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“…there is only one motivation and that is desire…” – Jane Smiley.
A powerful statement that I agree with, which I ran into during this week. I really did need a ‘vacation’ and since Easter weekend was coming up, I was giving myself a little break, not really going anywhere, just no obligations, but with my notebook at my side in case of any flows and many entries went in indeed. Especially psychological ideas, going deeper into the character. Once you hit that geyser… And that’s ok. Apart from writing stories, I also love researching people’s behaviour and especially the why, hence studying psychology as my major at university in my 20’s. Little did I know how much this background would serve (and perhaps feed even more) my passion for filmmaking and writing.
It was the news events and the Easter story of Jesus, and Judas who betrayed him, that stirred these thoughts on about having a hidden agenda and showing your true colours and when and how. But also a chat with a friend, who doubted whether she should come to a friend’s birthday party out of town or not, since she had so many other commitments that same weekend, got me thinking about showing your true colours. And what would happen if you did.
The quote (not claiming to be mine, I’m sure I picked it up somewhere) ‘doubts are born out of fear’ came to mind. To keep it very simple, let’s stay with my friend and her doubts about whether to come to the birthday party. Her fears don’t have to be so dramatic, they can be as simple as ‘if I go, I might wear myself out for the rest of the commitments and I will regret that’. On the other side of the coin, it can be ‘if I don’t go, the birthday friend might be disappointed, I will miss out on connecting with other friends who are there, I will have some much needed fun, get my mind off’. It’s basically an economical weighing of the profits. What is the outcome of my choice worth to me? If I choose A, I will gain this, but lose that. If I choose B, I will gain that, but lose this. I think when we doubt, we haven’t decided about or are able to calculate the outcome well enough, we often can’t oversee it enough. Or understand the consequences or are afraid of the possible consequences, that might not happen at all. So what does this have to do with showing your true colours? And motivation and desire? Very simple. When you show your true colours, it might jeopardize getting you to your desire and your relationships with the people around you. What is at stake for my friend? Her ability to fulfil her other commitments and those people involved and on the other hand strengthening the friendship with her birthday friend and much needed fun that will give her a much needed boost. Which one is more worth to her? Can she oversee both options well enough? And will she be honest about it? Or can she choose one without showing her true colours? In this case probably her preference to one over the other and why. I choose you and not you. And there isn’t per se anything wrong with that. If we have a stronger relationship with one than with the other, then that makes sense. But you also might want to save your other investment, for a later time. Choices, choices.
Another thing I scribbled down in my notebook was: ‘our actions reflect our motives, our agenda’. No matter how much we try to hide them, somewhere, somehow they will show, if we don’t want to reveal them, out of fear what the consequences will be. For example: people with evil plans will try to execute those plans as well as possible, without getting caught before having had the chance to have the result they anticipated. Same goes with lovely surprises. We want them to happen well and be successful. And it’s ok if the surprisee will find out whodunit, as long as that’s after the surprise has happened. I don’t think however that our true colours will always be revealed through our actions right away. As long as you get what you want, why show your true colours if that might endanger getting your desire? Haven’t decided on this one yet.
An episode of the comedy show Will & Grace (1998-2006) that I happen to see on TV this week, brought the true colours thing to the surface very powerfully. It’s the episode (season 5, episode 3) where Grace wants more time to think about whether she and Will (her longtime gay friend & roommate) will have a baby together, because she just met Leo and likes him a lot and wants to see where it will go, but does not tell Will that this is the reason she wants to wait a bit. However, Will does discovers this via via and it comes to a very emotional fight when he confronts her with it, in which the true colours come forward. At one point Grace says to Will: ‘you’re happiest when I’m miserable, isn’t it? Isn’t that our thing? Because then you don’t have to look at how miserable you are. You hate it when I’m happy’. Eventually the truth comes out about why Will so much wants to have this baby with Grace. He says: ‘I need you more than you need me’. Because for him, as a gay person, the options of having a baby are much more limited than for Grace. Of course he is also single at this time, adding to his desperation. The reason I was so touched by this, was how well it was done. It shows so very well what someone’s true motivation is and how deep it can remain hidden, until it eventually forces itself up to the surface. If it had been up to Will, and Grace too, those motivations would’ve never come to the surface. If Grace’s plan had worked, she and Will would’ve waited another month to get inseminated without the reveal of her real motive and Will would’ve never had to tell Grace his real fear and desperation and how miserable he really is. His desire for a child was more important to him than her happiness basically. But also his relationship with her was more important to him. Because it avoided him having to examine his relationships with other people. This felt safe to him, and her as well. Much deeper motives have been lingering and growing in this relationship over the years of the series. Very well done.
It’s true what Grace says, well, the writers in fact, often people like it when others are miserable too and lean on them for support, they don’t want them to be happy, at least not without them. Because where will that leave them, if their own lives & relationships aren’t up to par. It forces them into action, something they don’t want, because it’s difficult, having lived the other way for so long, basically depending on this one person, as with Will & Grace, for both of them. In fact a really dysfunctional kind of friendship & dependability. And finally coming to the surface through this baby thing. These kinds of relationships are not uncommon in real life at all and is seen very often, but whose relationships are completely normal anyway, right? I think that contributed to the success of the TV show as well, how recognizable it is.
Desires and secrets, which I talked about before, are different from true colours, because showing your true colours reveals not only your desires and secrets, but also the choice you have made about them and your true motives. Whether you will ‘obey’ them, going for your desire above all else, keeping your secret hidden, at all costs. You can have desires and make them known without showing your true colours. I think when push comes to shove, when the pressure is on, when there is a conflict between getting your desire and someone else’s happiness (and having to let go of that desire), I think then we see true colours. Someone’s true character. I believe people can go through life without ever having to show them. I also believe that that is not healthy, because you will always live in fear of being found out. How tiring that must be.
In every story there is always the question how to reveal someone’s character. And I think the challenge in writing is how to, how much to and when to bring that to the surface. I think I’ve descended even deeper into character development with this now. Nice. Showing someone’s true colours is usually at some plot point, either in the middle of the story, when we discover that the helpful friend is actually an enemy for instance or when we have seen the protagonist make the choice what to do in the climax, if we haven’t seen this decision of him before. Something to think about for my screenplay.
No surprise that after this train of thoughts my focus on this was sharpened and I started practicing with it in whatever I watched and in every conversation I had, despite that I gave myself time off. But this doesn’t feel like ‘work’. And this is how it becomes part of me, through constant application right after. Like learning a new language and when at the supermarket you keep on practicing saying the vegetables in the other language, for instance.
Maybe giving myself a break freed up all these thoughts and in the end made the story grow a little further again. That’s the thing with creativity, at least with me, once the pressure is off, things start to flow. Relax. Have fun. No pressure. It gives the best results. Have to keep that in mind.