Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Audition by Michael Shurtleff - What Are You Fighting For?

The following is the second in a series of twelve articles based upon the twelve guideposts listed in Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. The author was the casting director for many of David Merrick's Broadway productions. He also worked with Bob Fosse and Andrew Lloyd Webber. His book is known as the actor’s bible. If you take a college acting class, it will likely be required reading. While Shurtleff’s book is aimed at actors, his principles are beneficial to both authors and directors as well. This series is geared toward authors.

What Are You Fighting For?

Shurtleff notes that actors often break a scene down into “beats” or sections, and then find a motivation or goal for each beat. He states that this is a good method, but that it doesn’t go far enough. He says that when he asked an actor what his or her goal was in a scene, he often received the response, “I want to get away from this person. I want to run out of the room.”

Then he asked, “Why don’t you run? What keeps you there?” The answers to these questions made the actor more effective in the scene. Instead of using “goal” or “motivation” or any other standard acting terms, Shurtleff regularly asked his actors, “What are you fighting for?” Authors would benefit from asking this question of their characters. They must find a positive motivation for their characters, since this will serve them in a more forceful, stronger, more emotional way than a negative choice will. Characters may appear negative or languid on the surface, but authors must dig deeper into what motivates the characters in the strongest, most positive terms.

If a character states, “I’m bored,” the author must know what the character wants instead of the boring condition he’s in and open him up and let him fight for that. Shurtleff uses the word, “fight” because he feels that nothing less than the strongest, most positive goal possible will do.

Authors must make the most active choice possible for every character in every scene. When each character makes the strongest choices of what he is fighting for in every scene, life is being breathed into the story, and keeping readers turning the pages.

So if all your characters are pitching hard for what they’re fighting for in every scene, how do you achieve balance in each scene? Shurtleff says it’s through relationship, through a heightening of the awareness of each character has in life toward other people. Authors need to know each of their character’s perceptions of give and take in a relationship, the character’s consideration for the other characters in each scene, their characters’ sensitivity to their other characters’ reactions to what they’re fighting for and a heightened awareness of how the characters tend to affect each other.

Characters need conflict; it’s what drives drama. Authors don’t create characters in the normal course of their everyday lives. We thrust our characters into the extraordinary, the unknown. Find the maximum conflict for your characters. Look at each character individually in each scene and ask not only what is he fighting for, but also determine who is interfering with your character getting what he’s fighting for. Do battle with her; fight her; woo her; charm her; revile her. Find as many ways as you can for your character to go about getting what he’s fighting for. Each way can spawn new ways, insightful dialogue and other possibilities limited only by the author’s mind. The more ways you find, the more interesting your scene.

According to Shurtleff, all of life is a fight. We always want something. What seems like defeat is just another way of fighting. We always want something and are always fighting toward that end, no matter how guised our actions might be. Authors must determine what the basic fight is in every character in every scene. The various ways in which each individual fight is waged is what propels the story forward. Instill each relationship in each scene with what your characters are fighting for.

When it comes to relationships specifically and life in general, fantasy shines head and shoulders above reality. We don’t live for reality, but for the fantasies, the dreams of what might be. It’s the dreams that keep us going, and that’s what authors need to inject into their characters. Romance is everyone’s secret dream. Look how many songs and movies are written about it. Never distrust romance. Nothing could be stronger. Most stories of any genre contain some amount of romance. Look for the opposites. Trust that romance is strong. Tenderness is stronger than screaming. Whenever you have two considerations which seem to cancel each other out, do both. Find the positive in the characters in your scene so you can play off of the opposites and add dimension to your characters. Look at the most you can find in a relationship between characters in your scene.

The bottom line: Don’t settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your character’s future. Fight to make your characters' dreams come true.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you basically just lifted everything out of his guidepost instead of summarizing it in your own words.

6:42 PM  

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