I love interesting conflicts and dilemmas. So much so, I often pick my favorite movie conflicts and analyze them on this blog:
- The Ledge: Kill Yourself or Your Loved One Will Be Killed
- The Hunt: Your Daughter’s a Liar or Your Best Friend’s a Pervert
- Return to Paradise: Spend 6 Years in a Hellish Prison or Your Best Friend Hangs
- Equilibrium: Live Numb or Die Feeling (Die Being Yourself)
Look at these conflicts!
You either have to commit suicide, or someone will murder the person you love.
You will either live with the guilt of your friend’s death, or you’ll “live” 6 years in prison. Right. And that is if you trust the authorities who gave such an option in the first place.
You either suppress every single emotion and live, or fight for the right to feel and die trying. Ouch…
The Hunt, though, is probably the most heart-breaking one of them all. Either your young daughter was molested by your best friend or she’s lying and you’re screwing up his life for…nothing. Holy Crap!
It is a great, albeit expectedly depressing movie. This 2012 Danish film is still on the top 250 list on IMDB, and I’m shocked it didn’t get the Oscar for best foreign film. (Mads Mikkelsen’s luck, always the nominee movie, never the bride winner).
LET THERE BE SPOILERS FOR THE HUNT and RETURN TO PARADISE
So what would you do if you were the father? What would you do if you are the friend? Because guess what? She’s lying, and he is innocent.
The whole town turns on him for nothing. They don’t even bring in an actual child psychologist. And this almost drives our protagonist insane. I don’t get that when it’s revealed that he’s innocent, he stays in that small town where some people still don’t believe him.
What the f…?
Seriously. Look, I get that he grew up there. His teenage son is there. But are your friends still your friends after they believed the worst about you? And it’s not like he lives in a third world country. There are many more towns and countries he can go to, find work and make money, while minimizing the homesickness. Yes, he has a son, who could in a few years join his dad wherever.
But that is me. I grew up in a big city. I don’t feel homesick much. I don’t mind living abroad. I tried hard to put myself in his shoes. I still don’t agree with what he decided. I wouldn’t look twice at those people.
And the ending doesn’t quite indicate he made the right choice if you are honest about last scene.
But while the ending might not be the most believable (to me), but it creates the biggest impact. The director Thomas Vinterberg is also the co-writer, so that presents an advantage. He could shoot the movie the way he wanted.
What does this mean about your screenplay’s conflicts and characters’ reactions?
In my drama feature, I have a story conflict that’s hard to sell. In other words, one of the main character’s actions is extreme, though in line with what he’s going through, and what he has experienced.
And not only are some readers having trouble with the conflict (despite enjoying the premise), they are not particularly fond of how a certain character handles the conflict, which puzzles me.
Because if I were that character, I’d do exactly that.
When I ask people around me what they would in that situation, they choose my character’s way.
So how come some readers aren’t into it?
Well, for one, our personalities and outlooks on life determine a certain percentage of how we react to movies (and screenplays). Remember, a couple of years after seeing The Hunt, I’m still singing the “I would so get out of there!” tune.
Whenever a character takes a cheating spouse back, I’m disappointed until that movie/story ends. Cheaters don’t deserve a second chance in my book, unless the situation is extreme, like the person being cheated on is a complete psychopath or something. You can enjoy my fun cheating-condoning posts on my movie blog.
- Don’t be afraid, I approve of regular folk taking justice into their own hands only in revenge movies
- I can relate to the pain that will result in losing a loved one. Of course they will go crazy and do drastic things. So while the level of Bacon’s character’s success might not necessarily be the realistic aspect of his movie, his losing it over the not-so-certain outcome of the trial makes sense to me. Yes, Braveheart and The Crow are among my favorite movies. How did you know?
The point is, we react, judge and interpret differently. I find my character’s action, and the other’s reaction completely in line with their personalities, life experiences.
Would I react the same way if I were in the same situation? Yes. But would I be in the same situation? Not likely. For one, I’m not a musician, and my crow-like voice wouldn’t earn me any fans. So I have my characters, my obsession with the rock music world and my imagination to guide me.
So, we again come back to listening to your gut.
But am I to blame a little? Of course I am. Chances are, I couldn’t reflect the extremity & uniqueness of the situation, as well as I should have.
It feels like mission impossible to balance exposition, good dialog, enough (but not too much) backstory while capturing and holding everyone’s attention in a freaking drama. No matter how engaging I try to make it, it’s still a drama, albeit a glamorous and larger-than-life one at that.
So what do you do?
You work on your craft and draft until the story, the story you know is the right one to tell, shines and eliminates (or minimizes) doubts and let everyone enjoy the ride.
