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BPS 104: How to Create Story & Character Conflict with Eileen Cook

Today on the show we have best-selling author and screenwriter Eileen Cook. She is a multi-published, award-winning author with her novels appearing in nine languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV.

She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers find their unique story to tell.

Her best-selling book Create Story Conflict: How to increase tension in your writing & keep readers turning pages is a must-read for screenwriters. Here’s a bit about the book:

Conflict is essential to story—regardless of genre. The friction between what a character wants and the lengths they will go to reach that goal is what pulls readers through your book. Great conflict is what leaves readers cheering (or crying) at the end of a story.

Using humor and her deep knowledge of human behavior, counselor and award-winning author Eileen Cook will guide you through the causes of conflict, the differences between internal and external conflict, and show you how conflict resolution techniques can be turned upside down to ramp up the tension in your book.

Filled with practical tips, examples, and prompts, this is a craft book you’ll keep on your shelf to use again and again.

Enjoy my conversation with Eileen Cook.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:02
Today on the show we have best selling author and screenwriter Eileen Cook. She is a multi published award winning author. With her novels appearing in nine languages. Her books have also been optioned for film and TV. Her best selling book creating story conflict is a must for screenwriters. And I really wanted to have her come on the show to break down how to create conflict with your story and your characters. Because without conflict, you have no story. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Eileen cook. I like to welcome to the show Eileen Cook, How are you doing Eileen?

Eileen Cook 2:46
I'm doing good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 2:48
Oh, thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it. You are you are calling us from the great white north, which is an envious place nowadays. Apparently,

Eileen Cook 2:57
Safely over the border. We're building our own wall, we're doing it

Alex Ferrari 3:01
Safe you know, it's just a it's a it's a you know, for multiple reasons. It's a very envious place to be currently in the world as we as we speak here today. But but we're here today to talk about writing and helping some screenwriters understand conflict. Specifically, you wrote a great book about conflict. So can you give me the definition of what conflict is in your point of view?

Eileen Cook 3:25
Sure. Conflicts friction, at its most elemental level. And I should probably tell people like where I come from and sort of start out with is, I'm a counselor by trade. That was my day job before I turned to writing full time. And so conflict is the the bread and butter of why you have a counseling trade. If people don't have conflict and problems, then they're not coming to see counselors and we don't make a living. So that's never a good thing. So conflict is friction, it's standing between you and whatever it is that you want. And you have to figure out some way to get through that friction. And in terms of any kind of book or a screenplay. It's what keeps people watching. At its most basic level. Just think of remember when you used to go to coffee shops go back in time, many

Alex Ferrari 4:14
Years ago, years ago,

Eileen Cook 4:16
Years ago, right? You would go to a coffee shop. And you know what's more interesting sitting next to somebody just calmly reading their book or writing their screenplay on their laptop or a couple having a fight. Like, you're interested in the couple having a fight. That's the people you're eavesdropping on.

Alex Ferrari 4:33
But let me ask you a question though. So because I mean, my wife's my wife's a counselor as well. So I have I have, I have a little bit of understanding just the same way she has a little understanding about what greenscreen is. I have a little understanding about what she does. What is it in our psyche that is drawn to conflict on just an evolutionary standpoint, cuz you're absolutely right. Like it's much more interesting to watch, you know, Breaking Bad then about him becoming a mess. dealer than him teaching?

Eileen Cook 5:03
Yeah, it wouldn't be a good show, really, if it was like, I got up and I had a great day.

Alex Ferrari 5:09
So what is so what is that thing inside of us on a, almost a reptilian, you know, in the back of our tilian brain that causes us to be attracted to conflict.

Eileen Cook 5:20
I think it's partly because conflict is is partly how we make change. So when you even say you know the term evolutionary, so if you're going to go beyond where you are, you have to stretch yourself, you have to do something different. So let's take a basic example of you want to learn to run. So if you're going to learn to God knows why. But let's say you decide to take up jogging, if you're going to do that, you know, the first few days that you're going out, it's hard, you have to push through that if there's friction, right? It's staying in bed is more comfortable, you have to push through that in order to evolve into a writer. If you're wanting to write a screenplay, you know, everybody knows that feeling when you're sitting down in front of the screen and the cursor, blink, blink, blink. And it's easier to turn it off. But you have to push through that in order to actually end up with words on the page and hopefully an eventual screenplay. So change is intrinsically linked to conflict. And when we talk about character arcs, and wanting to see characters change over a story, they have to usually go through something in order to make that change. They're they're put to the test to the metal. There's that saying you never really know anyone until you know kind of the shit hits the fan idea is that when we put people under pressure, they either move forward and evolve, or they retreat or they break.

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So it's on a almost voyeuristic standpoint, we're looking at conflict, we watch movies with conflict books, or shows with conflict, because we're seeing, I guess, examples of how we can eventually break through our own conflict was if we don't have conflict, we don't have friction in our life, we can't grow. So just like a seed has to break through the soil to get to the light, that's friction, that's that that's the have to actually kind of crack through in order to get the light, which will then make them grow and grow. So that's I mean, that's an analogy it just came out of my butt with, but I missed it. And it was

Eileen Cook 7:22
good. Pretty good. Yeah. Like, I want to see the image of like the tree growing through the sidewalk, and all that kind of stuff. And yeah, I think we want to watch it because it is that idea that we learn. So I write and have written a number of young adult novels. And people always say, Oh, I worry about kids reading about sex or violence or these various things. And it's like, well, they're not necessarily going to do it. I don't think that that's the way it is. You read that? Because you want to see how someone else navigated that conflict, right? So if you know, your conflict was, you were gonna, you know, do a hike through someplace, the smart person says to somebody like, well, what did you wear? What kind of hiking boots? Do you have a map? What did you bring with you, you want to kind of guide to get through that. And I think observing other people in conflict automatically gives us that chance to say, you know, what would I do, which is kind of what we're trying to do and film are in any kind of story is let the reader or the viewer experience it, but in a safe way, right? So we all want to imagine that we'd, you know, storm, the best deal. And we'd be you know, the ones to do that. I do a lot of presentations with kids. And I say like, let's be honest, like if you were living out the Hunger Games, and somebody pulled your siblings name out of the hat, like how many of you would be like, no, choose, I volunteer as a tribute? versus being like, oh, man, that's a shame. Can I have your room? Like, do you know what I mean? Like, we're not likely we want to see other people do those big and glorious things and fight back against conflict, because it kind of gives us a feeling like maybe if I was then under the wire, I'd know how to do it.

