I recently read an immensely inspiring article by Mark Forster, a time management mentor, in which he suggests a method of dealing with procrastination. It basically entails identifying the frustrating issue and then asking yourself, “Is this the way I want it?” Obviously the answer will be, “No,” after which you then ask “What do I need to do to make it the way I want?”
Forster gives examples ranging from tidying a drawer to buying a new house. But his idea is not only useful for procrastinators, screenwriters can also learn a thing or two from him.
If you stop to consider it for a moment, this a is a hugely powerful way of identifying a character’s goals and conflicts.
Simply by imagining (or writing) your character in a situation and having them ask themselves, “Is this the way I want it?” you hit the ground running. You activate that part of your imagination where your character resides. Especially when you follow up with, “What do I need to do to make things the way I want them?”
These two highly evocative questions set your character in motion, get them talking.
Each “What do I need to do to …” yields a concrete task. Something a character has to do (i.e., something visual) to work towards getting things the way they want them to be. And each “What do I need to do …” can be followed up with another one until you finally arrive at the very basic and frightening thing the character has been avoiding all along.
Of course, to make things even more interesting, your character can be wrong. They think they know what to do to make things better, but they’re actually making things worse.
As I’ve written before screenwriting is often about asking yourself the right questions.