I immensely enjoy the stakes in Return to Paradise. I can honestly say I wouldn’t trust the authorities and go back to save my friend, love or no love. But then again, I wouldn’t do drugs so I wouldn’t be in that situation. That doesn’t stop me from rooting for these characters.
You hear stories about screenwriters who can only sell their 11th script. Then you hear the ones about the first/second or third script they wrote being sold. Who wants to bet there were like 30 drafts of that sold script before it got the greenlight?
In an ideal (and lucky world), your script evaluations would all be positive, and you could start worrying about your pitch after you got your consider or even better, recommend.
But more often than not, you’ll either get a pass or consider with reservations despite your best editing efforts. And different script readers will disagree on pretty much anything.
So you won’t be able to jumpstart editing before deciphering what everyone means, and whether you should consider every tip.
You can click to title to read the article there: 5 Ways To Evaluate Your Feedback by Pinar Tahan aka @zoeyclark
The truth is I’ve always been somewhat smart, or at least sensible, with my money.
Despite a brief fascination with Levi’s products in the 90s as I was growing up, I never really had a fascination for brands. As my friends shed their family’s money on Lacoste, Burberry and many other brands I can’t remember, I spent on movies, music and books.
Sure, I bought clothes and shoes and accessories too. Look, I love shopping. I’m just not (that) addicted. Compared to Rebecca Bloomwood, I’m a financial wizard.
I’ve always tried to save some money in case of emergencies, luxuries, trips, future moving plans, even though it’s not always easy doing that.
I’m a freelancer who’s adamant she’ll only take on projects she’s enthusiastic about. Linda Formichelli is right in a way: it’s very difficult if you only try to write about what you love. That’s why I also teach ESL. I’d rather teach English (I love the language, and I love teaching it) than write about something that bores me. I also can’t learn to love something according to the paycheck it provides. I tried.
While I don’t really spend on things I don’t need or don’t care for, there are “luxuries” I refuse to cut back on, such as:
-Nero coffee (Starbucks too, but I like Nero more, to be honest.) And by coffee, I mean mocha. And other stuff I eat and drink while I do my writing at their numerous branches.
– Screenplay coverage: I’ll argue this is more a professional necessity than a luxury, but it costs money. Add to it if you also want it proofread. Add some more for the coverage of your resubmissions, as first submissions are rarely a consider or recommend.
Add even more for other screenplays. You have to have more than one. If not, please stop reading. Bookmark this post, and come back to it after you’ve done some screenwriting. This post isn’t going anywhere. If it does, I’ll let you know.
– Cabs. I love cabs. Granted, I don’t often take them as much as Carrie Bradshaw does. But I certainly appreciate the option.
– Vacation abroad. I need one at least once a year. I can’t always afford it, and it’s not pretty when I go cold turkey.
-Vacation at 5-star hotels/holiday villages. I’ve never been the backpacking or camping type. I like the outdoors as long as it comes controlled, so I won’t have to deal with poisonous or otherwise dangerous animals. I’ve never appreciated tents. And call me crazy, but I do love indoor plumbing and hot water. And food cooked for me. And big, clean pools. You get the idea.
Luxuries I want to have:
– Traveling first class. For the leg space more than anything else, to be honest.
– Rush jobs on my script coverage. Waiting for feedback on your writing sucks. Because let’s face it, we do more waiting as writers than most other folk. We wait for editors, agents, studios, etc. to answer to our original email. We wait for the answer to our follow-up email. We wait a reasonable time to count it as a rejection, we wait for our piece to be published.
The problem is writing is personal, even when we do it professionally. We care if people care about our ideas. We get excited if they like the finished product. And chances are, if you are writing fiction, you get even more attached to your ideas. They’re kind of like your babies, admit it. They shouldn’t be, but they usually are.
So if you can get your script coverage faster, why not do it if you can easily afford it? I haven’t really been able to up to now.
– Eating healthier all the time at restaurants that are Monica-clean. Typically, fast food is cheaper and easier to obtain. Unhealthy snacks are usually more available than healthy ones. And by healthy, I mean the natural stuff. And I hate cooking. Damn it!
– A beach house in California.
– More trips aboard, more stays at 5-star places.
– Investing more on my blogs.
– Investing more on courses.
– Working with a story consultant like Marilyn Horowitz
– Work on my pitches with Stephanie Palmer
There’s probably more, but those are my top ones at the moment.
How Am I Getting Smarter?
How do I plan on keeping the luxuries I have, making them more frequent and reaching the others?
By making more.
I don’t believe in saving to the point that you stop living and enjoying your life. But I do believe at this point in my life, I can live without 500-dollar-a-pair shoes.
It doesn’t mean some shoes aren’t worth it. It just means it’s a luxury I don’t care for at the moment.
