Trying to unlock a key moment

One of these HAS to be it

I was hoping to wrap up the polish/revision of the comedy spec this week. Everything was going quite smoothly until I hit a bit of snag when I got to the end of Act 2 – only one of the most important parts of the story. Where things are definitely at the lowest point possible for our hero.

The general consensus of my readers was that the hero was too passive, and therefore needed to be much more active and stand his ground, yet still end up failing. Some suggestions were made, and I’ve been working on making it stronger and more effective.

Which brings us back to right now. As it reads, it’s just not working.

And that’s kind of frustrating.

I know there’s a solution to this, and my creativeness has been working constantly to come up with one that not only works with the context of the story, but seems plausible and believable.

As I said to one of my readers, I tend to overthink this kind of thing. To which they responded with “Remember, this is a story that’s supposed to entertain.”

And that’s pretty important, too.

Hopefully when all is said and done, it’ll do all of it.

-I ran the Giant Race half-marathon on Sunday. Got a small rock in my shoe around mile 7 or 8, but opted to keep going rather than sacrifice the time to remove it. The rock eventually was a non-issue and I managed to just beat my ongoing goal of 1:55 by one whole second – 1:54:59.

Unstoppable force, say hi to immovable object

There is something in this man's way
There is something in this man’s way

Pop quiz time!

Apart from advancing the story, theme and character development, what is the one key component every scene should contain?

Okay. Pencils down.

A big ol’ piece of pie to everybody who said “conflict”. Without it, your script’s on a one-way trip to Boringtown.

I recently became involved in a discussion with a starting-out writer who asked about the best way to describe how a sequence in his script could play out. After looking at the source material (based on true events), I said if he only writes what happens, there won’t be any drama to it. It needs conflict.

“Conflict how?” he asked.

That’s what it come down to, isn’t it? A lot of newer writers hear “conflict”, and they immediately think two characters are supposed to be arguing. Sometimes that might apply, but it’s not necessarily what it means.

Conflict is two opposing forces going up against each other, and those two forces could be anything (within the limits of your story, of course). Most of the time, one side will be your character and the other will be something or someone standing in their way of achieving their goal, be it immediate or overall.

Which would you rather watch? A story where everything goes just fine for the main character, or one where they’re always dealing with some kind of problem?

One of the great things about conflict is that it can come in any shape or form.

“What if a character opens a window?” was the follow-up question. “Where’s the conflict there?”

There isn’t any. If you’re reading a script and get to a scene that only involves a person opening a window, you’d think “What purpose does this serve?” and tell the writer to cut it.

The conflict would be if it won’t open. There’s a story there. Your curiosity is piqued. Questions are raised. Why won’t it open? Why do they want it open? What are they willing to do to get it open? What’ll happen after they get it open?

Conflict helps move the story forward. Part of our jobs as writers is to come up with new, original and imaginative ways to portray that conflict. The way I have the character open that window is probably totally different than how you would.

Even the central question of your story shows conflict: Will the main character achieve their goal?

While you work on your latest draft, take the time to examine each scene, even the ones only a line or two long. Is there conflict of some sort?

If there is, great. If not, you need to get some in there.

Active, not reactive – OR – C’mon, do something!

Never has a call to action been more necessary
Never has a call to action been more necessary

As you work your way through your latest draft, among the numerous questions to keep in mind is “Is my main character the one driving things forward?”

It’s a common complaint: a protagonist who is too passive. How do you make sure they aren’t?

Start with this: Do they make things happen or just react to them?

Your story is about this character going through some ordeal as they try to achieve their goal. Are they taking the steps needed and doing what they have to in order to do that?

Their normal routine has most likely been drastically altered. How are they reacting to all these changes while trying to get things back to normal?

How does the character factor into each scene? Are they having some kind of impact? Does the outcome of each scene depend on them? Does what they do here get them closer to reaching their goal?

A scene can be about them even if they’re not part of it. Maybe it’s the other characters’ reactions or the ramifications of what they’ve done.

You don’t want a main character who just sits around, waiting for things to happen. Get them out there and throw them right into the thick of it.

She kicks ass just right

There were too many to choose from, so I opted for a classic example
There were too many to choose from, so I opted for a classic

Encouraging feedback on the western spec continues to roll in, with a recurring theme developing regarding opinions about the main character.

-“calm, cool and witty in the face of danger and indomitable odds”
-“a really great character to get behind”
-“actor bait”

Did I mention the main character is a woman?  More than a few considered that a major plus.

When I first started figuring out the story, which included seeking online help for the logline, anonymous posters on assorted forums pulled no punches in letting me know what a terrible idea they thought it was.

Yet despite all that negativity, I still felt this was a story worth the time and effort to tell. The West was a harsh, brutal place. You had to be tough to survive. Why wouldn’t the women be as tough as the men?

When I write action, I’m hoping to create a sense comparable to a thrilling rollercoaster ride; one that grabs you tight and pulls you along at top speed. Whether the main character behind it all is a man or woman is a non-issue. It really comes down to two things: an entertaining story with three-dimensional characters.

To me, this had both. Being a fan of the genre helped – I know what works, what doesn’t and what I as an audience member would want to see. And as far as I could tell, it was a story that hadn’t been done before.

So I wrote it, and now it’s all about the wait-and-see.

Not surprisingly, articles continue to pop up about how a female main character in an action film is still considered somewhat of a novelty, or that since an action film with a female main character absolutely tanked at the box office, logic can only dictate it was because the main character was female, and not because the story sucked.

Count me among those hoping these ways of thinking will someday not be an issue.

Putting the characters first

No, no. After you. I insist.
No, no. After you. I insist.

The end of the latest polish of the western spec is at hand, with just the last few pages needing some work.

Various subplots are being wrapped up, and I know what happens with the characters involved, but all of my attention now is focused on what may be the most important scene in the whole story: the main character makes a literal life-changing decision.

Notes from a few trusted colleagues indicated the decision as it stands now seems out of character. I’d known since starting this project that this was how I wanted this storyline to end. Changing it was out of the question.

Bonus points for those who’ve probably already figured out what happened next.

Their suggestion kept making more and more sense. My main character would not choose this, despite me wanting her to. But the story’s not about what I want. This change had to be made.

Now that I’ve opted to take things in this new direction, I’m working out a real heart-wrenching scene that depicts the character in the process of making this decision and the toll it takes on her. Conflict, character development, moving the story forward – all based on her.

It’s often been said that your characters will let you know how things are supposed to go.

It’s too easy to have a character do something because that’s what you would do. The challenge is to have them do something you wouldn’t, but you have them do it because that’s the kind of character they are.