Get to True Identity
We’ve talked in recent weeks about the story-defining concept of
Get to “I love you.”
For me, as I’m working on a new story, this way of thinking is tremendously helpful. It doesn’t work for every book or screenplay but it sure works for a lot of ‘em.
Start with two characters who are as far apart emotionally, materially, politically, and spiritually as possible. They don’t have to be actual lovers, nor does “I love you” have to imply anything physical or romantic. The pair can be an adult and a child (Paper Moon and True Grit), a human and a non-human, a mouse and a mutant. “I love you” can happen within a single character (Far from Heaven), who at story’s end comes to accept and embrace not a separate character but her own self.
Here’s another paradigm I find extremely helpful:
Get to true identity.
In the climax of Huckleberry Finn, when Huck tears up the letter he had forced himself to write turning in his friend Jim, he has reached his true identity.
When Bogey puts Ingrid on the plane to Lisbon, he has reached his true identity.
When Thelma and Louise go soaring into thin air in their ’66 T-bird, they have reached their true identity.
Pick any one of a thousand books or movies (dramas, tragedies, comedies … the principle applies across the board) and you’ll see more often than not this paradigmatic progression:
Act One: Hero starts with a warped and deformed self-conception (Huck, Thelma, Bogey).
Act Two: Hero is compelled by events and her own decisions to embrace a new and initially terrifying (to her) view of herself.
Act Three: In climax, hero embraces this new identity-what we as viewers and readers can see clearly as her true identity-whole-heartedly and in a manner that permits of no going back.
Even mild-mannered Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad, by the end of series when he has become the arch-villain “Heisenberg,” is true to this principle. That’s why for me the whole burn-down-the-world ending worked. Even within his unrepentant villainy, Walter/Heisenberg manages to sacrifice himself to save his friend Jesse (Aaron Paul).
P.S. On another subject, if you missed the announcement last week of our new video series, The Warrior Archetype, you can sign up (below) to subscribe.
The Warrior Archetype
A New Video Series from Steven Pressfield
Subscribe here for the full series.