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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Lucey’

“Dramatic irony is a powerful convention that occurs when the hero or villain is thwarted or rewarded in a painful or unexpected manner. In All My Sons [written by Chester Erskine from a play by by Arthur Miller], the father is so desperate to earn money for his family that he cheats on the equipment that his firm supplies to the Air Force. Later, his son dies while flying in a defective airplanes. The dramatic irony is that the father sinned to help his family, only to see his sins return and destroy his family.

War stories respond well to dramatic irony, as in All Quiet on the Western Front, which ends when the hero (Lew Ayres) reaches for a butterfly and is killed by a sniper. The war is about to end, the innocent hero makes a peaceful gesture, and the anonymous bullet ends his life, creating an exquisite moment of dramatic irony.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 208

Related Post:
Irony in Movies (Tip #79)

Scott W. Smith

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“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Classic last line of Some Like it Hot

“In story terms, the main character’s persona is plagued with a flaw, and as this flaw is tested throughout the story, the main character integrates a greater understanding of overcoming the flaw through the lessons of life that are expressed by the story.”
Kate Wright
Screenwriting is Storytelling
page 114


The world recently learned that the great golfer Tiger Woods is not perfect. And if you read this post in a few months or a few years just fill in the blank…The world (or your local community) recently discovered that ____  ____ is not perfect.  The news of imperfection—of character flaws—still makes the news. Always has, always will.

Character flaws in movies are not always spelled out as clear as they are in The Wizard of Oz, but it’s hard not to have a flawed character in a film because the cornerstone of  drama is conflict. Flaws can be external and/or internal so they offer ample room for conflict.

I don’t need to explain a character flaw so I’ll just give you a list of some key flaws in some well-known movies. As you’ll see both protagonists and antagonists have flaws. The major difference tends to be the protagonist/hero generally must overcome his or her flaw for growth, whereas the antagonist are usually defeated due to their great flaw. (But even in tragic endings where lessons are not learned and character is not changed in the hero, and where evil not defeated (Death of a Salesman, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Scarface), there is a warning shot felt in the heart of the viewer.

“Greek classical drama frequently afflicted the hero with a blind spot that prevented that character from seeing the error of his or her ways.  This strategy still shows in films that range from character studies (What’s Love Got to Do with It), to epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai), to action stories (Jurassic Park).”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
page 159

The following list is not a conclusive list of flaws, just some of the most common ones that you’ll recognize when you get together with family this holiday season.

Pride/arrogance
Zack Mayo, An Officer & a Gentleman
Maverick
, Top Gun

Drugs/alcohol
Paul Newman character, The Verdict
Sandra Bullock character,28 Days
Nicolas Cage character, Leaving Las Vegas
Don Birnam
, The Lost Weekend

Greed/Power
Darth Vader,  Star Wars
Gordon Gekko & Budd Fox, Wall St.

Lie/Cheat/Steal/Corruption 101
Jim Carrey character, Liar! Liar!
Denzel Washington character
, Training Day

Delusional/Mentally ill
John Nash, A Beautiful Mind
Norman Bates, Psycho
Captain Queeg/ The Caine Mutiny
Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Glenn Close character/ Fatal Attraction

Unfaithful/Promiscuous
Fatal Attraction
Body Heat
A Place in the Sun

Obsessive
Jack Nicholson character, As Good as it Gets
Meg Ryan character, When Harry Met Sally
Tom Hanks character, Castaway

Flaws, by the way, are one of the chief dilemmas that both philosophy and religion have struggled to answer for at least the last few millenniums. Where do flaws come from and what do we do with them? The central question being if  man (as in mankind) is born good as some believe then why is everyone and every civilization since, uh—the beginning of time— so messed up? And if we’re born with original sin as other believe then what are the ramifications of that? I’m pretty sure we can agree on one thing, this is one messed up world with a whole cast of real life flawed characters.

We’re all trying to figure out why we’re wired the way we’re wired. And we go to the movies to get a piece of the puzzle. And the side benefit to writing great flawed characters is the audience not only identifies with the character, but actors love to to play flawed characters. Writing great flawed characters tend to be appreciated at the box office and at award time. It’s a win-win situation.

Who are some of your favorite flawed characters?

P.S. Marc Scott Zicree The Writer’s Wrench calls character flaws, “The hurt that needs healed.” Zicree also wrote The Twilight Zone Companion and Rod Serling understood a lot about writing about character flaws.

Scott W. Smith

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In the past week I watched two modern classic films (Deliverance & Scent of a Women) and read the script again for Juno. Though these movies are different in genre and were made in three different decades they have at least one thing in common – they are simple stories.

Four guys go take a boating trip, a prep school kid takes a caretaker job to make a little money over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a teenage girl gets pregnant. Simple.

“The story line idea (of In the Line of Fire) involves a Secret Service agent who survived the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and who must now prevent an assassin from killing the current president. That situation is complicated by the intensity of both the hero and the villain as they conflict over who will prevail. This brief statement summaries the movie. Many films are equally simple when reduced to a sentence or two in this way. Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 5

So while Deliverance, Scent of a Woman and Juno are simple stories certainly Burt Renyolds, Al Pacino, and Ellen Page played complex characters. Revisit the scripts of those films written by James Dickey, Bo Goldman, and Diablo Cody to see how they weaved their magic. And don’t confuse simplicity with being simple.

Robert McKee is fond of pointing out the complexity of the simple french toast scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer. While on the surface it’s a scene simply about a father making breakfast for his son. But it’s really a complex scene as the Dustin Hoffman character is in conflict with himself (inner-conflict), his son who is telling him he’s doing it wrong (personal conflict), he’s at conflict with the kitchen (enviroment/extra-personal), and he’s even at conflcit with his wife who isn’t even there but the main reason he is having all these other conflicts.

McKee writes in is book Story, “My advice to most writers is to design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple,’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by these two principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not not multiply locations. Rather than hopscotching through time, space, and people, discipline yourself to a reasonably contained cast and world, while you concentrate on creating a rich complexity.”

Related Post: Screenwriting & Time
(Notice the time lock on the first three films I mentioned? Deliverance & Scent of a Woman basically take place over a weekend and Juno takes place over the term of her pregnancy.)

Scott W. Smith

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