So you can (and should) save according to your own needs and preferences. For more guidance, I recommend I’ll Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. I love that book. It’s fun, understandable and practical. It’s slightly more helpful if you live in the USA, but with some research, you can benefit from it no matter from where you are from.
More unbelievably helpful resources on how to make more:
– Ramit Sethi offers a lot of free materials to help you make at least 1K more on the side. It’s also a premium course, but I haven’t tried it yet.
– How to Give Yourself an Instant Pay Rise as a Freelance Writer Online by Kirsty Stuart
– How I Got to Write a Regular Column — After My Article Was Rejected on Make a Living Writing.
*None of the links in this post are affiliate links.
This is hopefully only the beginning to a smarter, more profitable life.
How do you handle your luxuries? What are your luxuries and money management techniques?
Grammarly is an online site that checks your grammar, vocabulary and style. It has free and paid versions.
The free version grades your writing out of 100 points and gives you a list of areas where you’ve made mistakes and how many. It doesn’t, however, tell you what exactly what those mistakes are so you’ve to keep guessing.
When you’re using the paid version, it points out your mistakes and why, as well as offering its correct suggestions. Of course, not all mistakes are necessarily mistakes but stylistic choices you’ve made. You still get graded over a 100, and you point gets higher when you correct the mistake or ignore it. (It gives you the option to ignore.)
Now, Grammarly is not perfect. It’s also not human. It’s allergic to passive, for instance. It’s also fond of more formal writing, so it sends out warnings when you end sentences with a preposition or use numbers instead of spelling them. And it doesn’t catch every mistake though it catches a good percentage. Sometimes it suggests you use articles when you shouldn’t or don’t have to.
I don’t recommend using Grammarly without looking at your text once or twice with “editor eyes” yourself. Combine it with the read- out-loud option of your computer or a free software like Natural Reader, and you’re golden.
It has saved me a lot of time and increased my productivity. I’ve also recently discovered that you can adjust your settings as creative (novel, script and other options), so it evaluates accordingly.
Yes, these are affiliate links, but since I’ve been happily using it myself, I think it’s appropriate.
“Good dialogue clearly conveys emotions, attitudes, strengths, vulnerabilities, and so on, while revealing the details of your plot and advancing your narrative.”
Susan Kouguell, from her article Tips on Writing Dialogue That’s Truthful.
Dialogue is one of the hardest parts of screenwriting. Just look at its functions perfectly stated by Susan Kouguell. Good dialogue needs to do all that.
And what does good dialogue mean?
- Good dialogue flows.
One way to assure that is by not writing on-the-nose dialogue.
But if it’s never on-the-nose, then you’ll also bore your audience to tears or annoy the hell out of them.
Think about five characters who never ever say what they mean and never mean what they say for 90+ pages. Frankly, I’d end up wanting to strangle them. There have been many movies where I hated the characters for this reason.
However if it’s always on the nose, then you’re destroying your chances for conflict. Also a no-no. It’s a hard balance to strike.
Thanks to some great feedback, I (mostly) dealt with my tendencies to write on-the-nose dialogue. In my defense, I don’t want to eliminate it completely because it’s not realistic then either.
Because people who do mean what they say and say what they mean, at least more than half their lives exist. Exhibit A: Me. I might have to get a little diplomatic or more polite depending on the situation, but if something is wrong, I never, ever say “nothing.” And if I’m upset or not happy about something, I never say “whatever.” Yeah, I’m weird like that.
- It needs to be fresh. Witty is great too, if you can pull it off (and it fits the mood).
You can’t write a page-turner by putting the same old clichés everywhere. But then again, it should also sound natural.
All the freshness and wittiness in the world can’t save your script if your character doesn’t sound like an actual person. (If it’s not an actual person, say a robot, an alien from another galaxy or some other special circumstance, never mind.)
- And perhaps most importantly, your characters should sound distinctive.
Now, it makes sense. Because in reality, we all have unique speech patterns, our preferred catch phrases, speed, ….. The list goes on.
That said, I’ve always found it easier to “separate” the voices for people who are from different backgrounds. Because the more different they are, the easier it’s to write lines that sound unique to that person.
Think about Pirates of the Caribbean, for starters.
Jack Sparrow: pirate, eccentric, (a little) nutty, morally ambiguous, witty, male.
Elizabeth: a young lady with a free spirit. She’s also well-educated and brave.
Norrington: soldier, by the book, with a distaste for outlaws, not usually able or willing to think outside the box.
How hard can it be to write their lines (and how they speak those lines) so that they are distinct? Making the lines funny and/or smart enough can be the challenge here. But differentiating characters’ way of speaking? Not so much.