Alex Ferrari 9:08
So in a lot of ways, you know, I always talk about being inside your comfort zone, and being inside that that comfortable place. And if you if you're comfortably uncomfortable, it's kind of the worst place to be. If you ever want some sort of evolution or growth it's it's really like if, if you're like making 150 K a year living in Kansas somewhere, has a nice house, and you're not really trying to rock the boat. At that point. You're like you're not trying to grow as a person or trying to, you know, put more tools in the toolbox to move to another place in your life. You're good, but when you swim, like you said, when the fit hits the shin when the fit hits the shin, and you're at a place where you have to move because it's getting so bad that if you don't move, then you're going to die or some sort of version of death. in your in your world, that's what drives you to move so that that comfort zone is a dangerous place, I think a lot of us fall into that comfort zone. So many times, I think that's why when you see conflict, it's just like, it just draws you in, because you just want to get through it a little bit.

Eileen Cook 10:16
Well, and I think I give the example a lot when I talk to people around if people are going to make a change, it's because of one or two reasons. And they're either going to get pushed, or they're going to get pulled. And to kind of understand that example, I say, I want you to imagine that we're going to take a field trip to New York City, and I'm going to take you to Simon Schuster, which is in Rockefeller Plaza, right there on avenue of the Americas. So we're gonna go way up, there's a nice little rooftop deck up there, right. So your I forget what it is we're gonna say 110 stories YOUR WAY THE HECK up there, right. Like, everything's teeny tiny down on that ground, right? And I say to you, like, you know, what's really interesting, and one corner of this building, which is, in fact, true, the other building is only about five and a half feet away.

Alex Ferrari 10:59
Oh, God, I just got chills.

Eileen Cook 11:02
And I could say to you like, Alex, you know, you look reasonably fit. I bet if you had a good run and start, you could make that jump. Now, assuming that you're remotely saying you'd be like, no, like, I'm not gonna do that. what's what's Yeah. But if I say to you, like, regretfully, this building is on fire, and the flames have already come up the stairwells, there's absolutely no way down. It's too windy for a helicopter to push, you know, basically lift us off, the ladders don't go up this high, you either need to jump, or you're gonna burn here. Most people will try and make that jump, right? Because Because no choice because it's yours. You can you can just sit down. And there are people who do that, right. There are people who are like, well, this is my

Alex Ferrari 11:55
time. This is my time, but it's either you choose to die, or you take the chance that you hope and that you're going to survive. But the worst happens if you don't make it is your die as well. So either way, you're gonna die either a fiery death or plummet to your death. It's up to you how you feel about both? Which way do you want to go?

Eileen Cook 12:15
Now the other way that I can get you off that rooftop is if I put something on the other rooftop that is so compelling, that you feel the need to do it. So if I said to someone, let's assume that Simon and Schuster becomes the Hunger Games of publishing, right? And they say there's a movie. So if I sit here, there's a million dollar book contract on that other roof, and whoever's willing to jump over there and get it can have it. Now, there probably be a lot more people who are like, no, it's not worth it. But I know a few writers who I'm pretty sure would be like, you know, I took track in high school. Like, I bet I could do this. So they will try. And you can see that in in books. So you know, we're laughing and joking, but zombie books are a great example where people will push through and do things, because there's something behind them, they're being pushed to try things. Romance stories are almost always about pull, right? It's the idea that, wow, I could have this person in my life, or I could be this place if I wanted to do that, and it will pull them forward. But you need her a push or a pull for people to change. Because otherwise why wouldn't you stay safe on the rooftop? That's human nature, we are we involved up do things that are difficult, we we don't seek out friction typically.

Alex Ferrari 13:37
That's the thing is like, but if you don't, if you and I looked, I have I had no people who never looked for friction. And they live in the comfort zone their entire life, and they had one goal. And that's the goal that they wanted. And once they got that goal, I'm like I'm coasting until this is over. I don't want any shifts at all in my boat. I just want to smooth sail. I know, I know a person like that specifically, I'm thinking about right now. And they're happy, though, at least externally. They seem happy. What happens? You know, like, maybe I should have written that book. Maybe I should have traveled more. Maybe I should have done this. But you know, it's, it's it's really interesting, but there are people like that. But generally speaking, though, even in the comfort zone, you do eventually, just like you said, get bored.

Eileen Cook 14:26
Usually you will, but certainly without a doubt like and this is always again, the difference between real life and any kind of fiction. There are a lot of people who will coast. Now am I going to go watch a two hour film of a guy who coasts? No. Because we're an hour and a half in and he's Yeah, he's come back home and set back. Yeah, all right. Like we're only going to watch that movie to see that person thrown out of that space. So you're gonna have to make them uncomfortable to keep my entrance Just now they may not be seeking that out. So again, we may take your guide who's in the nice, comfortable place, and all of a sudden, I'm going to have, oh, I don't know something crazy, like a global pandemic, that's gonna suddenly take out, you know, certain things where all of a sudden, he can't do what he did before. And he's gonna have to do something different. Now. I'm interested now I'm watching

Alex Ferrari 15:23
right now, someone knocks on the door, I'm like, I'm your son. Yeah. And then all of a sudden, his entire world is thrown upside, boom, overnight, it's gonna happen. You can see those kind of techniques used in so many stories in so many movies where someone's just is, which is the whole Joseph Campbell, it's the ordinary world.

Eileen Cook 15:42
Yeah. And look, real people like to be safe right there. And there are a lot. I mean, there are people who seek out challenges. And you know, you can argue they have more exciting, more fulfilling lives, because they put themselves through that friction, you can argue that, you know, they're crazy that they should just stay, you know, I feel like we're slamming Kansas, and I'm gonna end up having some like Wyoming. Or like, I love Kansas, I'm sure it's been a while though. Now, somehow they hate you. So that's true.

Alex Ferrari 16:11
Dakota, California, wherever any state you like,

Eileen Cook 16:14
yeah, like, you know that, you know, if you stay in that place, they're happy. They're good with that. But again, in fiction, what I what I'm paying to see, and it's important to remember that we're asking people to pay for a product, is we want to see someone go through a struggle, we want to see them overcome that or, you know, if you're wanting to receive a tragedy, then you're going to watch them, you know, fail. But I think one of the problems is that sometimes as writers, we don't like conflict in our own lives, and we, we go easy on our characters, and that's a mistake.

