understanding our wants -- 9/3/20
Today's selection -- from The Art of Character by David Corbett. The key to any relationship is to understand clearly what the other person wants. This is true whether that person is a spouse, an employee, a boss, or a friend. It is a task that is made more difficult by the fact that many people don't truly understand what it is they want, or have many wants that contradict or compete with each other. But that difficulty does not lessen the importance of understanding those wants, both within yourself and within those people who are most important to you. It was the key insight of the founder of "method" acting, the great acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), that in this same spirit, understanding a fictional character's wants was the key to great acting and great dramatic writing:
"One of Constantin Stanislavski's key innovations was recognizing the central role of desire in our depiction of the human condition. The fundamental truth to characterization, he asserted, is that characters want something, and the deeper the want, the more compelling the drama.
"Desire is the crucible that forges character because it intrinsically creates conflict. If we want nothing, then nothing stands in our way. This may lead to a life of monastic enlightenment -- or habitual evasion -- but it's thin gruel for drama. By giving the character a deep-seated need or want, you automatically put her at odds with something or someone, for the world is not designed to gratify our desires.
"And a profound, unquenchable longing almost always forces us to do things we normally would never imagine ourselves doing -- even things seemingly contradictory to our natures. When confronted with overwhelming obstacles of a kind we've never faced before in pursuit of something we cannot live without, we are forced to change, to adapt, to dig deeper into ourselves for some insight, passion, or strength that will give us the power we need to keep going.
"In a sense, Stanislavski's desire took the place of Aristotle's telos (meaning an end or purpose). Where once man lived to fulfill his basic purpose, he now, in Stanislavski's interpretation, lived to fulfill his most basic ambition, craving, or need.
"Peter Brooks put it somewhat differently in his book Reading for Plot, remarking that, in the absence of desires, stories remain stillborn. This reflects a simple truth: Desire puts a character in motion.
"There may be no more important question to ask of a character than: What does she want in this scene, in this chapter, in this story? Thinking more globally, one should ask what she wants from her life -- has she achieved it? If not, why not? If so, what now?"