Saturday, September 29, 2007

How Determined Are You?

A couple of weeks ago I set a mission for myself. My goal is to create neutral and graduated language to describe how a particular play functions.

I've been a bit overwhelmed by my new job, but Christopher De Paola's invigoration of this forum has me back on track.

So here's my first new term: determined.

We often talk about character motivation. And if a character's action doesn't make sense it is usually described as lacking motivation. But talking about motivation and the lack thereof assumes that a character's actions need some sort of minimal amount of motivation.

Before we talk about motivation, I think it would be helpful to talk about how "tightly determined" a script is. A "tightly determined" script is structured so that there are multiple triggers for character action in the play. A "loosely determined" script is less concerned with providing triggers for character action.

Here's an example I hope might raise an eyebrow or two: Othello is a loosely determined script. Iago's actions are clear - but they are unmotivated. We don't know why he does what he does. If that play were in a workshop today, there would be a few people who would harp on Iago's lack of motivation. Luckily for Shakespeare, he's dead and we've canonized him to the point where we give him the benefit of the doubt. Bill Shakespeare MFA 2007 wouldn't be so lucky.

My point is that focusing on character motivation as an absolute concept doesn't necessarily help the playwright. Far better to talk about the tightness of determinism in the world of the play BEFORE wading into motivation.

So: two questions. 1) What do you think of the term? Any comments, additions or clarifications? 2) What are the benefits of a loosely determined script? Does a world with loose determination mean that there is more room for something else in the text?


Devilvet said...

Does the term relate to the script or the characters? Even if Iago motivations are unclear or non-existent...what about the character of Othello? Aren't his motivations clear even if they are based upon the manipulations of Iago?

So, how many characters have to lack clear motivations before the script falls into "loosely determined"

perhaps the definition is better aimed at the character than the whole script?

Aaron Carter said...


Good points. The term may be better aimed at a character.

What I'm trying to do is find a framework that we can talk about the role of motivation in the context of the play. I think Erik would call it the rules of the world, but I'm finding concept too broad.

I want to find something that encompasses the question: "How important is it to the structure of this play that the triggers for character action are clearly defined?"

Devilvet said...

That is challenge not only to artifice, but psychological belief.

We are taught that action in life is born out of motivation.

Are we talking about no triggers, fewer triggers, or undefined triggers?

Renata said...

Keep up the good work.