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Do you know why people love stories?

Why do people look at their televisions and watch other human beings act out events in life? Why do people walk into a movie theatre and sit for two hours motionless watching other people in motion? They know that the people on the screen are not actually the characters in the story but people simply pretending to be other people. They know that it’s been created artificially, yet they stop their own lives to watch fictional stories of the lives of other people. And they pay money for it.

We love stories because they give us something very precious. Story gives our lives meaning and purpose. It connects us to everything that lives. We see what the characters have to fight through and we know we are not alone. We see the characters face death and survive. They meet injustice and prevail, fall in love and become happy. Stories reflect our hopes and assure us our conflicts are valid and worthy of our own spirited focus.

When this gorgeous, rich, emotional rope between audience and story fails, the disappointment in the viewer is substantial. They no longer feel intimate with the characters and what has happened in the story. Their identification is gone. The recognition of their own personal sadness and dreams no longer exists. The audience quite often feels the connection early, and then later, it falls away. It’s an awful experience.

As a writer, this is my job——to honor my characters with honest choices. If you want to make money, if you want to be cool, if you want to win awards, if you want express yourself creatively as a storyteller to strangers and make a difference in their lives, you need to promise your story and your characters one damn thing—–you can’t lie.

Be honest about the world you live in and what the people in that world would do. This is the bargain. Make a commitment to keep your characters TRUE. Writers often introduce a beautiful character that we grow to love. We obsess over these characters! But the writer cannot figure out a way to resolve their conflict, so they often have the character do something completely beyond their natures to resolve their problems, If you’ve set up a character and sold us on who they are, that’s the core of the emotional identification. If you toss that aside to wrap up your story, you’ve lost your audience.

Avoid implausible choices. Do not bend logic and contrive your plot in an effort to finish your script. What are you finishing your script for? Simply to finish? No. Our job is to write a story where the audience finds their life’s meaning. That’s the goal. That’s what makes people come back to your series.

Letting characters BE WHO THEY ARE from beginning to end drives us straight towards beauty. Often this requires you to work harder and write more and more pages. We can let a character be so truthful that we discover something completely painful and terrifying about ourselves. This might confound us and set us absolutely at a loss, leaving us feeling far from home with our own script.

Yet this is the only way.  Writing is easy until you have to make everything real, all the way to the very last moment of your story, the very last words of your script. And then it’s something rare. It’s the reason people sat down for us in that theatre. It’s why they stopped their lives for a bit.

To give us another chance to do our job.

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