Karl Iglesias on Unwillingness to Compromise
The following article is an edited excerpt from Karl Iglesias’s DVD seminar Crafting Compelling Stories for Emotional Impact:
Emotional impact is what craft is all about. In other words, when you hear about honing your craft, that craft is basically your technical ability as a writer, through your words, through writing a story, to create an emotional response in the reader.
Specifically, emotions like anticipation, for example. Suspense is a another big one. Tension, surprise, interest, curiosity, empathy, laughter, fear.
And when I talk about compelling emotions in storytelling, I’m not talking about the emotions of the characters, I’m talking about the emotions of the reader. Because you are all writing for the reader. As a writer you are in the emotional delivery business, and you’re delivering emotions to a reader first, to a producer next, who’s going to read the script, then to the actors and actresses who are going to give voice to your script, and eventually and ultimately to the cinema audience. But the reader is your first and only audience as a beginner writer.
So the key to a compelling story is to write for emotional impact:
What’s a Story?
Very briefly, it is a relating of events; events that have meaning.
I can’t tell you how many scripts I read where I see a whole series of events that tell me a story but have no meaning. And when an event has no meaning you are pretty much bored. You have no idea what it’s about. You’re not interested, you’re not compelled, you’re not connected.
So the events have to have meaning, and they also have to be important. Always ask yourself, “Why is today in my script the most important day in my character’s life?” Why are you telling this story today, what’s different, why is it so important today?
And very important, too, is consequence. I see a lot of stories that don’t have consequence. And by consequence I mean that a significant change occurs as a result of the events. If there are no consequences to the events, why are you telling me about them?
In short, a story is all about change. Human change, but also event changes. Because every time you have a change, then that creates interest. And life is about change: everything changes, all the time, so if you have a change from beginning to end it is more compelling than if you don’t.
A Simple Universal Formula
Let me give you a little simple universal formula about stories:
Something happens to someone, and something must be done.
That is one way of looking at it. And this is where the whole inciting event comes from: you’re telling a story, and something happens to a character that sends them on a journey. If you don’t have that something you don’t have a story.
A Better Universal Formula
But a better way of looking at a story is the following:
Someone wants something badly, and is having difficulty getting it.
This is the essence of all stories from the beginning of time. If a character doesn’t want something, or if a character wants something badly but there are no obstacles, then you have no story.
Stories are about conflict and dramatic action. Conflict is at the core of every script and every story and every scene and every character, in every moment in your script.
One way to look at conflict is:
Goal – Obstacle – and Unwillingness To Compromise.
And this is very important, because I see a lot of amateur scripts where there is conflict, but it is not the right kind of conflict. By which I mean that the conflict is mainly like an argument. You see scene after scene where characters go
“Yes no yes no.”
That’s an argument. But what I’m talking about, what you want, is dramatic conflict. And the only thing that satisfies dramatic conflict is goal, obstacle, and unwillingness to compromise.
Everybody knows a character needs something, needs a goal. If you have obstacles, that’s fine, you need obstacles for conflict. But if you don’t have unwillingness to compromise, you have no interest.
Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you woke up this morning, and you wanted to come to this seminar. You heard a lot about the seminar, you heard a lot about the speaker, it was free, wow, great. You had to be here early, and so you set the alarm the night before, and it happened to be an electric alarm.
So we know your goal, and now we’re going to throw in a little obstacle: you have a power outage at 3am. So your clock is off, you wake up late, so you’re in a rush. You have a goal, and now you have an obstacle.
You run to your car, but your car doesn’t start. Obstacle number two.
OK, you think, I’m going to get a cab.
But you can’t find the number. Obstacle number three.
You finally call a cab, but the cab doesn’t turn up. Obstacle four.
So you get a bus.
But the bus breaks down. Obstacle five.
And so on.
Fine. So we have all these obstacles, but what does it show? It shows an unwillingness to compromise: you will not take no for an answer. So long as you have an unwillingness to compromise, you will not take no for an answer, you have to get to the seminar. You have dramatic conflict. This is interesting.
But what if you have the goal (you want to get here), you have the obstacle (your alarm doesn’t go off), but you say, “ah screw it, I’ll just stay in bed”?
Now, suddenly, we have no story. Now it is not interesting. You have a goal and an obstacle, but you have no conflict.
And this is why unwillingness to compromise is so important. Goal and obstacle are not enough. You’ve compromised, you’ve said “OK, this is not important to me,” and so you don’t have conflict.
Goal and obstacle are a start, but unwillingness to compromise is what makes your story dramatic.
Also, why not take a look at Karl’s book, Writing for Emotional Impact?