Alex Ferrari 16:49
So, so a lot of the things a lot of these examples we'll be talking about has been external conflict, which is the push in the pole, which were like external fire coming in, you know, or the million dollars is an external pull. What are some examples of internal conflict?

Eileen Cook 17:06
So, there's a great book by Donald moss, who's a literary agent, and he wrote a book called writing the breakout novel. And he has an exercise in there where he says, tell me what it is that your character wants more than anything. And then write down what the opposite of that thing is. And then figure out how your character wants both of those things. And initially, I was like, well, that's crazy, right? But let's just take it at a very basic thing. Like if you say, you know what, I want to be fitter. I want to you know, lose some weight, you know, get some better cardio, going, all that kind of stuff. External conflicts are rarely the thing that get in your way with that, right? Like, we all kind of know, like, Oh, I should probably eat a little bit healthier, I need to, you know, get out to move more, I need to do these kinds of things. That's what I need to do. What gets in your way is the internal thing, which is that you also want to sit on your butt and watch Netflix. And sometimes you want both of those things at the same time. Right? You want the cookie?

Alex Ferrari 18:12
I want a cookie, but I also want the rock I want six pack?

Eileen Cook 18:15
Yeah, you know, and the problem is that you cannot have those things at the same time. You want to be the partner in your law firm, and you want to spend more time with your family. So it's often not the external stuff. It's that internally, you're fighting between yourself because you want both things. So you want to either

Alex Ferrari 18:38
so let's use an example from movie is there a character in the movie that had you know, classic character in a movie that you can think of that has internal conflict that has those two? opposite things? Like I'm thinking I always go to Star Wars because it's like the most you know, very well known like Darth but Luke, Luke wants to do travel. He wants to he wants to break out of his little you know, farm and become I don't know what the other like the opposite what would

Eileen Cook 19:02
the opposite is being safe? Right? Like he wants to keep on peace.

Alex Ferrari 19:07
I want to be safe, but I also want to be a star fighter.

Eileen Cook 19:10
Yeah, right. Like I mean, even look like he has the classic call to adventure, which is a little literal call right? Hey, you know, you want to go with me? We're gonna save the princess all this kind of stuff. And he's like, I can't. And he says he can't because he has to stay and be a moisture farmer. Like, let's just have a moment where we say

Alex Ferrari 19:31
George V hurts moisture farmer, I

Eileen Cook 19:33
love it. Moisture farming. That's what he's doing. Like, really, when you ask me, I think like, I think I'd pretty much rather do anything and be a moisture farmer. But you know, at the moment when he's asked, it's like, well, he still wants to be safe. He doesn't want to rock the boat. He doesn't want to do any of those things. He doesn't want to turn off the guidance system and use the force because everyone around him I mean, I just love imagining that you You're the head of the rebel forces, you're facing down. The biggest thing is called the Death Star. Like it's not exactly subtle, right? Like, it's a bad thing, right? It's called the Death Star. It can blow up planets. You are throwing everything that you have at it. This is a one. Like if you don't take this thing out, the rebellion is the universe's done. And everybody gets taken out except the kid who was a moisture farmer an hour and a half ago. who, you know, is basically saying, Yeah, I never, you know, piloted a starship before, but I, I used to have a Land Cruiser. And it's kind of like shooting those wolf brats, right? It's just like, No, dude, it's nothing. It's nothing like that. Right?

Alex Ferrari 20:43
Nothing like the Wolf Brats.

Eileen Cook 20:45
put somebody in a stealth fighter who like I used to have a four v like it used to shoot squirrels. It's just like that. Right? And it's like, this guy's like, you know, what I'll do is I'll take the only decent thing we have, which is the guidance system? And I'll turn it off.

Alex Ferrari 21:03
Right, exactly. So that's actually a pretty good example. Because you're right, he does want both things. And then you go to the opposite Darth Vader, you know, in his arc, he wants to be, you know, the bad Darth Vader guy, but he also wants to connect with his son. Right? So there's that those opposites. So I've never really thought about conflict, internal conflict like that before. Because if you start analyzing all these kind of amazing characters over cinema, many of them will, if you start analyzing, they want to things and they're generally on the opposite, which was what makes them interesting. That's why a villain that, you know, he literally just early on, like, twist his his mustache, as you know, like, who you know, and he's like, he's got the girl on the on the on the train tracks and the trains coming and like I'm evil, just to be evil. They're very boring, very, very boring villains. But then you got someone like fanno. So I'll use some more current, who's a complex villain, because he wants to actually he kind of wants to save the universe and help the universe. But the way he's doing is,

Eileen Cook 22:08
it's a matter of perspective, right? Right here. There's an interest. And I think it's just important to remember that external conflict is a model of problem solving. Right? So if you have to get through, you know, this obstacle course, you know, and you have to do it in order to defuse the bomb. And that's what I've set up for you that you have to do. And so you're going to have to figure out, you know, all these little puzzles in order to get through that, that's just an exercise in problem solving. And most people, you know, if we set it up, they should be able to hopefully get through those things. The real friction comes internally, which is what's getting between you and them to solve that problem. Right. So I think it I mean, I this is why I'm not personally in law enforcement for a whole host of reasons. But running towards day, part of what law enforcement is about, right? So if someone's shooting, you think, Oh, I'm going to run closer to that. My internal thing is like, no. You're on your own. No, sorry. So what is it inside yourself? So is it a desire for safety, which is often a very fair thing that would keep you from wanting to have adventures? Is it feeling guilty about leaving people behind? Is it you know, what is it that's kind of inside of you that you may not even be aware of?

Alex Ferrari 23:42
So so there's the obviously the greatest Christmas movie of all time, diehard? I mean, it's just long may it rain? Yeah. It's obviously a fact. We've done many podcasts about this. I'm not gonna argue No. So that diehard is a perfect example of really insane external conflict, you know, which is he's constantly being pushed out that movie, by the bad guys by pawns and by all the terrorists and trying to save people. But if you take away the internal conflict that he has, which is now he's going through his divorce or breakup with his wife, and now his wife has been put in jeopardy, so like he wants to, he wants to save her, but like, so what's his internally, I just love to hear your point of view, his internal conflict with her is that he wants to keep that relationship going. And she does it. So there's that kind of friction, but yet now he has to go save her as well. So what's the return in your opinion,

Eileen Cook 24:43
and I think it's the two parts of it. So I think there's one part of it which is part of what he wants to do is obviously beat Hans Gruber because he's a cop, and that's what you do. But part of them also like he could probably sneak in, grab his wife and get her out of there.

