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Monday, November 26, 2007

Relationships, Red Flags and Characters

As the Wave-inatrix vacationed in the higher altitudes of Northern California and enjoyed a Ping Pong Open (for which I was insultingly seeded in last place) I enjoyed, as many of those joining families for the holidays do, many conversations over boxed wine about relationships, friends and life. In a strange coincidence, the term "red flag" came up at several points in various conversations both at home and at the airport on the way back to Los Angeles.

A "red flag" as most of us know, means something of a warning or precursor to trouble about either a potential love interest or friend. I heard someone describe to me a "BIG red flag" about a person and I thought - really? He's been married twice before and therefore he's not a legitimate love interest? To some - yes. Here is a person with two major failed relationships. To another - hey, third time's the charm.

Red flags are subjective. But sometimes a red flag is plainly a red flag. Let's take an easy example - oh - say the guy or gal you had dinner with last week who told you he/she was in prison once. Red. Flag.

Let us muse over red flags - don't we all have them? Is it truly fair to judge someone about theirs? Can persons with red flags - be honest, we all have them - not overcome them? Or do they forever snap in the breeze and clink the flagpole wherever they go? God knows the Wave-inatrix probably has more red flags than a used car lot.

Wavers, be proud, list your red flags and proudly join the Wave-inatrix in the used car lot. We can collectively admit that to many, being a writer is quite possibly a red flag. We don't earn money reliably. We like to be alone a lot. We are moody in a sexy way, alluring way - well, the Wave-inatrix does stand alone in that description, naturally, but surely Wavers can find some pale equivalent.

Moving away from the siren-like quality of the Wave-inatix and the appropriately named Rouge Wave - let us think about red flags with respect to writing characters. Let's look at a few examples:

This one is just too easy but what were Travis Bickle's red flags in TAXI DRIVER that Cybill Shepherd should have picked up on? Before the mohawk and bear in mind, she wasn't there when he spoke to himself in the mirror. But before that - say on their first date - what red flags were there?

How about Tim Robbins in ARLINGTON ROAD? What red flags should his neighbors have picked up on?

Another easy one - in AMERICAN BEAUTY what should Annette Bening have seen as red flags as her husband Lester was going off the deep end? Working out? Quitting his job? New car - he was a used car lot of snapping red flags too, was he not?

What should Michelle Williams seen as red flags about her husband's behavior? Did she spot them? Did she choose to ignore them? Why?

Here's my point: when writing your main character in particular, as you think about that all important character arc as it relates to the flaw of your character, think about red flags for your character. Behaviors, tendencies and attitudes that signal their interior life challenges, fears, etc.

What are your character's red flags? And at least as interestingly, what red flags is your character perhaps missing in someone close to them in your story? And - this is another blog post entirely - why is your character overlooking the red flags of others? Very often, we ignore red flags because the human drive for love, attention and security is so powerful within us.

We all have red flags and we all note red flags in others. We choose to either overlook or take them seriously. Explore. Discuss. Use your ruminations for your character work.

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1 comment:

DougJ said...

So, women DON'T like to be taken to a porno theater on the first date?