Saturday, April 25, 2009


response--an acknowledgment, answer, or reply made by one character to one or more other characters; a dramatic answer to a dramatic question; an appropriate or inappropriate answer to an action, attitude, or question.

The spine of story involves confrontation of characters with differing agendas, a confrontation that can be developed within the framework of friendships, family relationships, professional relationships, or any conflation involving the manner in which individuals interact. This can be class- or status based, a PFC relating to a colonel or general, an employee dealing with an employer; it can also be generational, as in a grandchild dealing with a grandparent. The point here is that in dramas, characters don't go it alone--they react to other characters. This is also a necessary fiction in story and novel--and everything in between.

Some famous responses as examples:

Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Anton Chigurh and the convenience store operator in No Country for Old Men.

Bobby DuPre and the truck stop waitress in Five Easy Pieces.

Tom Sawyer and his friends in the whitewashing of the fence scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after M. loses his nerve for killing Duncan in Macbeth.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, M.D., in any Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo in The Midnight Cowboy.

Jane Eyre and Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Gatsby and Daisy in The Great Gatsby.

Frankie Machine's response to his wife, Sophie, in The Man with the Golden Arm.

Bartelby and his employer in Bartelby the Scrivener.

Chief Bromden and Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

In all of these examples, the characters have a layered, developing set of responses that grows by accretion as the story line progresses. To appreciate the interconnectedness of each is an enormous step toward the ability to constantly bring characters onstage together in ways that enhance the inertia and emotional drive of story.

Hint: There can be no chemistry between characters without response.


Unknown said...

Hi Shelly,
You haven't heard from me in a while, but I wanted to let you know I have my first book coming out this summer. I think of your lectures and insight more often than you know, and Ross and I think of you as a dear long-lost friend. When are you going to come to Seattle and eat at a fantastic meal with us?
The book is being published for J. Crew's kid line Crew Cuts and is called Mimi's Shoes. Ross has his own small bakery, and we have a small following of customers, especially Europeans.

Christine "Chris" Tasche from Westmont 2002 or 3?

lowenkopf said...

Wow! How wonderful to hear from you. I think of you guys every time I pass "your" street off Old Coast Highway. Do let us stay in touch.

Fondly, Shelly