Alex Ferrari 25:02
Right, like comfortably before anyone knew who she was, or anything he could have probably just come in boom and get. But then that, first of all, that's a horrible. Yeah,

Eileen Cook 25:11
in case someone's like, Hey, I never thought of that. Right? Not

Alex Ferrari 25:15
that character

Eileen Cook 25:16
right. So he's, he's, you know, having to juggle both of wanting to save his wife, but wanting to save everyone else and to be true to who he is, which is partly what caused the friction in his marriage is that he puts so much time and effort into being a cop, and she felt there was never any time for her. And he also has to learn to trust her, right, because at the end, she's the one who is truly able to help him and he's not someone who trusts other people. So he, he has to trust the guy outside, who's gonna you know, help them and he has to learn to trust his wife in order to really defeat Hans Gruber, he wouldn't have been able to do it 100% on his own.

Alex Ferrari 26:00
Very cool. Now speak, we've been talking a little bit about conflict in regards to story and characters. How should you? Can you discuss the bit, I guess we'd have been discussing the difference between the conflict of the story and characters. But how should characters respond?

Eileen Cook 26:20
I think this is fun, because you get to have some decisions about this because people respond, and sort of all different sorts of ways to conflict, right? So I think we tend to think of the two most basic, which is fight or flight. Right? So if we look at this again, like and I'm coming at this from sort of a psychological point of view, in the animal kingdom, you don't get for example, a bunny rabbit who's like, Oh, yeah, Mr.Coyote, bring it like, do you know what I mean? Like, like the rabbit will run. Because period. evolutionarily speaking, the rabbit understands its outgunned. And it will choose survival. Right? You have to be a little higher up the food chain to choose fights, because you're choosing fight if you feel like you have a pretty good chance to win. Or you have no choice. Right? So again, this is where you see someone who Yeah, like the bunny will come out, you know, pause a flapping, or whatever you want to call it, you know, the years getting

Alex Ferrari 27:28
ready to go. Yeah, if there's no choice for him, it's either fight or you're gonna die, like most will fight.

Eileen Cook 27:35
Yeah. So you can think in terms of, you know, where's your character at? And you know, what would they choose to do, right, and they're not going to necessarily choose to fight right away. So you might have them trying to kind of avoid conflict or get around conflict until they can't avoid it anymore. But there are also a couple other options that people don't think about. So one of them is freeze, which is a lot of times in the face of danger, you will just freeze right? So that the obvious example is animals do this.

Alex Ferrari 28:07
Goats, goats. everyone listening right now go to YouTube after this interview, and type in goat scare. And you will, you'll be laughing for quite some time I've, when I first saw it, I couldn't believe it was just that one goat, like basically just scared to go. And there was a herd of them. And they all froze at the same time and just dropped to the floor on their side frozen. And I was just I couldn't stop laughing. It is. It is so brilliant. But yes, they do that.

Eileen Cook 28:36
Well. And also, how do you get away from a T Rex? Everybody knows this. If you've seen Jurassic Park, they tell you don't move don't do anything? Because they can? Yeah, right. So animals evolutionary sometimes learn like, well, if I can't run, maybe I'll just free solid for a second and hope it didn't see me. And people do this. You've been in situations where you'll see a guy in the living room or whatever. And his wife comes in and she slams the door in the kitchen. And he'll just go totally silent. Right? Like, maybe if I just sit here, one of the kids will find her

Alex Ferrari 29:14
And they'll take the brunt.

Eileen Cook 29:15
Yes. How can I like just not be seen like they're doing a goat, right? They're just freezing right where they are and hoping it passes by. So that's another response that your character can have as they can sort of hope that it passes by them. And the other spawn, which is a nice way of saying kissing up, right? So and you certainly know people who do this, who will throw someone else under the bus. I don't know try and think of some politicians or something who may have

Alex Ferrari 29:49
Made you know, sacrifice another politician or a co worker in corporate America that happens constantly.

Eileen Cook 29:56
You know, like where they're just gonna, they're gonna kiss up to the bad guy because I've been Rather be on the bad guys side then the not.

Alex Ferrari 30:03
Oh, it's like in diehard that that guy yeah that guy forgot

Eileen Cook 30:08
Baby

Alex Ferrari 30:11
Baby I can help you on the cocaine guy I forgot his name but it was perfectly cast guy. Yeah. Oh okay, so perfectly cast that guy? Well yes so similar to that

Eileen Cook 30:22
he's gonna he's gonna kiss up and he's like I'm gonna get on these guys side I'm gonna do that you will see, you know, again, if we take the same you know wife who's come home really angry, you know one option might be to go out there and be like, you look so beautiful today Let me rub your shoulders you know, let's let's distract you by being really kind and diffusive kinds of things. So there are different ways that, yeah, smart people have a way of dealing with conflict and you want to have a range of tools at your thing. And I think when you're writing characters is to sit down and figure out how would my character respond in this moment. And kind of running through the four different options can give you some different ways of looking at it. Like what happens if they freeze? Is it possible that someone will be distracted? Again, you can think of all sorts of scenes and walking dead, where that's basically what they're doing, like, just Don't move, don't make a sound, you know, you throw a rock, you're trying to basically put it onto something else. It's kind of hard to really fawn over a zombie, though, I guess if you smear yourself with other things. So you smell like them. They feel like they're one of the crowd, I guess, would be the best example of falling in that. But certainly, you know, there was a lot of things in Walking Dead of people sort of kissing up to people who were taking power. So it's like, well, if this is the seat of power, that I want to be close to it, and I'm not gonna fight it, because that's gonna be hard fight is hard.

Alex Ferrari 31:54
That's what writers are for. And no one ever kisses up in Hollywood. That's not something that happens here. And I have no understanding what you're talking about. It's so funny, like, when you see, you know, I've been the director for 20 odd years now. And and, you know, when you're on set, I can see like those new people coming on set who try to get closer to the director, because there's that perceived power on the set. And it's fascinating. It's fascinating to watch how people act. But yeah, it's just, that's almost instinctual. At this point. It's almost evolutionary.

Eileen Cook 32:29
If you look at a wolf pack, basically, you know, you know, there's one who's the alpha, so we're gonna make the director the alpha. So you can kind of see yourself now as alpha Wolf, right? So, yeah, why not enjoy it? Well, that's right. And then you know, what you have as a group of other wolves who are either going to work with that, they're going to roll over and show their belly, right, they're going to find a pecking order, they're going to, you know, work towards that, that one Wolf, or they're going to have to strike out on their own. And that is risky and dangerous. A wolf on their own is much more likely to get injured, if it does get injured, it's much more likely to die. So again, when we think of characters who are, you know, doing a Bruce Willis diet? Like, that's some risky stuff, right? And you have to really push someone to do that kind of thing?

Alex Ferrari 33:18
No, should you? You know, what should you focus on more? Should you focus on stories conflict? Or the characters? Or the characters?

Eileen Cook 33:28
Can I have both?

Alex Ferrari 33:30
From the beginning, like having both are so when you're constructing a story, do you construct the internal first or the external force?

Eileen Cook 33:38
I think actually, this is a writer choice, because I think there are stories that come to us in different ways, right? So you come up with a story idea. And either sometimes you'll hear particularly, you know, people who are doing novels will say I'm either doing a plot driven story, or I'm doing a character driven story. So sometimes they have a character and it's like, I really want to write about this person. And then you're trying to figure out what's the situation that would most kind of push that character or, you know, evolve them into a different place. Or you've come up with a great concept in terms of like, I have this great thing like now who's the best person to put into that story, to really stretch it and make it seem interesting. So I think you can tackle it either way. But the fun thing is to then see how those things are going to interact with each other. So how, as my internal conflict that I'm dealing with, how is that going to make dealing with the external conflict maybe harder? Is there something that if I could resolve my internal conflict, that that's what I need to do to solve my external conflict? I think some of that is when you think of, I think it's john Truby who talks about want versus need, if I'm remembering correctly, so yeah, like if you think of, you know, the external being the want or the internal conflict that often they need to resolve the internal conflict in order to beat that external.

Alex Ferrari 35:07
Yes. So, in regards to plot versus character, I always find it fascinating because most, most, a lot of people say, Oh, I'm going to write a, you know, really, I'm a plot driven writer, as opposed to a character driven. But if you look at films, over the years, you don't generally remember plots. You remember characters, like I can vaguely tell you like the plots of Indiana Jones, I mean, probably the first one cuz I've seen it more. But other than that, you know, they're vague. It's not the memorable thing. You know, when you watch Last Crusade, the memorable thing is, his dad and him, the conflict between those two, that's what drives that story. I think, out of plot, like six cents is probably one plot that I kind of remember. And even then, I just basically remember the ending, you know, that kind of stuff. So you don't really stick you know, I think, for success for successful storytelling, and you tell me, you know, character has to be, you know, plots are obviously important, but people remember character much more than they remember.

Eileen Cook 36:03
Well, and because part of it is where character meets plot, right? So if you have a scene, or a plot, like this is a story about a bank robbery gone wrong, where they hold a bunch of people hostage in the bank, and they're trying to get out. So that that's your plot, right? And then it's, it's who you put in that that becomes interesting.

Alex Ferrari 36:28
About the afternoon?

Eileen Cook 36:29
Yeah, like, all of a sudden, it's, it's who's in that story that becomes the catalyst for that, like, because you can do Dog Day Afternoon, or you can say, okay, it's a nursery school teacher, who's, you know, pushed to her limit, who has no skills in this area at all. And so she's gonna have to be the one that you know, comes through this, right? Like, how that person deals with it is becomes often what is interesting to us. So it's, it's people meeting plot. And that's what we find kind of enjoyable is to see how are they going to cope and deal with that, like, I think some of the bad in my humble opinion, James Bond movies is where, where they, they lost track of him as a character. And they were just like, what's the most outrageous situation, we can put this super spy into? And so they came up with, you know, more and more bigger and better kinds of things. But if you look at the ones that are tend to be people's favorites, is where he's pushed personally as a character. So the situation the plot is still big. There's still things happening. But what's interesting is, is he gonna choose to save the woman that he's finally felt like he could start to love or hold on to his duty. Those become the things that we follow and that we're interested in.

Alex Ferrari 37:53
So Exactly. I mean, because I think James Bond, I mean, I was a fan of the old ones that Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery and they were fun to watch but when it when grant came in, is, is run, especially Casino Royale, which I still consider probably the best. One of the best bonds and that in Skyfall, there was just so that's good. You actually first finally got into bondage. You made him vulnerable. He wasn't a superhero. That's why so difficult to write for Superman. Because he's Superman Superman. Throw the kryptonite in but it gets boring after a while, like, so it's very difficult to write. But that's why Batman so much more interesting, because he's so much more vulnerable. There's so many more ways you can have and talk about internal conflict, Jesus. I mean,

Eileen Cook 38:34
yeah, the guy has to he needs a therapist. That Batcave is sadly missing a therapist. He would do well to work some of that out. But yeah, I mean, I think that's Yeah, Superman is I think a great example in that, you know, yeah, interesting character, but I don't know if much has been made of like, Where is he vulnerable? Where Where are the push points of him? Because that I think, again, is what we like seeing as viewers is how does this particular person with their strengths with their weaknesses, solve the problem? Will Han Solo go back to help? Which is against his nature, right? Or is he gonna you know, reach out and find some connection in this moment? Those are the kinds of things that we remember and provide us with that cheering moment right? Like that's what you're looking for is where people are like, Yes, right. They they got up they did it again after we didn't think they would do it. We're looking for that. And that's people meeting story.

Alex Ferrari 39:35
know, when you are building characters, discuss a little bit about what emotional.

Eileen Cook 39:42
I would love to. So emotional intelligence is is interesting, because it comes from, in my opinion, the very best thesis question that was ever asked. Which is, why is it that smart people do stupid things Which when you think about it is brilliant because we all know someone who is quite smart, but possibly not successful. But until there was a theorist rayvon Baran, who is out of Israel, basically said, Well, look, we know how to measure intelligence, there are several tests, there's the waist, and the Wechsler and so forth, where we can test intelligence. So I can give you a test and say you're in the genius IQ or you're not. But it doesn't seem to be correlated to success. Which logic tells us it should be the smartest people should in theory be the most successful people. But that has certainly not help.

Alex Ferrari 40:43
At all.

Eileen Cook 40:44
No, no. So he started saying, well, there has to be something else, some other kind of quality and the term emotional intelligence came up. And so it's 15 different components that look at things like reality testing, how good are you at understanding that what you see is not necessarily objective, and is influenced by what's going on around you or your own personal perspective? How well are you aware of your own emotions, that's another kind of thing. So he was looking at that ability to understand that, oh, other people have other emotions. If you want a great example, again, remember back when we could travel?

Alex Ferrari 41:32
Yes.

Eileen Cook 41:35
I remember I was headed on a flight someplace. And basically the the plane, the flight got canceled. And so now we're all on this huge lineup, all desperately seeking to get on another flight, right, and the conflict conflict. And the guy in front of me is tearing a strip off this airline worker with like, Do you know who I am? And I need to be back for this. And I'm, I'm very important person, I have so many miles on this airline, and I you know, and so she says, you know, we're doing the best we can, etc, etc. And then I went up next. And I said something like, I'm so sorry that you're having this horrible day. And I sort of commiserated about working in customer service and said this is you know, I'm actually trying to get back is my grandmother's 90th birthday, which was, you know, those kind of things. Okay, well, you have to wait, well, if you want to guess who got on the next flight, it would be me

Alex Ferrari 42:36
with a first grade grade, first grade at first.

Eileen Cook 42:39
You know, so it's that idea of that's emotional intelligence. It's the idea that yelling at this customer service worker is not necessarily going to get me what I want.

Alex Ferrari 42:49
Right? So like it perfectly, you're absolutely right. So that concept of, of being the smartest, because there are people who are, you know, high level geniuses, but generally can't can't live can't even can't even work within society because they just don't have a high emotional IQ have a great intelligence, but not an emotional IQ. And adding that into your character is really interesting to kind of start thinking about that because someone like rain, man, you know, doesn't Hoffman's Rain Man. Perfect example, him and Tom Cruise. So let's just see if we can analyze the emotional intelligence of both of those guys. So obviously, Rain Man, IQ was off the chart. And he had intelligence beyond until it was almost just basically computer. He didn't know how to apply that information very well. And but then you had Tom Cruise's character forgot his name, but Tom Cruise's character who was all emotional intelligence, he knew how to hustle. He knew how to work the system. He knew how to eat, uh, but couldn't even come too close to the intelligence or the capabilities of his brother. And one was very successful. And one was sitting in a room somewhere watching was it Wheel of Fortune, or People's

Eileen Cook 44:01
Court, People's Court? Thank you for walking there for a while.

Alex Ferrari 44:10
So that's a really, you know, really a good example of adding emotional intelligence to your character. So someone

Eileen Cook 44:17
gives you a chance to, to sort of play because we all have areas that were better or weaker in, right? You know, we're not all perfectly evolved. But the good news is that emotional intelligence typically can grow, right, you can become more emotionally intelligent. Whereas tragically, I hate to inform you like your IQ doesn't grow. You may become more knowledgeable so you can learn new things. But you can't become more intelligent

Alex Ferrari 44:47
than a rocket scientist because I read a lot of rocket scientist books. I might read it, but but my mind is not built that way. Personally, like I can't I'm not Science math dude. That's not well, yeah, well, yeah, me on the creative on the marketing on the artistic side, my intelligence is a lot higher than in math. That's why my wife does the math. And I just, she tries to she she understood that years ago, finally she figured it out. She's like, why aren't you doing your own books, I'm like, you don't,

Eileen Cook 45:22
you don't want to know, I once did a budget for a healthcare thing where I taped a penny to the form because I could not figure out where it was. Right? So there are, there's intelligence that you have, and there's just certain places, but your emotional intelligence you can grow. And there are tons of and this is, another piece of advice I would give to writers is check out your local Self Help section of a bookstore. Because there are so whatever your character is struggling with, I guarantee you there's a self help book on that topic, which will give you a lots of ideas to dig into. But there are a lot of great books on emotional intelligence. And there are a lot of online tests that you can give yourselves that are kind of give you some ideas of where you're strong. So you know, answer them from your character's point of view, and figure out like, Is there some place where they're weak in emotional intelligence, and they have to grow in that area. So going back to Rain Man and Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise is really good at figuring out other people's emotions, right? Like he can figure out when to eat, and then how to manipulate them, right? He's really good at you know, all kinds of stuff, but one of them is he's not going to use his own emotions. Right? Like, he doesn't cope with those, and he can't deal with how he feels about his brother for a lot. And that's actually what he has to. And when he does that is when he becomes a more complete person. So you can kind of push and again, there's whole books like, Oh, you want to get better at this aspect of emotional intelligence? Well, here's things you can do. So you can look and figure out like, Okay, is there something that I can give a task, something that can be happening to my character that's pushing them to grow in that particular zone?

Alex Ferrari 47:05
Right. In someone like Sherlock Holmes, for instance, he didn't have very much emotional intelligence, if I remember the classic, you know, sorry, yeah. But he was pretty, he was pretty just kind of like he was much more on the intelligence side. And he actually was very awkward in, in social environment, he just was so beyond everybody else in the room, he was so much smarter than he was, he was difficult. I mean, I would not want to deal with a human being like that. And I have dealt with certain people that are that kind of level of intelligence. And it's really difficult. And they look at me like I'm an oddity, because I'm like, because I'm able to function very comfortably. In a in a social environment. In an artistic and very abstract place, I can live in the abstract where he lives in a concrete, a one plus one equals two, but I say one plus one is the beginning of the conversation.

Eileen Cook 48:02
Let's get locked down into to write. I mean, there isn't a lot of science that's gone into emotional intelligence that says, obviously, you need a base level of a basic IQ, yes, but assuming that someone has a good basic level of IQ, the stronger they are with the emotional intelligence, the more likely they are to be successful. Because the more likely they are to be able to interact with people be able to change how they interact, depending with who they're dealing with, the more likely they are to understand like, Oh, I see this situation this way. But it's possible, I'm not seeing it accurately, there might be a different perspective here. Those are all aspects of emotional intelligence. So they're good to have and they're fun to play with with a character.

Alex Ferrari 48:48
I wanted to wanted to get your opinion on this because I actually, the book I wrote was based on my time, we're making a movie for the mafia, a lot of conversation. So I got to deal with at a young age, I was dealing with these kind of characters. These are real. And I was interacting with them that, you know, a mobster, let's say there's a gangster. They have fairly decent emotional intelligence in the sense of how to manipulate people how to read the room, how to move things around their core intelligence. They're essentially many of them. In any mobsters listening, it's not all mobsters I'm talking about

Eileen Cook 49:27
but it's certainly not new.

Alex Ferrari 49:31
But But if you look at Goodfellas is that they're not bright. They're not super intelligent. They're very, they're blunt instruments, but they know how to work it within their group and within their society. Emotionally because, I mean, it's your I mean, I guess, Don Corleone you know as a as a as a gangster are mobster. hats. I mean, Michael was probably one One of the more intelligent mobsters in cinema history essentially.

