I have been taking a very worthwhile ScreenwritingU.com paid online course about maximizing elements of screenplays. While I am not going into depth here about the lessons learned from Hal Croasmun, I did want to share one concept that I have been noodling over since Croasmun briefly mentioned it:
NOT COLLABORATING WITH YOUR CHARACTERS
Now I will admit that the word collaboration usually means to me collaborating with the enemy, such as in French citizens collaborating with the Nazis during WWII (in a short story of mine written years ago and just stumbled upon yesterday).
Yet Croasmun’s meaning is different and very powerful. If I correctly understand his meaning, a writer should not collaborate with her or his characters by making things too easy for them to accomplish.
The homework for this particular lesson entailed identifying two scenes in the individual screenplay each of us is using for this course and “dialing up” those scenes.
And, yes, it took me a while to figure out how to “dial up” certain of my scenes to make these more challenging. Then two instances came to mind in my sci fi screenplay THE MOTHER SIEGE — this takes place in the near future of 2049 and is adapted from my dystopian story free to read on Wattpad.
In the third act of this screenplay the group of mothers, one man, and six children are engaged in their desperate struggle to escape the Provisional Government land mass west of the Mississippi. In one scene the male infectious disease doctor gives instructions on what they are to do to treat any wounded during the coming government attack on their location.
And everyone in the group immediately agrees with what to do!
With some thought I realized that this is an example of my characters collaborating with me the writer. It should not be that easy to get everyone on board.
In fact, the children range in ages from 6 to 12. Realistically this subject of wounded in battle should bring up questions of what happens if someone dies right then and in general what does death mean. In other words, I have to rewrite this scene to have push back from the characters. They cannot all just immediately agree to collaborate with the doctor’s instructions.
A second example is the discussion scene between the 12-year-old boy Jonah and the 12-year-old girl Isidora who are considering having sex for the first time that evening. Of course 1) the teens think they will probably die the next day in the Provisional Government’s attack, 2) in 2049 there is no risk of pregnancy or STDs even if they somehow miraculously survive, and 3) they believe they are in love.
Although I thought this scene made sense, a comment on THE MOTHER SIEGE story in Wattpad criticized me for teens having sex at this young age. Putting that comment together with Croasmun’s collaboration warning, I realized that I can rewrite this scene to have push back from both teens about taking this big step. In other words, I need to rewrite this scene so the teen characters do not collaborate with me.
In working more on this question of collaboration, I will undoubtedly find many other examples in my own screenplay writing where I have been too easy on the characters. I will be “sharpening” my keyboard to go after these scenes!
© 2016 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at email@example.com
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller