My coach grilled me last call. Currently, I’m trying to get a handle on the problem that is taking over my character’s life, more specifically how that problem is ruining his relationship with his lovely girlfriend. My coach said to forget all the concepts, all the ideas, and let my mind create interactions between the two of them. She said when I do that I have it and am able to produce great material.

So, here’s how I’m attempting this:

The goal is to get a sense of their relationship, which isn’t found in asking conceptual questions like “What is the difference in how Josh perceives Em compared to how she really is?” Nor should I try to find the perfect scene to illustrate their differences, to illustrate how Josh focuses on control while Em focuses on experience. Instead, here’s my three-step process:

  1. Externalize: state something or ask a simple question focused on an external behavior:

    Lately, Josh spends more time at work, later nights away from home.

  2. Ripple: watch how that ripples out by freeing the mind to brainstorm, asking and answering whatever questions it wants to:

    Why? How was that caused by their relationship differences and problems? How does that in turn cause their problem to grow and ripple? Because he’s working late, he skips her nightly yoga class, which used to be the one time they connected. Now, perhaps Em gives more attention to other guys in the class. And perhaps, now she’s seeing how much less stress a relationship could be with someone she’s naturally more compatible with, someone who naturally likes yoga and likes the spiritual things she likes such as crystals and mantras and the like. Now Josh and Em arrive home at separate times, and started to eat dinner separately.

  3. Justify: find the specific moment that caused him to work late:

    When is this exact moment? Well, ever since Em has felt more distant from Josh because he’s opening up less, she started leveraging her teacher role in yoga classes to try and open him up more. Previously, she would start her classes with meditation. But now, she will try something new, with the hopes that Josh will start to open up more. She says to the class she wants to try a “class building exercise”. She asks them to stand in a circle, across from another student, and to do eye gazing for 1 minute. Josh suffers through the vulnerability. Afterward, for the next class, Josh claims he can’t make it “because of work duties”. And this pattern stuck and they grew further and further apart.

Bonus: if this moment would tell us a lot about our character and who he is, then we could go one more step and write out the scene, to discover even more specifics, exactly how he behaved in this experience.

Then, I start again, rolling off of this work and stating something again, watching it ripple and justifying it – creating a web of life.

* * *

This isn’t to say all that conceptual work I did before was a waste. On the contrary. In step one, I’m making a statement; these statements and questions must be story significant; they must be something that bumps against the overarching problem that is building in Josh’s life. An example that isn’t story significant: Josh recently started eating more cake, which Em hates, and they grow further apart. Eating cake has nothing to do with his internal problem of being afraid to feel and express emotions. But at this point, stating something story significant isn’t something I need to think about, because of the countless hours thinking about the story problem and figuring out the concepts and pondering the central issue. This is what my coach actually what my coach meant: I tended to force these events by consciously trying to identify what is the most story significant thing. My coach recognized I don’t need that. She recognized how I can — if I allow myself to — let my mind freeform write and watch the images it decides to associate and watch whatever it decides to splurge across my screen.