Without Dramatic Conflict Your Characters Are Boring

     Most of the screenplays I read lack dramatic conflict.  Characters just talk and say empty words. Nothing’s happening. Often, the reason for this is because we don’t push ourselves to find drama in the lives of our characters.
     So maybe we look into our own lives for some dramatic conflict to inspire us. You argue with your spouse or significant other. You quarrel with your parents or siblings or friends. You squabble with an obnoxious neighbor, rude sales clerk or whoever.
     But sometimes we don’t have enough drama in our lives. Things may be going smoothly and pleasantly. There’s no crisis or chaos. While this is good for our peace of mind, it’s bad for our sense of the dramatic. There’s nothing like something happening to shake things up. We’re thrown off guard, we lose our balance, we’re knocked out of our comfort zone and lose our cool.
     But if nothing’s going on we get lazy.
     This is when we must truly use our imaginations to try and stir up some drama. What I do is try to picture celebrities or people connected to celebrities in their real lives. Not as we’ve come to know them publicly, but how they really are in their private lives.
     What do Michelle and Barack Obama talk about when the kids are tucked in and they’re alone? Does she ask him to rub her feet? Do they argue about what to watch on TV? What is it like to be Sharon Stone’s personal assistant? Does Paul McCartney ever wonder if he or Ringo will be the last surviving Beatle? Do Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have their own secret language?
     What were the first words exchanged between Sarah Palin and her daughter when she learned of her pregnancy? What went on in the mind of the coroner who did the autopsy on Brittany Murphy? Is Kate Gosselin petrified that she’ll never find a man because she has 8 kids? What was the mind set of the guy who tried to blackmail David Letterman?
    What is it like to have been married to Rush Limbaugh? Wife #1 was when he was young and struggling. Wife #2 came along as his career took off. Wife #3 hit the jackpot. What would it be like if those three women got together and dished about life with Rush? I heard recently that he’s getting married again this summer. What goes through the mind of the next Mrs. Limbaugh as she processes the fact that she’ll be #4? Does she secretly wonder if she'll be his last wife?
    Think of this as a mind exercise. Pick a handful of people you like (or don’t like) and imagine what goes on in their private lives. It just might open up some new doors for you when it comes to writing more powerful scenes.
  

17 comments:

  1. If you want to see a good dramatic conflict... you should watch me struggle to come up with a good dramatic conflict!

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  2. This is an wonderful way to dial your psyche into the dramatic when you're stuck with a blah scene. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. I think about this kind of stuff all the time. I thought it was weird. Now I realize it's astute. It's good to be astute.

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  4. I've been thinking like this for years, wondering what famous people (or even my freakin' neighbors) and I thought I was weird, but now I realize that I was on the right track.

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  5. I have often wondered what it must be like for a mortician or embalmer who does the work on a celebrity's body. I recall that the coroner in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s was nicknamed "coroner of the stars." PS. Glad you're back.

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  6. I'm glad you're back too. I've come to really look forward to your insights. I liked this one especially, the one about the secret language of Ashton and Demi. I think a healthy, happy relationship needs a secret language. Call me a crazy romantic.

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  7. Hmm the quote of the week hits a bit to close to home. Gonna have to let this marinate for a few days and post another time.

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  8. Re: quote of the week. I think it's great. It's a reversal of the process. Some people have a skill then allows them to succeed early on, then as they get older they have nothing left except their glory days. Most writers have to wait a long time for success and those of us who keep writing actually DO get better. Very inspiring quote. Glad you're back.

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  9. Good timing on this insight..I'm in the midst of writing turmoil.. I keep picturing my participants as Tiger Woods and his caddy..

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  10. I would pay money to listen to Rush Limbaugh's 3 ex-wives talk. I can't get that image out of my head.

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  11. Funny what you said about the secret language between Demi Moore and her boy toy. I've always felt that a happy couple has secret words or special words they use only with each other. I thought I was peculiar for thinking that. My wife and I have had our own little language since our third date.

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  12. This is helpful. I get lazy trying to find dramatic things to have happen to my characters. I look to newspapers and news and stuff like that. It never occurred to me to look into the lives of others.

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  13. Cool way to look at things.

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  14. Finding drama has been the problem of my writing career. I get these situations, but I can't expand them into anything more than that. I even went to therapy to try and deal with the problem and my shrink told me I was closed off and therefore had a hard time reacting to conflict. I'll try it your way and see what happens.

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  15. Sometimes I think that because I'm only 23 that I haven't had enough life experience to write anything real. Then when I look at the lives of certain people, mainly celebrities like the Kardashians or Kendra I start to feel like an old soul.

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  16. This is so cool. I just heard about your blog. I'm going to read it form the beginning.

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