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Psychology for ScreenwritersReview - Psychology for Screenwriters
Building Conflict in Your Script
by William Indick
Michael Wiese Productions, 2004
Review by Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC
Sep 29th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 39)

Calling all frustrated psychiatrists who just happen to be screenwriters...this book is your Bible. Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick, would have been better entitled Psychoanalytic Theory for Screenwriters and would make a great textbook as well as a fun screenwriter's workbook. The entire text seems incongruent as booth a primer on psychoanalytic theory and a workbook on conflict and character building in screenplays, but it does have its strong points.

Our primer is divided into six parts: Part One presents Sigmund Freud, Part Two-Erik Erikson, Part Three-Carl Jung, Part Four-Joseph Campbell, Part Five-Alfred Adler, Part Six-Rollo May. Each of the Sections is divided into chapters on different conflicts and neurosis such as The Oedipal Complex, the Psychosexual Stages, Heroes and Heroines, Sibling Rivalry, Existential Conflicts and so on.  Each chapter is then summarized, skill-enhancing exercises for the would-be screenwriter follow the summary, and a small graph at the end lists the movies that illustrate the points mentioned in the chapter.

Chapter One begins with the Oedipal complex as the basis for neurotic conflict in which the characters want what they can't have. Boys have a deep psychosexual love toward Mom and the girl infant, Electra Complex, is longing for Daddy--and well, this is presented as the basis for great drama. Eros and Thantos is explored, with Oedipal Rivalry, Forbidden Fruit (sex with the parent), Powerlessness (as in slasher films), and we must not forget, Castration Anxiety. We do know that men want to retain their jewels at all costs and any plot that threatens those jewels will create conflict for the guys in the audience--and maybe some laughs for the gals.

OK, I'm poking fun. But this book starts out so Freudian as to be comical. The author writes, "In Freudian theory, Eros represents the drives that create and foster life, (love and sex), while Thanatos presents the drives toward death (hate and aggression). Within Eros and Thanatos are the great dramatic devices that will add spice to any film." Why not just say, "Love, sex, hate, and aggression and the conflicts they create in life make us want to watch movies." Instead, we get a litany of complexes, neurotic conflicts, castration anxieties, girls who want to sleep with Dad and boys who want to sleep with Mom and all the fears and neuroses they create. Geeze.  In-depth recitations about Freudian theories, largely discarded by professionals today, and the Thanatos and Eros Greek gods would be great for screenplays about Freud and Greek gods...but its overkill for slasher and Benjie films.

I did like the exercises at the end of each chapter, excluding Chapter One. The Chapter One exercise began with the directive to "Analyze the Oedipal themes in the following classic films..."  Need I say more? Chapter Two spent most of the allotted space educating the reader about Id, Ego, Superego, and Libido but the exercises got down to the business of developing the reader's skills so they could create conflict in a script. Examples of the exercises are: "Devise three forms of comeuppance that are new, exiting, or inventive. Describe your hero's primary conflict in two or three sentences. Identify the villain character in five of your favorite films..."

Since I am a fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campell, having used their mythology and archetypes in therapy, I found those sections to be somewhat more interesting and less psycho-intimidating. But getting past the gobbledygook like, "The hero character usually fulfills the function of the persona archetype in the myth or dream of his own story. As his own persona, the hero must encounter and integrate the other parts of his self-represented by the other archetypes." I just cannot see how that sentence and the many like it, would be useful to a screenwriter.

When Indick began on the anal retentive, penis envy, and phallic symbols and proceeded to explain to the reader that "Movie characters must often overcome oral obstacles such as addiction to drugs or alcohol in order to develop," I could barely read the body of the text any longer. I did console myself with the exercises, which, as explained previously, I found most useful to develop screenwriting skills. As far as learning the psychoanalytic theories so that the budding screenwriter can create conflict--well, the reader must decide if they want a 101 course on those topics. I suppose the anal retentive type might think it was necessary to describe good and evil, love and hate, heroes and villains in those terms.

Me? Well, I think I'm more of the anal explosive type. Wait! I feel a plot coming to me.

There's a frustrated screenwriter trying to develop her skills and she mysteriously picks up a book, "The Screenwriters Bible, creating conflict and characters." She begins reading the book and realizes that she suffers from an Electra complex, oral sadism, penis envy, inferiority, but in compensating for her intrapersonal conflicts, she writes this play. She wants to be socially redeeming in order to overcome some of her anima and realize some good in her life, THEN--she realizes she is not writing a screenplay, she is the screenplay! The book is supernatural and convinces her she is actually a character in a screenplay being written by a woman who suffers from Electra complex, oral sadism, penis envy, and inferiority. In order to stay alive the character must continue to write, unable to end the screenplay because once the screenplay is written, her libido dies and her consciousness with it. Thus, she must write and write and write.  The young doctor in the mental institution, who has fallen in love with her, knows that he cannot remove The Screenwriter's Bible or her word processing program because if he does, she resorts to writing her screenplay with her own blood on the walls of her cell. This is an evil book that has created a character in a screenplay, who, in order to stay self-aware, enslaves the human woman who now writes furiously a never ending screenplay about conflict and characters in order to stay alive in the pages of her own work...

Well, maybe I got more out of Psychology for Screenwriters than I realized!

 

© 2005 Shelly Marshall

 

Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC is an Adolescent Chemical Dependency Specialist and Researcher. You can visit her sites at www.day-by-day.org and www.YouAreATarget.com


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