Eileen Cook 50:03
Yeah, you know? Yeah, I mean, they, again, yeah, there's that those that book smart. And there's one rubber meets the road smart. Right? Those are those are two different kinds of smarts and emotional intelligence obviously can be used and can be manipulated, right? You know, some of the arguments is that, you know, some aspects of emotional intelligence, you know, people who are sociopathic are some of the stronger those areas, but not in others. So just for clarity, you know, there are others that they they will be weakened, but the more that you understand your own emotions, how they make you feel, a lot of people confuse their emotions, like I would argue a lot of mobsters. And again, not you, Mr. mobster, I'm sure you're very in touch with your emotional side. But they will confuse things like and, you know, this is not necessarily a guy thing in general. But it's not uncommon that a guy will confuse fear and anger. So if someone is emotionally upset or scared, they will lash out. So I used to work in the hospital system, when I was working as a counselor, so I worked with people with catastrophic injuries or illness. And the first thing that you learn is that you get yelled at a lot. And it's because people are scared, right? So you have your loved one who's in a surgery, you know, you're not sure if they're going to come out, and someone will start screaming at you about how the hospital cafeteria was supposed to have chocolate chip cookies. And instead, they have oatmeal, raisins and raisins are lousy and no one likes raisins. And you know, there'll be screaming and it's, you have to know like, they're not actually mad, they're scared. They're really, really scared. And they don't, they cannot identify their own emotion.

Alex Ferrari 51:47
And that's something really interesting in a character, if you can write that into a character that makes that character much more interesting. Because you're right, a lot of times, it's not about the reasons.

Eileen Cook 51:58
It's usually not

Alex Ferrari 52:01
about the reasons it's generally something deeper. So it's just trying to create those kind of layers to to your character.

Eileen Cook 52:07
Well, and I will talk about placeholder conflict with people where I say it's what the conflict means to me, versus necessarily what it is so common, married conflict. Is it and I'm divorced. So this may or may say so many things, right? But like someone who will leave their sock nuggets, their little sock balls, you know, and they rip them off the bottom of their feet, and they leave them right next to the hamper. Like not in the hamper, which is open and available. To receive dirty laundry early, large,

Alex Ferrari 52:41
large, ample, much ample, much larger than a basketball net.

Eileen Cook 52:46
Yes, this is a copious like there is space for that sock, right? And they will take it off, and they'll just leave it laying there like this sad or a gummy maggot?

Alex Ferrari 52:57
My daughter, right? Yes.

Eileen Cook 53:00
If someone is yelling at you about that, it's usually not about the effort that it takes to pick up the sock and put it in the hamper. It's about I feel like you, you think this is my job? Do you think I'm the maid, you're like, you so can't be bought, or you don't care about our space. Because if you cared about our space, you would want it to look nice, you wouldn't leave your socks out, you wouldn't put a dish by the sink instead of in the dishwasher. Where to the other person, it's like, they just don't care, right? Like socks on the floor is just like, well, I might want to wear it again tomorrow. Like, I'm just leaving it where it's comfortably accessible to me.

Alex Ferrari 53:39
And speaking from someone who's been married now for for quite some time. I find that I find that guys are. It's just a sock. It's at the end of the day, it's just a sock. But, but on the other side of the fence, they're much more about Oh, it means so everything you just said

Eileen Cook 54:06
yes, this is where men are like this is suddenly a marriage help self help thing, dude, it's not about the sock.

Alex Ferrari 54:14
A long time ago,

Eileen Cook 54:15
I know not about the sock. The sock is a placeholder for something else. So So sometimes asking yourself, you know, what is it that your character is really angry about and they may not be able to articulate it. Like they may say it's about the fact that I've asked 5000 times to throw the sock in the hamper, and they just don't do it. So he's not listening to me. Right? But if you really dig down, like doesn't matter if the sock is on the floor, it's like well, yeah, it matters to me because of this. And you know my idea of what it means to be a wife or what our house should look like. The division of labor, all of this kind of stuff, right? It goes I'm sure I don't feel like I'm a feminist now because I picked up his socks and now I've let down womanhood, right so there's a lot that is in That sock.

Alex Ferrari 55:02
And for guys

Eileen Cook 55:04
You're still like, it's a sock, right?

Alex Ferrari 55:07
Sorry, I didn't know it was just a sock, I'll put the sock and I'm sorry.

Eileen Cook 55:11
Well, it only becomes a placeholder conflict creases, like she won't let up about the sock. Like, there's all this other stuff going on. And she's gonna pick on me about this stuff. And then it gets into now I feel like you're acting like my mom. And you're saying that I can't be man and put my socks where I want to put my socks. Like, I work 80 hours a week, I'm gonna put my socks, I want to put my dang socks. You're not the mom of me. Right? So all of a sudden you're fighting about stuff is so not to Soc. But when you're writing scenes, think about that stuff. Right? Like, spend some time and ask yourself like, what can I have them fighting about? And then what is it really about? What is that a placeholder for?

Alex Ferrari 55:51
Yes. With without question, let me ask you real quick. Do you do write backstories on your characters?

Eileen Cook 55:58
Oh, yes. I wrote a whole book on writing. Great. And

Alex Ferrari 56:04
so so then that's a that's a hard? Yes. So because I know a lot of people when they write, they just write that kind of, you know, when they're writing a character, they just kind of do a little bit of research on them or, or they kind of develop a small little backstory on it. But then I've heard who was I talking to? Oh, no, it was I was watching the shits Creek documentary, because I just finished watching all of shits Creek, by the way, one of the greatest shows ever. And they were talking about Indian. Canadian is a Canadian. But then there was, I think it was a levy, Eugene Levy. When his son came in to start writing with him. Eugene Levy just kept pounding him, I'm like, No, we're gonna write a book on each of these characters. So like, and that's where a lot of strong all of all of his work throughout his life with Best of Show and the stuff he did with all those characters are so rich, and so deep. It's because they just spent weeks just writing backstory that will never see the screen. But if you could just sense it. So what's your advice on creating backstory?

