Secrets Make Great Characters and Great Stories by Peter Russell at Story Expo
Film Courage: Peter, what makes a good story?
Peter Russell: Embarrassment. Truth. Ask yourself (and you do it alone in a room), write down on a piece of paper, the ten most embarrassing things (secrets) in your life you would never want anyone to know. Now we all have them, write down ten of them…you don’t ever want to show this to anybody, you don’t have to. But those ten embarrassing secrets will fuel almost all the stories you’re ever going to tell in your life. Every story you tell if going to come out of those horrible embarrassments because they are what’s wounded you and they start when you’re little and it’s usually our parents that wound us. Sometimes it’s a dirty ole’ uncle, sometimes it’s a neighbor, but it’s usually our parents. So if you can understand what those wounds are, you’re going to be able to write ten compelling characters all having behaviors that are compensations for that wound.
Like I said, one of mine was that my Mommy didn’t love me, but it came out in Body Dysmorphia, that won’t be the case for you. The one wound – “I’m unlovable,” look how it worked for Don Draper (AMC’s television series Mad Men). He became Mr. Handsome. Everything he did was seductive. Yes? So that’s a difference, because everyone is different to how they react to the core wound. This is the most potent way to tell a great story and it’s about character. You know, Blake Snyder, wrote a great book called SAVE THE CAT, but he didn’t talk much about character. And so this lecture I gave yesterday which was killing the cat is sort of like what else you need to know about story if you want to write a compelling story today. Character is something that seems like a black box for a lot of writers. So I’m suggesting what’s more interesting in your life than what happened to you? Your secrets. If you can’t get interested in your own secrets, you are going to write a boring character. Or sometimes you see teachers say “Here is a list of things. Write down a list of character attributes, Well they like tea, they like…I don’t know…diapers.” It seems so arbitrary, right? Who cares? Think about your own wound, you like what you have avoided and what you still avoid. And I guarantee, “…Like she’s gonna really say that? I don’t want to reveal that about myself.” Well, you’re going to have a boring story if you don’t and even writers who are very successful and they tell me “I never do any of that crap. I’m completely unanalyzed and I don’t need analysis. One page of their script reveals reveals all of that damage, whether they want it to or not. It’s right there. It’s what they write about.
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Question: Are you conscious of your core wounds when writing?
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STORY EXPO is the world’s biggest convention of writers from all mediums, screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, filmmakers, gamers, journalists, graphic novelists, actors, business people, comic book writers and more. Featuring over 110 world-renowned speakers, 100+ classes and 30+ exhibitors, Story Expo covers all aspects of story and writing from craft to business to pitching to career.
Learn how and where your story is best told to achieve its greatest success both financially and creatively. Take control of your stories by learning the craft, learning which medium your stories are best told, understanding the business of storytelling, identifying and using the tools and resources available to you, understanding how to package and pitch your ideas and scripts, and using social media and other techniques to start and maintain a successful writing career. Also be able to pitch your scripts and stories to top production companies, agents and managers in our Story Expo Pitching Room. This year’s Pitching Room has extraordinary companies and agencies like ICM, APA, 3 Arts and more! Plus network with your peers from around the world during a fun, over-the-top weekend. Story Expo is like Comic-Conbut for writers.