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  1. omgpaulthompson
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    omgpaulthompson New Member

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    'impending doom' for a character - does it ruin the script?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by omgpaulthompson, Oct 17, 2011.

    Hello guys,
    For the past 6 months I have been writing a script, but I have faced a big question in my head. The play is named “Light” , the reason becomes clear as the play unfolds. We are told the story of Jack Denyer and how he is unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal cancer.
    We follow as Jack copes with his family life and the fact that it would be a miracle if he lives past Christmas. Jack is a family man, he has a loving wife named Mary who supports him through this tough time, but even more heart breaking is that Jack Denyer has a little girl named Amy. He must come to the facts that he will never be able to see Amy grow up and live the life he had dreamed to watch his “little princess” live. The play draws to an end when Jack loses his battle with Cancer. However throughout the play we realise it isn’t just about cancer but the importance of family and the support given to cancer patients.

    Basicaly the audience know from the 2nd scene onwards that Jack is going to die in less than 3 months, so the idea of impending doom is already fixed in their minds. Would you say this is perhaps a bad idea (that maybe the audience will feel uneasy? )

    Throughout the majority of the script the theme of Cancer isn't as predominant as it is in the first few, so the audience are almost forced to forget about it. However I am still unsure that maybe the power of the oncoming death will draw them away from the rest of the play.

    Ideas?

    Thanks,

    Paul
     
  2. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    There isn't a problem if the character will certainly die. Many stories have worked like that, and many of them dealt with how the character deals with their death (or impending death). If that what the story is meant to deal with, then that is how it is meant to deal with. I believe the audience would be more confused or turn offed if you didn't hint heavily that Jack would die, since it seems to be an important element of the entire story. Think about it. If Jack suddenly dies at the end out of the blue, sure, that might be a 'twist' ending, but it would be one that isn't appropriate for this story.

    The important thing is how Jack deals with this impending doom. Will he be angry and frustrated? Or calm, but sad all the while? Will he panic about what will happen to his family after his death? Will he try to arrange for everything in his daughter's life to go well after he dies, like helping put the last of his money in her college fund or something? Or maybe will he make a video of himself so his daughter can watch it after he dies (it's been done many times in real life, where parents who know they'll die - maybe of cancer, or maybe because they're in the military, record themselves giving advice or saying they love their kids, just so the kids have some idea of what the parents were like)? Stuff like that. That's more important, and however he deals with his coming death, that will also shape the story. If that makes snese.
     
  3. omgpaulthompson
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    omgpaulthompson New Member

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    Thank you very much!
    I do plan to have Jack deal with emotions in a variaty of ways (infact I might post an excerpt of the script tomorrow!) I'm liking the idea of him filming himself for his daughter.

    Thanks for the advice!
     
  4. Berenice
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    Berenice Member

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    I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but this sounds to me like a highly manipulative, tear-jerking downer. And it assumes way too much as well. Either way I wouldn't watch such a movie.

    The first reason is that my mood in general isn't good enough to actively "down" it even further. I've never believed in the "cleansing of tears and sorrow" and that's by now established scientific fact, so no, but no thank you.

    The next reason is that I hate being manipulated emotionally, especially with a heavy hand. Most stories like yours do it far too blatantly, and that's inherent in the storyline itself already. The very few I saw which didn't do that or had mitigating ingredients were Harold & Maude, Mask and The Mighty. That's a really short list.

    The third reason is that I also dislike open preaching, and what you so far say amounts to such. For one thing solace may be found in a variety of structures (not just family), for another it more often than not HAS to be found in other structures, because fewer and fewer people live in a nuclear family. Additionally the life experience of a large part of the population is that family isn't really a positive experience at all. And this doesn't end with the further fact that loads of cancer patients receive little familial support because of the nature of this illness. All of which causes such a rift between reality and your script that the preaching will grate heavily.

    Lastly, if you have to do this story, then please do avoid "twee" and "pat" - that's two things which are real killers. It is twee to have the father record messages, it is pat and unrealistic to have a wife who unconditionally supports him. Most people don't react that way, especially after such a short time. It is incredibly twee to locate that near Christmas.

    Lastly, it is sort of amusing that you wonder whether the audience will feel uneasy. You bet it does! What do you expect them to feel, when you thrust the Big C, one of the two worst medical taboos, at them, show them a character who is dying? They sure won't dance a jig and be happy! It doesn't get much more depressive than that. Uneasy I'd consider a euphemism in this respect. :rolleyes:

    If you want this to end in an at least so-so emotion, I'd suggest watching and analysing the movies I cited above. That might help finding a plot which won't totally depress people.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes when I see a well-written (in the sense of the personalities, dialogue, and so on), well-performed play, I'm nevertheless left completely unsatisfied and rather annoyed. That most often happens when the play has nothing to tell me that I didn't know already, and nothing to tell me that isn't already said frequently in many venues by many people.

    I've recently seen plays that said, essentially, "Women need a creative outlet other than homemaking!" and another that said, essentially, "Businesses shouldn't just do the safe thing that everybody else is doing!" and another that said, essentially, "Military abuse of civilians in wartime is bad!"

    Daring, new thoughts there? Not so much.

    The fact that people love their families isn't news. Neither is the fact that adjusting to death is difficult, or that it's good to support cancer patients. So I suspect that no matter how well you wrote this play, I would leave it unsatisfied and annoyed. I think that you need to find something new to say.

