Thanks so much, guys, crowd-sourcing the revisions of the book has been so fun! Since we last spoke, I finally got my edits back from my editor, which is thrilling but weird. The edits are great, but it feels like coming home to discover that someone has been in your house, touching your stuff. Of note: Either she has a pronounced hatred of the word “that”, or I have an perverse addiction to it, or both.
One issue that comes up in the notes in this: Writer’s Digest books are aimed at aspiring novelists moreso than screenwriters, but I'm still over-relying on movie examples. So if you’re willing to keep helping me out, I thought we might try something new: I’ll share with you some places in which my editor wants some more book examples, and you can help me brainstorm.
Of course, this brings us to one of the big reasons I tend to focus on movies rather than books. Because there are a limited number of movies released, we all tend to see the same ones, and we all tend to agree on which ones are great, but books are totally different: Readers tend to have their own niches, hundreds of well-reviewed books come out every year in every niche, and individual reader taste varies much more than moviegoer taste.
If you’re talking about books that can be cited as examples, you have a pretty small list: On the one hand, you have high school lit: Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Morrison, etc. On the other hand you have those few bestsellers so big that they cross over to all readers: Rowling, Collins, Larsson, Flynn, etc. So it’s tough! Can you come up with examples that enough people have read?
So let’s try it! Here’s a typical list from the book illustrated solely by movie examples.
Does this challenge become something that’s not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Not all conflict is created equal. Genuine conflict occurs when characters don’t want to do something, for reasons such as these:
- It would require them to question their deep-seated assumptions: Jason Schwartzman refuses to consider the possibility that he doesn’t rule the school in Rushmore.
- It would require them to overcome an inner weakness: Steve Carrell has built up an extreme reluctance to mature in The 40 Year Old Virgin.
- They promised someone they wouldn’t do it: Mark Wahlberg feels he cannot go off on his own in The Fighter without betraying his family.
- It would reveal their painful secrets to others: Harrison Ford in The Fugitive cannot investigate his wife’s murder without exposing himself to the police.
- It would get their love interest or a family member in trouble: Tobey Maguire is constantly afraid his activities will endanger his family members in the Spider-Man movies.