How Shakespeare and Woody Allen Can Kill an Evening

Last night – against my better judgment – I indulged in a movie with dinner, watching Woody Allen‘s 2010 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.  

I paid no attention to the warning flag as the film began with Shakespeare’s famous Macbeth quote: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  I took no heed and continued on.

The movie documents the lives of various couples, all with their lives ruined by boredom, anger, lust, resentment, and betrayal.  Older Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) leaves his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), of forty years and turns to a 20-something ex-prostitute for excitement and a son to replace his son who died years before.  Sally (Naomi Watts) and Roy (Josh Brolin) seek divorce to escape their world of constant bitterness and resentment, both looking outside the marriage for affairs to meet their emotional needs.

I had been warned.

It wasn’t even the depressing relationships playing out on the television screen, it was the overarching theme that killed my optimistic spirit for the night: in all the drama and tension, it all signified nothing.

Voices rose in heated arguments.  Wives and husbands walked out on their marriages to find temporary contentment in the arms of others.  A lonely woman sought consolation in the false stories of a fortune-teller.  So much happened, and still, it all meant nothing.

Watching characters without purpose is a terrifying experience.  They live each day with the same aimlessness as the day before.  And it’s uncomfortable because it’s real.

Purpose gives us a reason to live.  Purpose is direction, and direction is contentment.  When we lose sight of our purpose in life, even of the small purpose of the moment, dissatisfaction begins to seep in, our moods change.

We are a beings of purpose, we need purpose to keep moving on in life, to keep waking up with the sun each morning.

Just as it was uncomfortable to watch the characters of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, it’s also painful to watch a character in a book wander aimlessly.  A character must be given a reason to live, a reason to have a part in your story.  This purpose can be lost and it can be found, but your character must decide on his/her direction forward.

Before you begin a story, focus on the purpose of every character, especially the protagonist.  What is her role?  What is his purpose in his life?  What keeps your characters pushing on?