Story – Robert McKee's Creative Storytelling Magazine Issue 005 – Drew Carey - Page 45

CHARACTER CREATION Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, debated mystical theories. Nonetheless, it is true that when medieval minds wanted to discuss nonphysical realms, they would often use angels, demons, and other imaginaries to dramatize their ideas. For example, when medieval scholastics turned their thoughts toward what today we would call psychology, they sensed—as all fine minds have always sensed— the shallowness of life. Shallow in the sense that most of us live off the surface of our being. We rarely explore, let alone exhaust, our full capacities, our innate capacities. Not because we lack the wish to experience life in its extremes, but because human nature is by nature conservative. The first law of life is the conservation of life. Never spend unnecessary energy, never take unnecessary risks. We are genetically compelled to act in the least and safest way. Consequently, human beings never burn energy unless they have to, never take risks unless they have to. They only do what they must. Of course, what constitutes “have to” and “must” is as idiosyncratic as there are people on this earth and as subjective as the six billion different dreams they dream every night. Nonetheless, because human nature is a child of Mother Nature, we conserve life and skim the surface of our being. We make sure that lit- tle ever happens in life that would force us to plumb our depths, to live to our limits. Realizing this truth, medieval scholars imagined a creature they called the mind worm. Then they propose this hypothetical: Suppose there was an all-powerful magical worm who could burrow into the mind of a human being and come to know everything in the man—his social persona, his personal persona, his secret self, even his secret unknown self, along with the totality of his life experiences. The worm would know everything down to the smallest detail of everything he ever said, or thought, or dreamed—everything ever done to him or done by him. Once the mind worm understood the man in totality, it would then know precisely what the man lacked in his humanity and, therefore, what he needed for fulfillment. What’s more, suppose the mind worm had the power to make things happen in the world. The worm could then create the unique event that would set the man on a path of experiences that would cause him to explore himself to the very depth of his humanity, to experience everything he could possibly experience, to live to the limits of his powers, to face the limits of his weaknesses, to change—if he can possibly change—and finally exhaust his capacity for life before he dies. Story Magazine // Issue 005 As I read that, I thought, “The mind worm is a writer.” This is what a writer does. The writer first burrows into the mind of his character, comes to understand him completely, and then asks, “What would have to happen to this character to cause him to live a one-of-a-kind life that exhausts his birth-given potential?” What story could I give him that would force him to experience his humanity in absolute depth, breadth, and in directions that ordinary life would otherwise deny him? How can I throw him into a unique life that would ultimately and completely empty him out? The writer finds the answer to these questions in the story’s inciting incident. To say it again in different words, the inciting incident is the event that upsets the balance of the character’s life and propels him into a story-long action that will force him to use and to use up his complete self so that by the end of the story, the reader audience comes to understand this character utterly. Nothing in him is left unused, unexperienced, unexpressed. This is the ultimate ac