Monday, January 01, 2007

Contriving Conflict

Yesterday, I reviewed a screenplay that had problems. Overall the screenplay was decent, but some of the character conflicts felt contrived. The writer had gotten so wrapped up in the theme and execution of certain plot elements that she tried to re-invent the wheel and created more work for herself than was really necessary.

My notes were brutal. The characters lacked some very basic and inherent differences that would make the conflicts come naturally. Instead, those differences were built-in after the fact so the conflicts felt contrived. They felt contrived because they WERE contrived.

Stupid Example (because I'm too jacked up on black eyed peas to come up with a good one): Four people sit at a table and argue about what appetizers to order. Simple scene to stage if you already know who likes what. Difficult if you have to figure it all out at the table.

AA - Character one is allergic to shellfish and hates mushrooms
BB - Character two loves shellfish and loves mushrooms
AB - Character three hates shellfish and loves mushrooms
BA - Character four loves shellfish and is allergic to mushrooms

That same character grid creates natural conflicts over more relative character issues like love interests, career goals, sexual orientation, religion, politics, and child raising.

Oh, and the author took my notes very positively. After all, the screenplay was my 2006 Nicholl Fellowship application.


oneslackmartian said...

What kind of black eyed peas theys got where you at?

I could be way off here, but that’s nothing new . . . .

The type of scene you described seems like a good opportunity for subtext-laden dialogue, where nothing they are talking about is really what they are talking about. Maybe two of them are in on it, but the subtext is going right over the heads of the other two. Maybe the waiter even accidentally gives spark to the subtext, showing up at the right/wrong time to ask, “Is your meat tender?”

I guess that doesn’t really help with the conflict issue . . . .

Unk said...

An outstanding OPPORTUNITY to use the conflict at the table to air conflicts within the character grid with the other character issues but using the conflict of what's being served at the table as the "what's on top" conflict and then start peeling back the layers...

Could be a great scene if you can keep the dialogue itself within the context of what's being served but the give the heart of the subtext all the other character issues these characters have with each other.

It's nice that the author doesn't mind brutal notes... Those are often the very best notes you can get. LOL.


Anonymous said...

blackeyed peas for New Years must be a southern thing huh? still not used to eating down here

The Colonel said...

When there is not mush-room left, it is best not to act shellfish. You could use that in your script, dear.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I bow to you, oh pun-master. I'd even tip my hat if I wore one.

Guess I now need to write a scene about people ordering food at a restaurant. Or, at the very least, a Lewis Carroll type poem along the lines of the Walrus and the Carpenter.