You’re a caveman (I don’t need to say caveperson since political correctness has only been around for 0.000000000000001% of human existence). Your ability to effectively categorize sh*t is everything. Is that shadow moving in the woods tasty prey or a nasty predator? Is that berry fire engine red (granted you don’t know what a fire engine is since the whole flame thing is pretty new) because it’s delicious or deadly? Despite the body hair, protruding forehead and inability to really get your jokes, will that female humanoid bear you healthy Australopithi-babies or leave you for that asshole Uggghh and take you for your cave and wheel? Fast forward to now. The world is essentially stable (unless you’re living in the majority of it that isn’t). You don’t really need to filter your world into boxes, but you do cause it’s hard wired. Knowing this can help you to write screenplays, but if you’re like me, it probably won’t get your ass laid.
When I was in high school I was in the overlap zone of the social venn diagram. Our building was laid out like a Tetris piece and every set of lockers had a specific designation. The Heads were by the auto shop, the Art Kids camped by the stage (and even had a burner to make coffee – rad), the Jock-Populars had one side of the main hall, while the Party-Populars had the other. I was in a small set of transition lockers, kinda transecting all-of-the-above which made sense since I interacted with all-of-the-above. To make matters more undefined, I was “inventive” with my wardrobe, wearing my dad’s sport coats one day and my personally crafted “Jiffy Skate Bastard” line the next. One day, in the lunch room, a kid I barely knew came up to me in distress and asked, “What are you? I just can’t figure it out.”
Granted it was one of my proudest moments, but it also was a sign of things to come (In fact, as I write this I’m shocked at how much about you is already cemented when you’re a kid). Flash forward to today and I’m still a bit ‘different’ (no need to bore you with the details). Not in any major ‘walk on the opposite sidewalk to avoid me’ kind of way, but definitely distinct. I don’t really hold this as a badge of honor any more, just one of those truths you come to reluctantly absorb. But the one place it really comes out is…online dating.
As a (supposed) writer, you’d think I’d destroy at online dating. Nope. I get worked. My theory is that the whole process is an extension of our need for categorization coupled with the consumerist framework we’ve come to apply to everything we f**king can. Your personality, looks, likes, desires in a mate, etc. are all distilled into data. Algorithms line up the options and do your best to win one, like a flesh eBay. It removes much of the unpredictability and possibility of face-to-face initial encounters because you are filtering and pre-qualifying your choices before you even meet them. Online dating is probably because of the perception of controlling the results. This might be the case for those who see themselves and their potential partners as static and well-defined, but if you’re more fluid then the whole thing is definitely flawed a clusterf*ck.
So in my case, since I don’t fall into a clear category, I typically get contacted by woman so outside my scope of reasonable compatibility that I fear the universe will implode in a matter-antimatter catastrophe every time I log-in to check my matches…which I don’t do any more because the whole thing is insane…as I’m going to be at this rate.
This must be one of those times you’re definitely wondering what this has to do with screenwriting. Wellllll, to my mind characters personify category. Even the most unique persona on the screen embodies a combination of known types and it is through that medium that the writer makes their statement and builds their story.
The point is – other than to justify for my piss-poor digi-dating record – that we automatically put people (and everything else) into buckets. Understanding this reality can help you create better stories by creating authentic characters built on identifiable traits and then giving them opportunities to make decisions that support your underlying beliefs. Or in the words of someone who knows what they’re talking about:
A character is a work of art, a metaphor for human nature. We relate to characters as if they were real, but they’re superior to reality. Their aspects are designed to be clear and knowable; whereas our fellow humans are difficult to understand, if not enigmatic. We know characters better than we know our friends because a character is eternal and unchanging, while people shift – just when we thing we understand them, we don’t. In fact, I know Rick Blaine in CASABLANCA better then I know myself. Rick is always Rick. I’m a bit iffy.
– Robert McKee
The first person to write a hooker with a heart of gold story (probably Shakespeare) created something resonant, because they subverted expectations. So the next time you encountered a lady of the evening, you might have felt a closer human bond (and maybe even tipped extra). Therein lies one of the virtues of storytelling. If you are able to write your way out of the gutter and get something out there, you have the potential to ever-so-slightly expand the ways in which people look at the world. And as an added bonus, you probably won’t have to resort to Plenty of Fish.