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Making Characters Happy

Okay, this is heady stuff.  Basically, Martin Seligman’s involved in Positive Psychology, which for him means not simply treating the miserable (or the sexually dysfunctional as Freud did), but to enhance and promote meaningful happiness for everyone.Sigmund Freud

What does this have to do with screenwriting?

Marty’s challenging us with:

“Can entertainment be diverted to increase positive emotion, meaning and eudaimonia” (that is, a contented state of being happy and healthy and prosperous) in an audience.

But wait!  Movies run on CONFLICT.  We develop DRAMATIC TENSION leading to CRISIS through DILEMMA in order to SLAM protagonists’ NEEDS to FORCE CHANGE.

So should we all just get along?

From a storytelling perspective, no.  Or can we?  What are we changing protagonists (and audiences) into?

We want them to LIVE MORE FULLY!  As Jesus said,“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” –John 10:10

But what does that entail?

It can’t mean just a conversion moment or cheap sentiment (see Jesus Porn) or material stuff (how happy is Madonna today, eh?), or just “following our hearts” (ya’ know, Jiminy Cricket, serial killers let their consciences be their guide too).

Much of Hollywood has swung too far the other way, into political/ environmental/ social propaganda and/or hedonism (or so they say on talk radio).  We can’t all be dark and edgy.  Or preachy.

But we can tell inspiring stories, right?  I mean, there’s a lot of tripe out there, but  The King’s Speech inspired us to live more noble lives. The Avengers taught us to (Hulk smash Loki?) put aside our pride and serve the common good/American way.

So, consider what Marty’s talking about. We’ll probably have more on this later, but first, he has to explain why we need to consider more than just mere “happiness” when trying to make people happy.

In our writing, as in psychology, we should be:

  • as concerned with strength as weakness
  • as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst
  • using healing pathology to improve lives (our characters, audience, and so, the world)

For extra credit, delve into his concepts of PERMA. It’ll make your head spin.  But you might also yourself feeling better and writing more dynamically-themed stories. It couldn’t hurt.

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