Life is a story. Yours is. Mine is.
(heads up, this post isn’t very interesting, just random musings)
One of the dozen or so blogs I follow is Screenwriting Tips. Every day a thought-provoking tidbit is shared on effective scriptwriting. Below are several I appreciated on “Crafting a protagonist (hero)”:
- At the character bio stage, don’t create characters whose goals fit neatly together like pieces in a puzzle. Instead, give them goals and desires that directly conflict with each other.
- Your protagonist gets to be in control during the first twenty pages and the last twenty. For the rest of the script she should be struggling, confused or otherwise on the back foot.
- At the simplest level, antagonists are just characters who force your protagonist to make choices.
- Think of your protagonist’s arc in terms of sacrifice. At the beginning of the script, she’s willing to sacrifice very little and gets nothing in return. By the end, she should be willing to sacrifice everything to gain everything in return.
I see elements of these “tips” have unintentionally slipped into my own life, largely against my will.
For instance, same as in Tip 1 my desires/goals often stand in conflict:
- Become more involved in Kansas / Become more involved in Haiti
- Aspire for wisdom and humility / Aspire for riches and fame
- Eat more junk food + never run again / Eat less junk food + exercise
- Get married and live a steady life / Stay single and carefree as the wind!
Even Jesus had quandaries, praying in the Garden that, “this cup would pass.” He hardly relished the upcoming ordeal, yet desired most to execute His Father’s will, which He did.
Guess it’s not a sin to have a conflict, just so long as the good angel comes out on top. Why are the right decisions always the hardest ones?
Tip 2 said good stories keep the hero, “struggling, confused or otherwise on the back foot.” I find in life when things get too comfortable, I get uncomfortable… wondering what’s next? Surely goodness won’t last… and usually it doesn’t, though oft at my own bequest resulting from a bad habit of signing up for new challenges, a glutton for punishment.
They say if you help a newborning chicken (?) crack open its’ shell, it will later die from improper muscle development. Don’t know if that’s true, but instinctively we know difficulty and struggle yields growth… and growth is good!
All great scripts are replete with struggle and conflict.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal was in control at the beginning of the story and never again, soon he was struggling and confused as his life spiraled downwards from a result of destructively short-sighted decisions. That story is well scripted. Isn’t it ironic his own worst enemy was himself? something often true in my own life too.
Tip 3 explained the purpose of antagonists: to provoke the protagonist to action, to decision!
Who or what are the antagonists in our lives? High stress? An annoying neighbor or nagging boss? Moral dilemmas? Ice cream and candy bars? A broken-down car? Disappointments? Internal desires? Bad health? Hurricane Isaac? All the above?
Antagonists are anything that upsets our equilibrium, not just villains.
Though it CAN be villains: I’m currently reading the book, Decision Points by George W. Bush. The discussion over 9/11 revolved around how that event forced our nation to craft new decisions regarding our attitude towards terrorists. Antagonists have a way of forcing the issues.
Having a bum back five years ago was an antagonist that forced me to face my mortality and eventually resulted in my reevaluating life, changing direction, and making difficult decisions about the future. More immediate, the back pain I experienced for several months forced me then to make a decision on whether to have a positive attitude or a sour attitude. Unfortunately, I made the wrong decision and was pretty sour during that trial.
Tip 4 deals with how a well-crafted hero should substantially change throughout a story, particularly in regards to his values and priorities.
Peter denied Christ three times in one evening, yet later was crucified upside down for refusing to denounce Christ! Talk about change, he is a protagonist of the first order.
Ever done the exercise where you think back ten years to what an important priority in your life was then? Ten years ago I was 19 and making the cut in college was a top concern. Then you think back 20 years ago and ask the same question… I was 9 years old then and my cup of tea was working towards becoming a computer game programmer. 30 years ago? At that time I was –1 and nervously anticipating birth.
Seriously, I do at times marvel how different I am now than five years ago, or ten. Particularly in values. Looking forward I think, “Where am I headed? What are my goals? What am I fighting for? Are my goals worth fighting for? What type of sacrifices am I prepared to reach my destination?”
The point of this post was to generate thought in how our lives are not just our lives, but also interesting stories complete with intricate plots and character developments.
Perhaps we often miss the forest of our lives for the trees of daily living? I wonder, is my story one of forging ahead to make a difference in things that really matter, or merely moseying in circles? That thought is sobering.
On a spiritual note, God was working in the lives of honest-to-goodness people in the Bible when they often they didn’t know it at the time. Most Old Testament characters had no idea of the bigger picture their small part was playing. I like to think that in the same way God is using my life to weave a larger tapestry: someday I’ll see it, stand back, and say, “Wow!”
J.R.R. Tolkien, a master story-teller in his own right, wove clues on his philosophy of “story” into the very script of his most famous story, The Lord of the Rings (watch it here):
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.
I would add to Sam’s comment there is a God who promises a new day, a bright one, for those who hold to faith in Him, an invisible being who has made outlandish promises to humans through his Word, the Bible:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations… Without weakening in his faith… he did not waver through unbelief at the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.(Rom 4:17-22)