Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Character Arc, Theme and Thesis

Asked on LinkedIn by
Steven Hammon

Screenplay Assignment Writer:

How does Character Arc, link to Theme, and how do those effect Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis?

Screenplays have extremely united elements and most people have no idea how they are connected.

Do you know what the connections are?

And here's my brief, highly condensed answer. Anything to add to this? Post a comment.

The "Theme" is what the story is about, what it says about life, the universe and everything. It's the "take-away" viewers should be left with, but in images or a one-liner that can be quoted. "Make my day!"

Theme is the core of the work. Everything in the script has to be tested against the theme, and if it fails to illustrate or discuss the theme, then it has to go. That includes character traits.

The "Character Arc" is how the character changes BECAUSE OF (as a consequence of) the plot-events. The "Arc" is the way the character changes because of what is learned about "life, the universe, and everything." The Character Arc is the "show don't tell" of the theme.

The "thesis" is the theme's penultimate statement, the truth buried inside the story where the viewer really shouldn't have to go to understand the story.

Thesis is where the story starts and ends, and how the theme ties everything into a unified whole, to create clarity.

Antithesis is the conflict. Antithesis argues against the thesis and is the opposite of it - an ingredient in the villain or antagonist, but not the whole of that character. Part of the antagonist has to be the same as part of the protagonist - they are a mated pair. The antithesis could be thought of as what the villain learns about the theme that causes the villain to "arc."

In pitting thesis against antithesis, the writer can create the argument that lies dormant in the audience's subconscious.

So a writer must learn to argue all sides of an issue, and be as adroit and passionate when arguing the villain's point of view as when presenting the Hero's quest.

To lay out the arguments of thesis and antithesis, the writer must take what the writer believes on a deep, non-verbal level, and "factor" it the way you learn to do in beginning algebra. Take what you believe about life, the universe, and everything, and tease it apart into thesis and antithesis.

Pit the two against each other illustrated in events that teach those lessons. Let the two conflict to a resolution, a "Synthesis" of thesis and antithesis that clearly states the life lesson this story teaches.

That clear synthesis is in fact the theme, restated, and should be incorporated in the final image or one-liner and kept way "off the nose."

As a symphony has a structured relationship between opening note and ending note, likewise a feature film script has a precise structured relationship between the opening image and ending image.

The similarity between the opening and ending is the theme stated as thesis and synthesis, as intimate a relationship as question and answer.

Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis are the components of the theme.

The Character Arc(s) are the illustration of the theme.

The plot is the sequence of events caused by the Character, energy the Character puts out into his world that hits a barrier and splashes back on the Character causing the Character to learn a lesson just as a dolphin learns the shape of the ocean floor by outputting a sonar signal.

So the plot events are in fact the theme, stated in a different language, the language of action.

Every element in the script is the theme, stated in a different language.

Every member of the audience will understand one or another of those languages.

The writers among them will understand all the languages.

Audiences are becoming more sophisticated, and massive changes in the grand social dialogue are showing up in the imagery and iconography of our modern society.

I discussed the iconography of action-romance using the film FACE OFF and a recent paperback cover image TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN here:

Jacqueline Lichtenberg