The Biggest Dialogue-Writing Challenge in Screenwriting
So what is, at least for me, more difficult than writing dialogue that’s not on-the-nose, fresh and that hopefully flows?
Making my characters sound distinctive, when their backgrounds and life expectations aren’t so different.
What if your story has to have characters of the same background, identifying with the same culture, who are from the same part of the city, who are of the same sex and age?
When writing dialogue for such characters, I rely on their actions and how they respond to situations. I take advantage of their favorite words/catch , how often they swear (or not) and their personalities.
But what I often find, just not within my own dialogue but within others’ as well, is that I can identify characters according to what they say and their actions, rather than how they say their lines.
As I work on my skills to create more distinguishable dialogue, I asked some of my fiction writer friends how they handle this. Their responses are below:
“Physical actions are good. I like those more than catch phrases — not sure the preference of my readers, but I like them more. Having one start, then stop and think, then finish in a different direction is my favorite separator – equal to the guy who doesn’t reply for longer than is comfortable.”
“People tend to use certain words (slang or otherwise) more than others or have quirky habits- how they stand, twirl their hair etc.”
Anna Marie Spackman:
“I always think of motivation. My best friend and I may sound similar or say similar things, but we are motivated by different things, so the way we respond to a given situation will be different.”
We started with a quote from Susan Kouguell, so let’s end with one from her.
“Readers should be able to identify who is speaking without needing to read each character heading. Characters’ voices must be distinctive and not interchangeable with other characters.”
Susan Kouguell, from her article Tips on Writing Dialogue That’s Truthful.
Yep, no one said being a screenwriter is easy. How do you handle your dialogue? How do you ensure your characters’ voices are distinctive?
Must-Read Helpful Articles on Dialogue
Not all writers are created equal. There’re probably some writers out there who don’t like to share their work with the world, even with their closest friends and family. And some writers are okay with strangers reading their material, but not their friends.
But most writers I know, myself included, DO WANT TO BE READ.Tweet this
That’s right: we want to be read by as many people as possible. Of course there’s a sales part of it. However I believe the bigger part is curiosity: how others will feel about the words we put together, characters and worlds we have created. We spend so much time and effort on our writing, especially our fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate anyone who’s taken interest in reading whatever piece I created. But reading longer pieces takes more time, and it’s a bit harder to get more people to read your longer work – before it’s published and has gained a reputation.
I love it when my friends read me. My family is optional, because well, I don’t exactly write family-friendly stuff. But being read by people we love…well, that’s just a priceless feeling. (Don’t think you have to like what you read. Constructive criticism is cool, just don’t express your feelings like Internet trolls do, and we’ll be fine.)
I’m very fortunate to have great friends who love to read, and they’re enthusiastic about my work. I love it when they push me to write more stuff and send them my drafts sooner. (Sending big hugs to Nastya and Pinar.)
Then I have some dear friends who do care a lot about me, just not so much about my work. Sometimes it’s a genre issue. Frankly, if a friend is all about horror, I’m not going to be even the slightest bit of hurt, disappointed or surprised they chose to stay away. They should.
And then I have friends who don’t really like to read that much, especially when it’s novels we’re talking about. If they haven’t even tried addictive mainstream (but extremely cool and thrilling) authors like Brown, Grisham or Child, I won’t feel entitled to their reading time. If those guys don’t get a shot, I’m okay not making the list.
But some friends do read. They read and watch stuff in the genres I write. Now, they all have jobs and lives and other tons of stuff they have to do and like to do. I get that. Writing though, is not just my job or passion. It’s a part of who I am. That’s why it means so much when they want to know more.
We feel happy when people ask us about our day, careers, families, pets and love lives (well, generally), right? Please add writing to the top of that list.
So here’s the thing: the best gift you can give most writers is that you read or listen to their work.
You don’t have to spend any money. Spare the time it takes to go into a store and choose something. Instead, shoot your writing friend an e-mail and ask for something they wrote. Then tell them what you thought. That’s it. You have no idea how happy that will make them.
Now, if you’ve asked and asked and they refused to send stories your way, it’s on them. But many writers will send it once they feel the work is ready.
You absolutely want to spend money? Then here are some alternative suggestions (though recommended you read their work and then provide something else if you want):
– Writing equipment.
– Coverage and/or editing services. Those can be expensive, so if you’ve the budget, it will be appreciated. That said, you need to make sure of what your friend exactly needs and where they want it from. Some might have a wish list on Amazon or their blog, so that’ll be a good place to start.
– Writing-themed stuff. The funnier, the better.
– Books on writing. But make sure it’s relevant, they need it and don’t already have it.
