Specifically their approach. Literally their approach. How they’d navigate a room. Introduced themselves. Make their pitch.
The French would circle their mark first, observe them from afar. The Irish would open with a joke. The Brits would make small talk. The Americans, she said, would make a beeline, cut to the chase and get right down to brass tacks.
I do what a lot of writers I know do. I often forget to make the protagonist drive the story. Now maybe it’s a green writer thing to do. Maybe it’s a Canadian writer thing to do. Regardless– What it is, is passive. It’s also super boring.
It’s a notion I’m coming to fairly late, all things considered. It may be page one of the all screenwriting books, I don’t know. But it’s definitely not my default position. I’m constantly asking myself, what can I do to make the hero an actual hero here? Make me want to follow him. Not just sit and watch the movie.
A friend, a successful writer in other areas, wrote his first screenplay. I gave it a look and this phenomenon permeated the script. As I’m sure it does many of my own early scripts. The strange thing is it’s often so easily remedied. Like when a secondary character makes a decision that moves things forward. That action can easily be transferred instead to the hero. Passive becomes active. Our attention – our energy – is drawn to and strengthened in the protagonist.
What’s tragic is I think it may be cultural. Indicative of a national identity. A Canadian identity. More broadly, a non-American identity. That default passivity. We circle the room, make small talk – we don’t cut to the chase and get down to brass tacks. It’s the principle of the American dream as it applies to writing. You make your own destiny. American heroes make their own destiny.
I’m not advocating that every story be written this way. Or that every American is only interested in these types of stories. But learning this has helped me write for an industry that I grew up watching. From within a culture a lot more comfortable with watching. Than with doing.
It’s just plain engaging storytelling regardless of where you were born.