In the past year one of my greatest joys has been to write a movie screenplay. It had never crossed my mind that I would ever write one. But doing a master in Creative Writing has stretched me in new ways, including attempting something for the cinema.
(I’ll keep you guys posted on how this goes. In a nutshell, it’s a comedy about the struggle of Italian mothers and mama’s boys to stop a new law proposal from breaking their existential bond when it threatens to throw the mama’s boys out of their parents’ home.)
When I submitted by first draft of the screenplay, one of the key insights my professor gave me was saying: ‘Life is too easy for your character. Make him suffer. Push him to the edge. Give him his greatest nightmare. That’s how growth and change will come to him. And that will make for a good story.’
He was right. A movie is compelling when the protagonist faces a humongous challenge. Something that makes us feel, oh my! How will he do that? If it’s easy, he solves the problem and the story ends in a few minutes. Instead, we crave drama for the tension, the trial, the high stakes, and the unlikely triumph in the end.
It’s one of the basic Hollywood dictums. As one screenwriting textbook put it:
Every studio movie has three acts:ACT I: You get a likeable guy stuck up a tree.ACT II: You throw rocks at him.ACT III: You get him down out of the tree.
So it is with life, isn’t it? The more we suffer … the more we are stretched … the more will we grow and the better will the story be.
Oh my! We don’t want that. Not in real life. We strive to make life easy and effortless. We live for comfort, security and predictability.
But suppose there is an Author behind the great drama that is our world. Someone who cares deeply about us. To make for a Great Story … to help us grow and heal, especially … he sometimes pushes us to the edge. He makes us suffer. He asks to do things that make us feel oh my! How will I do that?
That’s what we’re in for, if we want make a difference in this world and to be part of a Story larger than ourselves. To become a force for life and healing, we have some striving and some growing to do.
And that’s why we love when characters on a screen strive. We suffer with them and learn from their lessons. And we gain courage to face our own challenges.