete story, they get it, or they don't get it.

However, drama also needs conflict between what the audience expects, and what happens. Even if we know the outcome, we need to not know how it's going to get there, or at least not know how we're going to feel about it.

I recently read a few pages of a script about an Important Social Issue. As sometimes happens in scripts about Important Social Issues, the good people were good, and the bad people were bad. I knew what was going to happen and I knew how I was supposed to feel about it. And, indeed, events unfolded as expected.

In this case, the problem was that the main character was the person bearing the brunt of the Important Social Issue, i.e. the victim of discrimination. It's much harder to make a compelling story about a suffering saint. There's conflict, all right -- the saint can't get what he wants -- but I'm not pulled in because there's none of this second sort of dramatic tension. How are events going to unfold? How am I going to feel about them?

However, what if the same story had been told from another perspective -- from the persecutor's point of view? What if we humanized the bad guy, and showed him torn between his reasons for persecuting, and his dawning recognition that maybe he's not righteous. (Are we the baddies?)

Then I wouldn't be sure how to feel. And I wouldn't know exactly what was going to happen.

Or, if the saint isn't really a saint but a bit of a jackass. Or if the saint has doubts.

I realize that there are movies about saintly figures, from Jackie to Martin to Jesus. We know the stations of the cross, and we get a certain catharsis from watching a passion play. There's no dramatic tension. Instead, there's comfort in knowing exactly how we're going to feel. It's the sort of comfort we're seeking when we watch "mac'n'cheese" TV, where we know the cops will catch the bad guys and we're not even in much doubt how they'll do it. Or watching an old Star Trek episode.

But take a look at your work. Is there not only tension between the characters, but tension between the audience's assumptions and how you tell the story? Then you're off to the races.


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