    Edited to add: It seems to me that Amy's reaction to losing her father could be a great deal more interesting than the reaction of the father to losing his life. If you make her reaction fairly realistic, including anger rather than just Shirley-Temple-glowing-halo sweet adorable grief with lisping cute things said about heaven, there could end up being something new to say there. Then again, I may be saying that because I recently saw _Ghost Light_.
     
  6. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Impending doom can work really well. Unpredictability isn't everything. Better a predictable journey that is fulfilling that an unpredictable journey that leaves the reader unsatisfied. Unpredictability certainly has it's place but so does predictability as well. Impending doom is a popular story element and can be done, like anything else, very well or very poorly.
     
  7. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Why must it always be Cancer, I tell you from experience(meaning knowing people) people who have had it don't want to be constantly reminded of its existence. Try something unexplainable, if only a sub-plot.
     
  8. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    My grandmother died of cancer. My father had cancer. My mother still has cancer. Hell, I probably have cancer somewhere. So I can tell you (with no malice behind it) that my family, immediate and extended, would not be interested at all in this play.

    But with that said, If this is done as tastefully as Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson, than I see no problem. It is a hard balance to find with topics like this. But if you can find it, than you have something special and moving. It also helps that the book I just mentioned was a true story. It will be even harder to sell this with it being one hundred percent fiction.
     
  9. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    The movie, The Bucket List, comes to mind for me here. Although mainly a comedy, it was done well and somewhat realistically and with the impending doom of both characters. So, yes, I think it can be done. Other stories have been successful with impending doom, as well, focusing more on the struggles, adventures, etc., that led up to that impending doom.

    Personally, I would be turned off by a story if it was just a never-ending focus on the impending doom, the cancer, or the emotional dilemma with death and family and so on that both entail. But it doesn't sound like that's what you have in mind? Or maybe you do? My advice would be to find something external, outside the realm of cancer and death to focus on. Let your impending doom be known, if you must, but don't drag it out.
     
  10. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to agree with colorthemap. Why IS it always cancer? My mother died of cancer, my brother has a brain tumour, and to be honest, impending doom would be a nice change in MY life right now, but when it's someone else's life it's just depressing.

    Cancer has potential as a plot device. Look at Breaking Bad. "I have cancer, therefore I will break the law and make a shit-tonne of cash, selling meth, for my family." That is a case where the impending doom is not the plot. The plot is, "I need to make sure my family are okay when I'm gone," not "I'm going to be gone soon."


    And yes, the audience will feel uneasy. They should feel uneasy. The point of a main character is that you love them. If you've done your job, the audience will love the character and be sad he's going to die. This is what you're aiming for. If you don't want that, do something different with the plot.
     
  11. Remes_H
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    Remes_H Member

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    There's nothing wrong with protagonist dying at the end. That's what all tragedy do. Most of the great western literatures are tragedy. Being tragic has little effect on the quality of the story, in my opinion. It's not just how long or short one's life is. It's what one make of the limited amount of time one has. So if your character make the best of the however few months he has, I think your story will be well worth of its title.
     
  12. Thom
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    Thom Member

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    It's not the ending, so much as how you got there.
     
  13. PoorYorick
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    PoorYorick New Member

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    In my opinion, Thom said it best. Anthony Burgess once said "As we are all solipsists, and all die, the world dies with us. Only very minor literature aims at apocalypse." The end is inevitable but everything occuring BEFORE the end is wide open in terms of plot and interpretation. Since I have obviously not read your script, I can only offer vague ideas here but you might want to consider a series of small vignettes for the other big characters (the wife, the child, etc.) in which you portray exactly how each is dealing with the situation on their own good, bad, or otherwise. This might afford the audience an opportunity to not only feel for Jack, but identify with the characters who are close to Jack who, even though they are not dying themselves, have to face the awful truth of his fate by his side. His death is the conclusion but it doesn't have to be the climax. For that, you can continue to explore the story on your own.

    Also, Berenice, stated above that it sounds like a downer and it very well may be. It's the type of really good and honest point that writers need to hear from time to time but if you are adamant about the ultimate conclusion of the story then you are probably aware that it doesn't really matter. Some people are going to be interested in your story, many might be turned off. As long as YOU believe in whatever you're trying to say within the story, you shouldn't be too concerned with other people's possible reactions. These are just my opinions and I hope I didn't put you or anyone else out with them.

    Good luck!
     
  14. picklzzz
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    picklzzz Senior Member

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    Hi there. Why this topic? It's been done many ways. Do you have something original here?

    I saw My Sister's Keeper. I knew it would be a real downer, and it really was. Well done, but I had to be in the mood for it. I don't think you'll attract a large audience with this topic, but that's just my opinion.

    Then there's the movie with Queen Latifah. I forget what it's called. She's told she only has a month or two to live, so she lives it up and then finds out she doesn't have cancer and it was a mistake.

    Can you think of a twist or something new? Would you want to go watch a movie or see a play about cancer? There's some new show on HBO with Laura Linney - I forget what it's called - but she has cancer too. The whole show is about how she deals with it.

    Perhaps rethink the whole thing. I don't know. I hope I don't sound harsh here, but I think the audience will lose interest if they know the big C is the topic. Just my two cents.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    why would you think that could be a problem?... plays and movies about doomed characters have been written and produced successfully for as long as there have been plays and movies!

    btw, picklzz, the linney tour de force is titled 'the big c'!
     

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