In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo becomes the ring bearer to return the ring to its place of origin, Mount Doom, so he can destroy it. That is his dramatic need. How he gets there and completes the task is the story.
The character's need determines the creative choices he/she makes during the screenplay, and gaining clarity about that need allows you to be more complex, more dimensional, in your character portrayal.
Without conflict, there is no action. Without action, there is no character. Action is Character. What a person does is what he is, not what he says!
-Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Syd Field
There are two subjects that I frequently write about on this blog: creative writing and self-improvement. They are two fairly distinct topics. I've also written quite a few posts about my life and the slightly weird situations I find myself in.
Occasionally, there's a crossover. I'll have an anecdote that bridges two of those. Take this one, for example: I am 15 years old, reading a copy of the Reservoir Dogs screenplay instead of revising for my GCSEs. I realise that this is what I want to do with my life: I want to tell stories for the cinema. I want to write. The only half-decent jobs I'd ever be applicable for, however, are in IT and that's what I've applied to do at college. I'll never get the grades to study media, which might- at a long-shot- lead to a career in screenwriting. Or that's what I think, until I find an intermediate course at a local college, a course that doesn't require any grades at all. This is it: my first step to becoming a screenwriter.
A year later, I've made it onto the advanced course. A couple of people from the media industry come to the college to give careers advice. One tells us that to stand out from the crowd, and to be hired by media managers, a degree can be really helpful.
Another year later, I've learned an introduction to a range of sectors within the media industry- the goings-on in the worlds of print media, design, video, sound recording and editing, live TV and radio. I've finished the intermediate level work and am half-way through the advanced course. I still want to be a screenwriter, but I've learned so much about how competitive each sector of the media is and how each area- be it graphics or marketing- are totally different lines of work. We have touched on screenwriting here and there, but I've struggled with the modules that relate to it- the video modules I've found challenging due to memory difficulties and learning to use the technical equipment, and with organising groups of people like actors and crew. I don't really know where my strengths are and Screenwriting has become a pipe dream.
It's the start of my final year at college. The course tutor tells us that if we want to go to university next year, we'll have to fill in our UCAS forms now. The idea of me actually being taken on by a university seems ridiculous. I got a very low merit grade in my intermediate media course, and 1 grade C in my GCSEs. I feel like I'm being kidded, but I don't have anything to lose. I fill all six options on my UCAS form. As we've been learning about various different media forms, I have no idea what to focus on and screenwriting has been pushed to the back of my mind. I apply for more general media courses at degree level; an HND in Media Production is right down at the bottom. I send it off and forget about it.
Whilst I'm hammering through reports, practical projects and evaluations, a letter comes in the post. It's an invitation for an interview at The University of Salford- my last choice. I attend the interview and it goes well- I surprise myself with what knowledge I've actually retained- but I'm intimidated by the prospect of me doing this at higher education level with the intention of doing it professionally. Here I am, waffling about 2-camera set-ups and interview techniques. It all sounds very convincing. I'm too dazed, due to hard-and-fast work, hampered by forgetting countless things, to stop and think about why I ever started on the intermediate course to begin with. Regardless, I gave the interview a shot.
Days later, I get accepted onto the course. I'm in disbelief. My next two years, at least, are planned out. I just hope they support me in whatever way I need.
One of the last college modules I complete is Freelance Journalism. The majority of this is written work, an area where I seem to be getting a lot of Distinctions. There's a flash of inspiration as I look through all of my grades from the last two years. Each module has four grades: Planning and research, Implementation, Evaluation and Outcome. Each grade is either a Pass, Merit or Distinction. My grades are mostly Merits, but the Distinctions are scattered around the work where writing was a major part. Four in Freelance Journalism. A lot more in Evaluations. A tutor tells me my writing has come on a long way.
There's a part of me that wants to “pull the handbrake on”- to say, “Wait a minute. I seem to be a dab hand with this here. I should be doing a writing course, not a technical one.” But as I've been turned down for every other course I've applied for, I assume that the place I've been given is the ONLY course at the ONLY university that would ever take me.
I'm prepared to bet that I'd have been wrong. Why didn't I get that movie-style flashback of me trying to read the Reservoir Dogs screenplay in school, and being filled with that urge- that NEED to tell stories and to put sentences together? Why didn't I look at these grades and realise that I was more likely to fulfil my original ambition than I was of having a chance of succeeding on this tech course and getting a job in that field?
Because I forgot all about my dramatic need.
I had pushed those harboured desires to write to the back of my brain, where they stayed until my 26th birthday. Then, whilst chowing down on jalapeno pizza, I was talking to a relative about blogging. She asked me if I'd considered sending it out to anywhere- local magazines or newspapers. I said I'd never thought of that, but there's no reason why I couldn't, I suppose. I'd been writing for fun for a couple of years, but at that moment in Albert's Shed in Castlefield, the penny dropped.
I was a writer. It was no wonder I'd not succeeded at anything else. The grades I'd got at school, college and uni were all average except those I got for the written work. The hopeless attempt I'd made to join the Armed Forces years after graduating had involved testing- I'd scored abysmally at the memory and numeracy sections, but very strong in the literacy section (and my electrical comprehension score was very high, bizarrely).
There was one other problem I have had- aside from applying to the wrong jobs and doing the wrong course. Throughout college, university and subsequent jobsearching, I'd forgotten what I wanted in the end. As a result of not having this “dramatic need” of my own, I didn't know how to behave. My whole personality was “wrong”- I was shy, depressed, directionless and frustrated. I wanted to develop myself and become more confident, but into what? What was I striving for? I wanted a girlfriend, but what else? Regardless of other people, what did I want from life?
I had no idea. Not until that birthday meal. I am a writer, first and foremost. I do reception work to pay the bills, and I'm grateful to be in a job in this climate, but integrally, I write. Since that conversation on my 26th, I've become much more confident– overall, with writing, and with talking to friends, family and colleagues. I've made decisions based on that need and I feel like I know myself a lot more. I stumbled across that opening quote more recently and it spoke volumes to me. It said, know what you want and you will know who you are. And knowledge, as we all know, is power. Power, even if only over yourself, is confidence.