TV Writing Seminar - Part 7


Conflict


LOVE STORY: A Novel and Movie by Eric Segal

Act One: Boy meets girl... chemistry. They fall for each other (remember, even in a love story, there has to be conflict in a relationship. Nothing is duller than two people who agree with each other.

"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I think you're wonderful."
"I think you're wonderful, too."
Not very interesting. Try this:
"I love you."
"Are you trying to get into my pants?"
"What the hell kinda question is that?"
"Just checking."

You have to have conflict.

ACT ONE: In Love Story, we have your basic boy-meets-girl opening. She's a sorority girl; he's hashing in her sorority house, (she thinks to put himself through school). They fall for each other and he invites her to his house for Thanksgiving Holiday.

ACT TWO: They arrive at his house and, lo and behold, he lives in a mansion. "Who the hell are you?" she asks. Turns out he's not some poor boy putting himself through college. He's the son of one of the most wealthy families in Connecticut!

That's the complication, now the tables are turned. Before, she was on top, the sorority girl having a romance with the "poor" hasher. Now everything's changed. His family doesn't like her. She's not good enough for their son. (NOTE: This complication was part of his back-story from the beginning, but was hidden from her and from us.)

Now, in Act Two, it is revealed and it complicates the hell out of this love story. They fight with each other and his family. The struggle to keep their love together grows. Then just when it seems they will persevere, along comes the Second Act curtain: She is diagnosed with cancer (Destruction of the hero's plans). "How can our love survive if one of us is going to die?"

ACT THREE: The solution. In this case, a bittersweet ending where she dies and he is forced to go on without her, a sadder but wiser man.

Classic Act Three structure. It's why both the book and the movie work so well.

There are many more craft points that bear examination. I will deal with one or two here and we can talk about the others online.

EXPOSITION: Every story has to have expository scenes and they're hard as hell to write, especially in the screenplay. It's one character telling another character facts that the audience needs to know. It is often dull and always hard to make interesting.

In the Rockford pilot, I was doing a very complicated murder mystery and, at a certain point toward the end of Act One, I needed Rockford to get a bunch of info about some characters to move the story along. It was in this scene that I created the character of Angel Martin. His sole job in the play was to give Jim information on the murder. (You can download the teleplay and look at the scene which starts on page 22.)

What I did was make the expository scene about something else. On the surface, it was a scene about whether Jim was guilty of the crime he'd been in prison for. Angel, a fellow ex-con on parole, was working at his brother-in-law's newspaper, and was looking in the morgue section of old newspapers, getting the info that Jim needed (exposition).

In-between the exposition, they were arguing about whether Jim had actually pulled the crime. It's a good example of mixing attitude and exposition to make the mixture go down smoothly. When you have heavy exposition, look for something else to write about. Create equal amounts of attitude with exposition when you're laying out story track.

THE OBLIQUE SCENE: This is a scene that doesn't "go down the center of the page" (a writing term for a predictable scene that doesn't surprise). An oblique scene starts in a different place than we expect it to, but ends up telling the same story point.

EXAMPLE: Let's say I'm writing a scene where a father's sixteen-year-old sophomore daughter has just told him that she's going out with the high school quarterback, a senior. The father checks around with some teachers and finds out that this guy has already impregnated two girls. He tells his wife; no way is this going to happen. Here's the down-the-center-of-the-page scene:

(Excuse this dialogue - it is intentionally flat-footed to make the point)

INT. FAMILY ENTRY - NIGHT

The doorbell rings and the father, CARL GOODGUY, opens the door and finds the handsome eighteen-year-old quarterback, BUDDY GIRLFEELER.

BUDDY
Hi, I'm Buddy. I'm here to pick up your daughter.

CARL
(angry)
I've heard all about you, Buddy. I know about the
two girls you got pregnant and there's no way you're
going out with my daughter.

BUDDY
Sir, come on... I don't know what you've heard,
but I'm innocent.

CARL
Oh yeah? Well I checked with the headmaster, who
told me about the two abortions.

BUDDY
The what? Oh yeah, those. Well I...

CARL
Get the hell out of my house. And if I ever see you
again, you're dust.

Good conflict. Conflict always works, but it's exactly the scene we'd expect. Now let's try the oblique scene: (same dialogue excuse)

INT. FAMILY ENTRY - NIGHT

The doorbell rings and CARL opens the door and finds BUDDY GIRLFEELER.

CARL
(a smile)
You must be Buddy. Man, I can't tell you how much
I've heard about you.

BUDDY
(smiling)
About football?

CARL
Feet weren't exactly involved, but balls were
definitely mentioned.

BUDDY
(confused)
Huh?

Carl looks around Buddy's shoulder and sees his van in the driveway.

CARL
Hey, you got one a'those new Jimmy vans. You like it?

BUDDY
Yes sir... I guess...

CARL
(pushing past)
Lemme see. I've been thinking of getting one a'those.

EXT. HOUSE - NIGHT

Carl moves to the car as Buddy chases after him, trying to keep Carl from opening the door... but he's too late. Carl is staring inside.

CARL
Hey, Buddy, there's a buncha mirrors in here,
got one on the ceiling, too. What the hell's
that all about?

BUDDY
I... uh....

CARL
And a waterbed...

BUDDY
Heh-heh-heh...


Carl pulls a package out of the side pocket.

CARL
These better be balloons for your birthday or
you're a dead man.

CUT TO:

This second scene doesn't start where we expect, but like scene one, it ends in the same place, "You're not taking my daughter out." The trick to an oblique scene is to play against the facts the audience already knows. In this case, it's that Buddy is not your wholesome All-American date.

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Every scene in a book or script should do two things. FIRST: It should progress the story. The test is, if the scene is removed does it leave a hole in the plot. SECOND: The scene should simultaneously advance the character relationships. Try to accomplish both of these goals in each scene.

 
On to Part 8