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Drama Called Life

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

Over the weekend, I had the exciting experience of observing a casting call and auditions for a movie to be filmed in Guam. Would-be actors showed up by the dozens to read and vie for their hoped-for parts.

The next day, I attended a director’s workshop hosted at the University of Guam where the film’s director, Alex Munoz, shared a few insights into the art of directing a movie, as well as some interesting things about how to construct a good story. The most interesting part of the lesson in filmmaking was a simple line about what makes a scene and a movie effectively "work." But more on that later.

So based on my first introduction to the world of feature filmmaking, I’ll share with you some of the elements of a good movie/screenplay. As you read each element, I’d encourage you to see how these elements apply to any “drama” going on around you. You can choose the story of your life, the contenders in the developing presidential race, or you can choose the CUC (Commonwealth Utilities Corp.) situation, the Mariana Monument debate, or even the CNMI itself as the character in this drama called life.

A Story Always Begins With A What If? Question

A good story starts with a “what if?” What if this happened? What if that happened? Frame your story as a single sentence telling who the hero of the story is and what he/she wants to accomplish. Who is trying to stop him/her? What happens if he/she fails?

For example: What if a group of tree hugging environmentalists suggested the creation of a marine protected area in an effort to put their island on the world map, but were opposed by others who saw it as a threat to their interests? What if a contract worker traveled thousands of miles in search of a better life, but finds the conditions in the new land worse than what she left back home? What if everything you believed about life was a lie?

Identify your characters

The next step in telling a good story is to identify your characters.

eg. “Judy Hall is seeking a life of simplicity and love. She believes that there is someone special out there seeking the same thing in her. She is determined to find it. She starts out hopeless, fearful and desperate, but by the end of the story is empowered, courageous and fulfilled.”

Based on the above, we have the four elements of a good character:

1) NEED: What does he/she want, is going to get or going to achieve?

2) POINT OF VIEW: How does this character view the world?

3) ATTITUDE: What is the character’s attitude and opinion?

4) CHANGE: What is the change? Characters must change, i.e., the “arc.”

The Arc

Every character has an "arc." An arc is the change the character goes through during the story. For example, a character may start out as timid, but by the end of the story becomes courageous. A character may start out arrogant, but by the end of the story becomes humble. In order for a character to hold our interest, there must be a transformation of some sort.


A good story is moved along by knowing what each character wants. Every character wants something. According to one screenplay writing website: “There is always something at stake in a good movie. Not just something someone wants, something that must be acquired, no matter what the risk, as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Or something highly desired by as many main characters as possible, like the small black statue in The Maltese Falcon. Some times it can be an intangible thing, like the freedom of a people in Lawrence of Arabia or Gandhi. All these things drive the character’s quest, even gives the hero superhuman strength. It can be something personal (romance) or for the good of all (saving the world from aliens) but it must be powerful and grow more desperate as the story unfolds.”

That something can be freedom, love, sovereignty, money, revenge, you name it. Here are seven of the most common driving wants in filmmaking:

1) Survival: Many good films are about survival—human instinct—do-or-die situations. if you’re into Hollywood scripts and stories, think about the top-grossing films of all time. 99 out 100 are stories with characters in do-or-die situations.

2) Safety and security: Need to find a secure/protected setting once again.

3) Love and belonging: Someone longing for connection/ wanting to feel loved.

4) Esteem and self-respect: Wanting to be looked up to, and be recognized for their skills.

5) The need to know and understand: Curiosity, and understanding how things happen and what they have to go through to get answers.

6) The aesthetic: Trying to be connected with something greater than themselves—a higher power.

7) Self-actualization: The characters need to express themselves—to communicate who they are. The audience roots for someone to succeed. a lot of comedies have this plot.


There are always obstacles which provide that catchword that actors love so much—conflict. This is the heart of drama. Someone wants something and people and things keep getting in the way of them achieving the goal. At times, the obstacles can be common to both the hero and villain, and the ultimate goal a laudable one for both parties, as in Jingle All The Way. In that film, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad battle to achieve the same goal—the acquisition of the last popular action figure for sale that Christmas season. Both of them have promised their son, and they must not fail. Conflict and obstacles can be physical or emotional. But they have to be in your story or you don’t really have a story. In most good stories, the protagonist will also have an inner obstacle, some mental or even spiritual problem, that will be resolved by the time s/he reaches the outward, physical goal of the story.

Hopes and Fears

Here’s the line I alluded to earlier that I found interesting: What makes a scene compelling for the viewer/observer—what makes a good story—is the Hope and Fear dynamic. As you are drawn into the developing arc of the character and his or her wants and needs, you—the viewer—have a hope and a fear in regard to the outcome of each scene and the outcome of the overall story.

For example, as you watch the story unfold, you hope that agent 007 finds the killer, but you fear he will not. Without this hope versus fear dynamic, a story does not hold your interest.

A Screenplay called Saipan

There are many such compelling stories being played out here in the CNMI: We hope that Saipan recovers economically, but we fear that it won’t. We hope that contract workers get improved rights, but we fear they will not. We hope that the Marine Monument gets established, but we fear that it won’t. (Now, of course, the particular hope and fear you have all depends on which side of the debate you’re on, but you get my point.)

Don’t forget the Four Parts Of Any Screenplay

1. THE STORY CONCEPT: A single sentence telling who the hero of the story is and what he/she wants to accomplish

2. THE CHARACTERS: The people who populate the story

3. PLOT STRUCTURE: The events of the story and the relationship of the characters; determines what happens in the story and when it happens

4. THE INDIVIDUAL SCENES: The way the words are laid out on the page—the format, and how one writes action, description and dialogue to increase emotional involvement.

Final Tips

1. The level and type of emotion always goes through peaks and valleys rapidly in a great story. It’s the catalyst for the pace of the story.

2. The law of conflict—nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.

3. You need to lead the audience into an expectation, make them think they understand, then crack and open a surprise. Surprise and curiosity always bring the audience into the story.

So now, what can you do with this information? The potential applications are limitless! If you are a political candidate, you can use the power of a compelling story to pull people in so that they believe they have a vested interest in your victory. If you are a newspaper reporter, you can create characters and conflict where none exist in order to sell papers. If you are a marketing consultant, you can spin events in order to sell a point of view or public perception about your brand. If you are a novelist or professional storyteller, you can make your creations and characters more intriguing. Perhaps, if you are a professional gossip, when you spread stories about your neighbors, you can format it in a way that establishes your reputation as the best source of “dirt” in town.

Or, at the very least, you can see the world through a set of objective eyes and not fall victim to the manipulation that exists in the various and sundry stories that are always being told in this drama called life.


Note: For more tips on overcoming your fears, acting on your ideas, changing the game, and creating a passion-centered lifestyle, visit!


Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!

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