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Script Tip: What's The Latest Thing Your Main Character Learned?

Learning is a never-ending process, in life and in craft. Marilyn Horowitz gives a lesson on how to analyze your main character from a different perspective.

When I visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming last summer, I had to find things other than skiing to do. I forced myself to go horseback riding, which I hadn’t done since childhood, took a short hike, and attended an authentic Rodeo, where stars of the future are often discovered. I learned a bit about how the judging was done and made friends with a group of the competitors. Over dinner, I learned a few details about the hard life of the wannabe professional rodeo star. I should have been thrilled at all the new info, but instead I felt grumpy: here I was on vacation, but instead of resting my brain, I was being “forced” to learn new things. I stayed in this ungrateful state of mind until I was asked to dinner with a dear friend who had married a ski bum and ran a boutique. At dinner, over a Lone Star, I aired my complaints.

main character

My friend's daughter, Marie, who at five is already a lanky blonde who attends a Montessori School and is very bright. She listened to my complaints, and then slowly shook her head side-to-side, and sighed.

“What did I say?” I looked at her and she said, “ You don’t get it. All of life is a school. Not just when you’re in school.”

I asked her what she liked the best about school and she rolled her eyes, " Duh! I like learning new things."

“Okay, I get the message. So what was the best thing you learned today?" She smiled, held up the book she was reading and said proudly, " I found out that I can read," and proudly read me her book. The book was,The Big Orange Splot, by D. Manus Pinkwater.

The book tells the story of a neighborhood where all the houses are the same and everyone likes it that way, especially Mr. Plumbean, who is the hero. One day a big orange splotch of paint appears on his house, and causes a crisis. Mr. Plumbean first rejects and then champions his house that is now unique, and by the end of the story, all of his neighbors have decided that they no longer want houses that are all the same, and decorate them in marvelous ways.

“What does the story mean to you?” I asked after offering a round of applause.

“Oh, that everyone should be proud of being a special person.” Then she giggled and said sternly, “ And what have you learned?"

I gave her a big smile. She had taught me a lot!

It occurred to me later that this slice of real life could be repurposed and used in my writing in a couple of different ways. Firstly, the conversation of a main character with a child could be used to reveal a deep philosophical truth. For example, consider the scene in the film, The Matrix, when Neo is waiting to meet with Oracle, and he meets the little Chinese boy who informs him that, “There is no spoon.”

Here's the exercise:

Step 1. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Step 2. Have your main character in mind, and decide on a moment in your script when he or she needs to have a critical insight so that your main character can move on in the story.

Step 3. Set up a scene where he or she can organically talk to a child, or if no place in the script, write it as an exercise. Have them discuss a book, movie, myth or parable.

Step 4. Now repeat the experiment, but this time use the villain or obstacle. Have them interact with the same child, and see how differently the scene unfolds.

Happy writing,

Marilyn Horowitz

2013© copyright marilynhorowitz

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