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How To Use The Holidays To Create More Inner Conflict

By Marilyn Horowitz

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The holidays always cause us to reflect about the state of our lives, what happened during the past year, where we were and whom we were with on previous holidays, regrets and victories.

Films borrow the idea of comparison for very good effect. In The film, When Harry Met Sally, the start of the friendship and making the commitment to become life partners occurs on two New Year's evenings, a year apart. Recently, a dear friend of mine broke up with his life partner of eleven years. What was he most upset about? Not that the guy cheated on him for a year, not that he was dumped three days from their tenth year anniversary, but rather that the break up occurred was a week before Thanksgiving! This made him extraordinarily bitter and angry, and it occurred to me, after I attempted to comfort my friend, that this was a way to inject more conflict into any script I was working on.

The example of the use of New Year's Eve in When Harry Met Sally should be clear: It's not JUST that Harry has to decide if he wants to spend his life with Sally, it’s that it's a new year, and the symbolic choice feels more profound. In my friend's case, it was a final example of his partner's utter selfishness.

Here's the exercise:

  1. Take a powerful personal event from your current script, such as a break up or a death.
  2. Connect it with a holiday such as Christmas or New Year's.
  3. Consider how connecting the event with the holiday can create more inner conflict for your characters.
  4. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  5. Writing as if you were a major character, "talk" about what the proximity to the holiday meant to "you." For example, if you were Harry: "It wasn't just the rest of my life, it was that it would begin or end on New Year's Eve."
  6. Repeat the exercise from the other character's point of view. For example, if your film were When Harry Met Sally, do the first part of the exercise for Harry, and the second part for Sally.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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