Sunday, December 3, 2006

Conflict is Drama

That is the mantra I use when I write. It is a quote from Michael Shurtleff. It serves to remind me the reason that people turn to fiction, movies, plays, literature is to live vicariously through others who are bolder, braver, or more desperate than we are. We want to see the turning points in people's lives and not their mundane day-to-day lives.

There are many books on the market about the craft of writing, but the one that I refer to the most was not written with authors in mind. It was written for actors. Michael Shurtleff's Audition: everything an actor needs to know to get the part is a book that I have purchased probably ten times over.

Because I keep recommending it, then lending it, then never getting it returned. Recently, I decided to break that habit and I now tell people to go to our local library borrow a copy, because I know they have many copies. This is so I won't have to buy this book for an eleventh time.

Why do I love it so much? Because I learn new insights with each reading.

Michael Shurtleff knows how drama works. His intended audience is actors and helping them bring words to life, from the page to the stage. Over the years, I realized that what he tells actors what they should look for in a good script is what every writer should be putting in their literary creation whether it be for the stage, screen or book.

His lessons taught me that you should always say "yes" to love. When you wonder if a character is in love with another, say "yes." And then see what dramatic possibilities open up.

Do they want revenge? "Yes."

Is she in love with another character as well? "Yes."

Is she torn between the two lovers? "Yes." Does she feel guilt? "Yes."

Just try it. See what happens. In a myriad of ways, try to say yes to love and to wanting things.

Another aspect of Shurtleff's wisdom is the realization that the relationship on stage of friendship is all about competition. It is not about people who simply enjoy one another's company. Nope, at the heart of all friendships is the need to compete with one another. He uses examples of friends competing over who is the better tennis player, who is the wittiest, who has the better job, sexier looking spouse, etc.

And that is what you should show on the stage, or on the page.
The best example I can think of to demonstrate how friendship is about competition is the movie, "Sideways." Jack and Miles are two friends who have known each other since college and go on a weeklong trip to the Santa Barbara wine country before Jack's wedding.
The movie starts out easy going, but soon, we see that Jack and Miles have tension between them. Jack wants to screw around before getting married, and Miles would rather they play golf and taste wine. They have different expectations, and they have tremendous conflict over these differences.

Then the movie goes into a pretty dark place. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie, but suffice it to say that Jack begs Miles for his help. Miles complies, but only because the two of them have a long history together.

It is a relationship based on history, guilt, and manipulation. It is apparent that both Jack and Miles have the goods on one another. Like they know where the bodies are buried, metaphorical or literal. Those are things in the backstory that are never included in the text or on the screen, but they exist. The actors must embody this history in order for the story to work.

That is the heart of their relationship. It is not simply spending time with someone who makes you laugh.

Conflict is drama.

I love Greek Mythology and have loved it since I was a little girl. The stories are larger than life. They are filled with envy, lust, greed, betrayal, murder, matricide, patricide, fraticide, infanticide, infidelities, madness, revenge, tragedy and of course, heroism.

That is the essence and soul of drama. It is not enough to simply be attracted to someone, you must fall instantly and helplessly in love with them. It must be an all encompassing love. One that you will willingly risk your life, your fortune, your reputation, everything. You will experience love, or die trying.

People turn to drama because they want to live vicariously and make choices that would be too risky or painful to take. In Real Life people shy away from confrontations, whereas in Drama you must seek them out.

Literature and Drama requires characters who fight for what they want.

Dream big. Fight hard.

Fight to win.

Conflict is Drama.


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