– Writing courses
What do you think? What have you “bought” your writer friends? Writers, how often do your friends/family read you? Let us know in the comments. And if you like this article, please share on.
I’ve previously posted The 7 Challenges of Writing a Screenplay, and I’m proud to say I’ve tackled a lot of them successfully in my rewrites. Length is no longer a problem, and having gotten rid of a lot of exposition, my screenplay is a lot leaner.
Right now, I’m facing another problem: I have two protagonists, and one of them is deemed unlikable by half the people (professionals and friends) who read my screenplay. The good news is, some of the “dislikers” are happy with how interesting the events and pacing are, and have told me they don’t have to like a character to enjoy a story or movie.
Why can one main character be unlikable?
My character comes off as too selfish, and that makes it hard for the audience to root for him. He also doesn’t lose everything despite everything he does.
Except, he is not the only main character. His problems and behavior are central to the story, yes, but it’s a script with two protagonists: these two characters start the story as best friends, but extreme circumstances force them to be each other’s antagonist.
And the second protagonist couldn’t be more likeable. He’s strong, passionate, flawed, loyal to a fault… Yet no one seems to notice.
Yes, there are changes I can make to make the unlikeable guy more likable, but most positive changes would change the heart of the story, and I can’t allow that. Because you see, this is the story I want to tell.
When you understand that character, and he is not unlikable to you
And it’s hard for me to see the character as completely selfish, because history (meaning his back story) has proven him to be pretty selfless, or close to it, in the past. He is just having a major crisis, with a pretty debilitating problem, and is acting irrationally. This in turn suggests another problem: plausibility. Like most screenplays, mine requires a decent amount of suspension of disbelief. Not because the events couldn’t/wouldn’t happen, but they are a bit on the extreme side. But if they weren’t, the story I wanted to tell wouldn’t exist.
That’s not to say I don’t respect my readers’ feedback. I do. My last coverage evoked some great questions, and I’d love to discuss it with the reader. I just need to adjust my budget first for further consultation.
On the other hand, one professional reader not only liked this “unlikable” dude, but named him his favorite.
And I’ve just finished watching two webinars from Writer’s Store where industry experts (including Script Mag’s Jeanne Veillette Bowerman) emphasized that you can root for a character if he’s interesting enough, even if he’s evil. One given example was Hannibal Lecter. (In her webinar Creating Dynamic Characters.)
Now, I’m in no way claiming my character is that interesting (completely different genres for one. For two, my character won’t be portrayed by Anthony Hopkins:D) But in a way, my “selfish protagonist”, is the antagonist of the story in several ways.
If audiences can root for Hannibal or the killer in Se7en, they can tolerate my selfish character. Next to them, he comes off like a newborn kitten for crying out loud!
Good news: There Are Many Successful Movies with Unlikeable Protagonists
Let’s mention some recent successful movies with borderline horrible, obnoxious main characters. Please note I might spoil the movies a little.
Gone Girl: I seriously can’t decide whose character I detest more. Ben Affleck’s or Rosamund Pike’s? And it’s not like supporting characters are sweet either. Engaging movie (for the most part), great second act but come on! I’ve never spent so much time during a movie wanting to punch all the characters. I wouldn’t want them as my neighbors, friends, distant acquaintances…The cops in the film included.
Side Effects: Sure, Jude Law’s character becomes more and more likable as the story progresses, but what about Rooney Mara’s? And I definitely lost a little respect for Law’s character when he got back with his wife, no questions asked. After the way she treated him? Come on! I don’t need a long fight scene, but just give me a sign of difficulty for crying out loud!
Nightcrawler: Different and compelling movie, sure. But Louis Bloom has to be one of the most obnoxious protagonists ever written. Louis Litt from the TV series Suits is a selfless angel compared to Bloom. Seriously!
And we are never given a back story on why he is such a sociopathic prick. Actually Nightcrawler steps on and chews out so much renowned screenwriting advice, it will get its own post. (or at least another post.) The point is, the only thing I liked about that character was that it was played by Jake Gyllenhaal. I didn’t root for him. I didn’t respect his cunning. I think the fact that he’s so unlikable, and still gets what he wants (despite not being as slick and smart as he believes) is what makes the movie fun to watch.
What does this mean for you and your story?
I haven’t sold this story (with the selfish protagonist) yet. I may never be able to sell it. Maybe it’ll be optioned and/or bought and never made. Maybe I will have to wait until I have the resources to make it myself. Like all the screenplays out there, the possibilities are just too many to count.
The point is, I’m not giving up on it. It has its strengths, and it has its weaknesses, and I’m doing my best to eliminate the weak parts. I’ll do my best to sell it afterwards. But I believe in it, and I’m not giving up on it. I’m also determined to improve it without changing the core.
