Sunday, February 7, 2010

BOOK CLUB: Psychological Suffering (Ch. 32)

[Today we're reading Ch. 32 Aristotle's Take on the Importance of Drama, from Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, by Michael Tierno (2002).]

Today's chapter mentions intense emotional or psychological suffering & I thought I'd write a few words on a popular genre, the psychological thriller.

I've read a bunch of purported "psychological thriller" specs and was unimpressed. They were predictable & not truly playing with a person's mind.

What impresses me? A good lead up to the epiphany. Let me elaborate:

First, you need to lay out what the lead character's sore point is psychologically, i.e., why he is having issues.

Second, you need to gradually hammer at that sore point. Newbies make the mistake of thinking that to " hammer" means starting with HUGE FORCE. Uh, no. If you do, there's nowhere to go.
And it's creepier if you start with small discomforts and crescendo to a GIGANTOR conflict at the climax.

Third, when you reach that climax/epiphany/GIGANTOR moment, don't overplay it. Give us a beat of the antagonist remaining controlled as the protagonist explodes. THEN let the antagonist unravel.

ex. At the climax, cool, collected antagonist confesses that he killed protagonist's beloved father & buried him in a hidden location. Protagonist is reeling & is shoved into her worst fear: Her father truly is dead. Protagonist is melting down, and sobbing.

If you overplay it, you could make the protagonist leap up and confront the antagonist with a "You'll never get the best of me!" speech. *Yawn.*

If you're smart, you'll let the protagonist sob, mentally collect herself, and reach for something in her psychological arsenal that will trump the antagonist. This does 2 things: 1) It beats the bad guy at his game at the right time; & 2) It shows that the protagonist has completed her character arc.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Psychological thrillers are hot properties. But make sure to set it up properly for the most powerful effect.

[DISCLAIMER: I have not been asked, nor paid, to read or comment on this book.]

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