You might need to adapt too, but you also need to keep believing in yourself. I watched this wonderfully helpful webinar by Marilyn Horowitz (How to Sell Your Screenplay in 30 Days Using New Media through Writer’s Store) where she reminds you that you need to be your biggest fan. You need to be professional, yes, but you also need to believe. It has to be the kind of story you would pay to see. If you wouldn’t, why write it?
Write the kind of movie you’ll want to see. Be as objective as you can. Improve it as much as you can. Then start pitching and querying.
And good luck!
Let’s face it, sometimes marketing can be a real drag. I’m all fine with more indirect ways such as commenting on blog posts, having an updated resume on LinkedIn and keeping in touch with writers and editors. I’m even okay with sending query letters. But I haven’t sent any LOIs yet (I know, shame on me) or, attended a writing conference. (I live far away, but planning to change that- which is for another blog post, though.)
I did, however, start a group for writers and bloggers near where I live, so that’s a start.
So I’d rather have something that did my marketing for me, or at least contributed to my efforts while I concentrated more on my writing and editing (my own stuff: you know that takes a while.)
What if there was an easy way to tell everyone what you did without having to say a word, and they introduced themselves to you if they needed your services?
Enter Christophe Gonzalez of (Coffee Shop Freelancers), who found that fun, informative and customized decals were the answer.
Coffee Shop Freelancers is a site that features fun and informative designs decals for your laptops. The soon-to-be-launched site offers to 20% discount to e-mail subscribers.
Prices will be around € 25/$ 30, excluding shipping.
You can see some of the designs below.
Disclaimer: I wasn’t paid in any way for this post. I was contacted by Christophe about his site, and was happy to share his project after seeing the website and press kit. I did however subscribe to the e-mail newsletter, and unless the shipping costs go over my budget, I’m planning on placing an order.
Ever watched a movie or a TV series and thought: “Nah, this character would never do that?” Maybe it happened while reading a book. We’ve all been there as viewers and readers. Characters’ actions sometimes can take an unbelievable turn, and make us our eyes roll, taking us away from the story.
Currently, many fans of the sci-fi series The 100 feel this way about the character Finn, though I’m not one of those fans. While I believe they could have handled his transformation a little better or made his character take a different path, I don’t think what happened to him is that big of a stretch when you consider everything he has been through.
I’m not saying writers don’t have a tendency to take things too far for the sake of a more captivating plot or shock value. But often, writers have an emotional connection to their story and don’t just throw a big change the audience’s way just for the sake of it. They become their characters. So it is not so much crafting a path as it’s living, breathing and being that character.
Expectedly, not all of your readers (or viewers) will agree with how (or who) your character ends up to be. Especially when you have give them so many twists and complicated fellow characters, after introducing this one character much more differently in the beginning.
But traumas change people, for the better or worse. Can you tell me that you’ve gone through several significant, life-altering events in your life, and those events haven’t changed your attitude or reactions even one bit? If you say you are 100% the same, I’m going to think you are either a saint, or not being completely honest with me (or yourselves) for that matter.
So today, let’s tackle this tricky issue with the help of The 100, and what Finn’s been through. (Note: from this point on, this post will feature spoilers. You’ve been warned.)
The 100 Premise:
A nuclear apocalypse has destroyed the earth, and some survivors have moved to space stations. 97 years later, a technical problem is causing oxygen deficiency, causing the need to test the earth’s conditions a century before they planned.
On these space stations (called the Ark), any criminal over 18 is executed by floating. Any criminal under 18 is imprisoned – the nature of the crime is irrelevant. So in order to gain more time (and oxygen), they send 100 prisoners (ages ranging from kids to almost 18 year-olds) to earth, without supplies (not that they had too much extra to spare) or weapons.
When the prisoners land on earth, radiation doesn’t kill them. The nature looks beautiful, and they might have a chance after all. But soon, the differences in personalities, agendas and violent tendencies and lack of supplies as well as other survivors they didn’t know existed risk their lives and well-being on a daily basis (or sometimes more frequently). Finn (played by Thomas McDonnell) is one of these prisoners.
He’s famous for his crime: he has gone spacewalking without authorization, causing the Ark to lose oxygen, though it’ll be revealed in the following season that while the “crime” was his idea, the “committing” was done by someone else. (More on this later.) Finn is a fun-loving, spontaneous kid who’s not the bravest – but he’ll definitely step up eventually if he needs to save a friend. He develops a crush on Clarke, the intelligent, resilient and resourceful daughter of the Ark’s best doctor.
Finn is willing to do work when reasoned, but not disruptive and never with an authority complex. He usually provides the humor, ways to have fun and offers less disturbing ways to survive. He’s a bit of a flirt, but hey, for a teenager who has never had an adventure and only been with one girl all his life, he is doing pretty well as a human being trying to survive.
But even during the first couple of episodes that establish Finn as a fun-loving, inherently decent, flirty but smart dude with useful skills (tracking and peace-making), he goes through pretty horrifying stuff: losing friends in horrific ways, losing hope that they might ever see their family and friends in space or communicate with them, having his life and his remaining friends’ constantly in danger. With no time to get depressed or have an existential crisis, he holds up well through his reciprocal crush on Clarke.
Then his girlfriend from the Ark, Raven, comes to earth. Because of this, he loses his chance with Clarke, but that’s the least of his problems: Just think about it. Imagine being a 17-year-old experiencing the earth for the first time. Think about having been sent there to die. (The adults in space had no proof the earth was livable, so he, along with the other 99, was considered expendable.)
Think about falling in love with another girl, a girl you haven’t known your entire life while still caring the hell lot about your girlfriend – who’s both your family and your best friend. Think about not knowing who to trust apart from a couple of people. Did you put yourselves in Finn’s shoes? Good. Stay there.
You don’t have many supplies. You can die of hunger if you can’t hunt. If you are caught by the yellow acid fog, you will die a horrible, painful death, and you lose friends to this death. You see fellow campers go into “lynching mode” because they think someone in this group murdered a fellow camper. You find out the killer was a little girl who misunderstood some helpful advice. You risk your life trying to protect her, but you can’t: the girl ends up jumping to her death because she doesn’t want anyone to be harmed because of her. Aren’t you mentally a little disturbed yet?
Remember these events. Despite all this, because you’re a nice, peace-loving guy:
– You don’t mind the “grounder” Lincoln (people who kind of remind you of the warriors in Mad Max 3– people who have survived despite the radiation and formed their own civilazation) who stabbed you escapes.
– You don’t mind one female fellow camper falling in love with the grounder; instead you see the good in him and use this opportunity to make peace. Things go wrong, you barely escape.
– You find out these grounders have sent a biological weapon into your camp, killing a few more of your friends in the process and almost killing the girl you love (Clarke).
– Then you find out this biological weapon was only the initial attack. Your friends build a bomb to blow off a bridge to delay the attacks. This does delay the war, but during a hunting trip, you and Clarke are kidnapped and threatened to be killed unless Clarke saves the wounded girl. She can’t, and you only get to escape because Lincoln (the nice grounder) helps you.
– You are surrounded by warriors, but with the help of Raven (now your ex: she breaks up with you because you’re in love with Clarke), you manage to build something that will fry all grounders who come close. But you can’t make it inside the safe zone in time, witnessing a lot of people die brutal deaths. You watch people burn while fighting for your life.
– And when it’s over, you learn that Clarke along with 46 of your friends, are nowhere to be found. Maybe the remaining grounders took them. They’re probably tortured. There’s a good chance they might be dead.
Are you damaged enough yet?
– Anyway, there’s some good news as some of the space people land safely and form another camp. You are sent to find the missing, but not before you get to experience your ex’s painful, no drugs included surgery where her screams would make anyone’s blood crawl.
– During your search for Clarke, a grounder refuses to give you information, so you threaten to kill him. Then he draws you a map, but you still kill him. If you don’t, he might track you or try to kill you anyway. These people have been trying to kill you since you arrived.
Out of character? At this point, I think it’s in line with who he has become after what he has been through.
– A couple of more traumas later, you and another camper reach village where you were told your friends are. You round up everyone with guns, and have to decide if they are telling the truth. They’ve guns, but it’s 2 versus a village (though they don’t have guns, their warriors might come any second.) And then the hostage situation gets out of hand: some try to escape, some try to charge at you. You react out of panic, anger and adrenaline and you start shooting and you don’t stop until it’s too late.
Out of character? Or completely in line with what he has been through and what he felt in that moment?
I’m frankly against guns, and I’m a pacifist. But if you put me in a place where people are constantly attacking me and my loved ones, and where each day might be my last…and if you give me a gun to protect myself and my friends…And I go through one trauma after another after another…Well, I might not be that much of a pacifist after I reach my breaking point, and everyone has one.
I think Finn was suffering from major PTSD, and it’s unreasonable to expect someone to behave “characteristically” when they are in a seriously stressful situation.
What do you think? Do you think it is as unreasonable and far-fetched as some fans find it? Or is he just a kid who has gone through too much in short amount of time and expectedly lost it?
Please let me know in the comments. And what are some of the believable or unbelievable character transitions you have seen in novels, movies and TV series?
John Wick, Keanu Reeves’ latest movie to hit the theaters is a fun, fast and exciting ride that deserves it’s current IMDB rating of 7.7 (and more). It accomplishes slick action with a budget of 20 mil, and entertains more than a lot of higher budget, CGI-filled action flicks.
And I’d thought it’d be just another ex-hitman-out-for-revenge movie. Sure, it is an ex-hitman-out-for revenge film, but the way it’s handled motive, dialogue, villains and shootouts make it different enough. Briefly put, it’s kept all the necessary clichés to make the protagonist badass enough with a humane side, but it’s eliminated some really too- frequently-used ones.
For instance, instead of a kidnapped/abused/killed family member or romantic partner, this badass seeks revenge because of the murder of his dog and the theft of his car. It could come across as ridiculous and light, but it doesn’t:
You see, our hitman left the world of crime to be with the woman he loved. Cliché, for sure. But let’s face it, we all love a tough male protagonist with a romantic side. He’s fallen hard, and has had a happy relationship until this woman he loved so much dies of a disease. That’s just one.
Why don’t we take a look at how the film manages to set itself apart? Warning: there will be many, many spoilers. Continue at your own risk if you haven’t seen it.
Not a cliché: Beloved wife doesn’t die by the hand of a bad guy.
But she is/was the only live thing he has cared about, and he’s barely buried her when he receives this cutest dog from her a present: she tells him he needs something to love besides his car. He needs not to be alone, he needs to be loved now that she’s not around. So of course he connects with this adorable puppy.
Now imagine a tough-as-they-come, grieving ex-hitman, right at the start of his mourning, being attacked in his home by a stupid, entitled punk (who happens to be the son of Russian mob boss Viggo) Ioef and his friends. The punks kill Wick’s dog, beat the shit out of him (in John’s defense he had no reason to expect a baseball bat from behind in the middle of the night) and steal his car.
Not a cliché: The (stolen) car shop owner is really pissed at Iosef’ s stupidity when he sees the car: he even punches him.
Not a cliché: Viggo calls the owner, and asks why he struck his son, quite calmly. I’d expect an outrage, a team of thugs to beat the guy to death, or something. But this one is quite reasonable compared to many other mob bosses we’ve seen. And when the guy tells him that what his son did, he gets mad with his own son.
Not a cliché: The mob boss is actually quite smart (again, when compared to others). He hits his son, and explains why he did a very stupid thing. And before sending men after Wick (before Wick can kill the son), he calls Wick and asks if they can forget about the whole thing.
He knows exactly what Wick is capabe of, and is reasonably scared: It’s refreshing to see a mob boss being realistic about who he’s dealing with, instead of thinking he can destroy anyone.
Realism: John goes out of ammunition, and we see him reload his weapon, take his enemy’s weapon or just use whatever is available to him. No endless ammo here.
Realism: John does get hurt. He does call a doctor. The doctor gives him pills to keep him going. So it’s not just adrenaline (or maybe the pills provide just adrenaline; I’m just pointing out he does get chemical help).
He gets hurt again toward the end, almost dying.
Realism: John calls a “cleaning crew” to rid his house of the bodies.
Fun: Cop shows up after a noise complaint: John did take care of 10-12 men after either shooting them or killing them other ways. There was massive struggle. But the cop asks if John is back to work, he says he is just that taking care of something. Cop leaves, knowing exactly who John is (and used to be).
Fun: A lot of the other humor comes from the fact the way some shooting scene are shot: like we see the victim dropping dead from a single shot before we see John Wick moving ahead coolly.
Funny/tragicomic/different: Viggo cares more about his own life than his son’s: he gives away his son’s location to Wick when Wick corners him and kills all the bodyguards. Of course being a man of his word, Wick lets Viggo go.
Cliché we love: Wick survives after everything, having avenged his dog and his wife’s memory. Realistic? Well, in this movie’s universe…kind of, yeah. After all, Wick is who you send after the bogeyman. Bogeyman is scared of this dude.
So in terms of reinventing the genre, Wick doesn’t do it. But what it serves the genre with refreshing elements, well-done, non-flabby dialogue; a decent, semi-dark sense of humor; the right music and perfect casting.
The writer (Derek Kolstad) has picked his clichés well: whatever clichés exist, they do a great job adding to the film’s pace and atmosphere.
A touch of realism here and there makes the film more fun, and gets us even more glued to the screen. I recommend this movie to anyone who loves the revenge thriller genre, whether you also write action thrillers yourself or not.
And remember folks, all clichés aren’t bad. If you know which ones to pick and how and where to implement them, they don’t ruin your story: they improve it.
Speaking of working clichés, you might also enjoy the post When It’s OK to Use Cliches in Your Writing: Hidden Metaphors – Poison’s Bret Michaels Style.