Eileen Cook 57:11
Well, first off, I want to talk about why I think it's so important. So again, I'm putting my counseling hat back on, which is, who we are, is an accumulation of all the things that have happened to us. And then the story that we tell ourselves about what happened to us. Right, so we tell ourselves a story to make sense of what happened. So you could be adopted, and tell yourself the story that I was never wanted. And then how you go through the rest of your life, the choices they make, the relationships you have, will be based on that story that you tell yourself, which is I am someone that people don't want, you could be adopted and say to yourself, I'm so good that unlike you, who just came shooting out of your mother, my mother chose me. She chose to adopt me, she went through effort and all this stuff to have me and then that is going to shape who you are. Michael Haig, who's a screenwriter talks about what's the hole in your character's soul, which is fun to say, if you've been drinking, which is you know, what happened to them that sort of shaped who they are. So the easiest way to get about this that I think, which is a trick, not a trick, a tool that I used with real people, but I do with imaginary characters is just a basic timeline. So you're going to draw a.on, one side of the page, and you're gonna say birth. And then you're gonna draw a.on, the other side of the page, and you're gonna say page one of your screenplay or scrape page one of your book. And I just want you to make a timeline, or what are the major events that that character had in their life between birth. And when the book opens. And if it was a positive event, you listed above the line. That was a negative event to have people listed below the line. Then as a counselor, what I'm interested in is where do people list things and what do they see as important? So for example, I've seen divorce listed above the line, right and below the line.

Alex Ferrari 59:19
And it's a story you tell like I'm so happy, I'm free. Oh my god, they left me

Eileen Cook 59:23
it was the best thing like I had to grow as a person I needed to do this. You know, this was the most important thing to happen to me. Anything can be above or below the line and a lot of ways because it is the story that you tell yourself about the event. And the example that I gave, which is a real person. It was a client that I worked with. A young man he was a roofer in his early 20s. He tripped, stumbled and basically fell into hot tar. Which is really, really bad. If you know much about burns, burns continue even after you're removed from the heat source. And of course, the problem with tar is that you can't pull away from the heat sources it sticks to you. So he was in excruciating agony. So much so that he ran off the roof, snapping the safety line, he fell for stories where he was impaled on a wrought iron fence that surrounded the building site. So he had massive and I cannot underscore massive internal injuries, orthopedic injuries, soft tissue injuries, on top of having third degree burns over a significant part of his body, including part of his face. And I won't go into details, but burn rehab is one of the worst things to go through. And when I met him was when he was still in the burn unit. And we were doing this exercise and I was asking him, and he listed the accident above the line. And I had a moment where I left and I thought that poor blighters got ahead and treats it like somebody's gonna niraj saw that he hit his head on the way down, obviously. He's not right. He's not right. And I said to him, like, I gotta ask you, why would you live cx and above the line? And he said, I'm 26 years old, and I now know who I can really count on in this life. Do you know how many people go their whole life and never know that?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:29
What the? What if I found an answer?

Eileen Cook 1:01:34
And I was like, just so struck by that, and he was like, I survived. Like, what? What can someone do to me now? How can I be scared of public speaking? When I fell off my roof and I am failing myself when I got up, right? Like, nothing like who's gonna stop me now? Right? Like, he's like, to know that and to like, basically have the worst thing that could ever happen. And I'm gonna move on. And I just remember when I left that room, it was like, This dude is gonna be fine.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:07
Yeah, like, like you were saying, it's the story he told himself because that could have been the below the line, like, my life is over. Look at me that happened.

Eileen Cook 1:02:15
I met again, because I worked in the I met a lot of people who had really minor what we'd call injuries, and it would be like it's over. I can't this I can't that. So for me, it's not what's happened to it's not the backstory in terms of Oh, I'm going to have that my character, you know, survived a plane crash or I'm going to give my character a backstory of they were raised in the foster care system. It's not what happened to them. It's what's the story, they tell themselves about what happened to them, that is going to change how they will react throughout your entire story.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
That is that is profound. I just because I just I literally just finished watching shits Creek, the whole binge the entire series in like, a couple of weeks, because it's amazing. But when you see those characters, and by the way, if no one's seen, it's on Netflix, watch it now. Those characters, the story, the story that they tell themselves that they lose, they they're, you know, hundreds of millions of other million multimillionaires and all their money is gone. And now they're stuck in this little town called chutes Creek. And there used to hanging out with Oprah and you know, Tiger Woods and all these other people. And now they're in a motel. And their whole life in their mind the story that they've told themselves this, my life is over, while people who live in the tundra like what do you ridiculous, I've been living here all my life, I'm fine. I'm happy. Like, you're like freaking out. Because you, you know, don't have room services. I'm like, but it's a story they tell. Because other people will look at that situation. And you're like, Oh, well, you know, there's only up from here, which is something that happens to those characters, they all start to change their story, right? At the end, they're like, I don't want to go. I don't want to leave. You know, spoiler alert. But generally speaking, I

Eileen Cook 1:04:06
can see that coming.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:09
And not to give you details, but generally the some of the characters just just don't want to go when given the option even to go back to their old life. They choose No, I, I like this. This is real to me. And that's so that's also profound, like as a character.

Eileen Cook 1:04:26
There's a great nonfiction book called atomic habits. I can't remember Yeah, great book. I can't remember who wrote it but a really smart guy. And you know, one of the things that he talks about is like if you want to change the habit that you have, you have to change your self concept and story right. And and that's part of it as well. You have to change the backstory that you tell yourself. So if you say like, I hate exercise, I hate working out like for a while, you know, I'm no good at that kind of stuff. I'm not fit all that kind of stuff for a while you can force yourself to change the action. You can make yourself get up And all that kind of stuff. But if you can find a way to change the concept of like, I'm someone who like, you know, I met, I don't like, you know, sports or whatever, but I like to move, I'm a strong person, I'm a flexible person, then your actions will start to match that. So real people, like our characters are just reflections of real people. So you want to ask yourself, what's the story they tell themselves about what happened? So again, it's not I think people get caught up in backstory, they see all these exercises, like, what are the five things that your character always has in their refrigerator? You know, and people be like, blah, blah, blah, like, well, I don't care, right? Unless there's something about that, right. Like, what does that tell me about them in terms of how they see themselves, what's important to them? That's what's interesting, because that's what's going to change what they do in other parts of their lives.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
Fair enough. I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in writing or in life?

Eileen Cook 1:06:08
I think the biggest thing that I learned is that I don't actually care what the rest of you think nearly as much as I thought that I did. So part of that was the assumption that everybody else was very concerned about me and watching me and paying attention to me. And you have this realization, like no one actually cared. Do you know what I mean? You look back at high school. And it was like, Oh, God, like Did anyone know this? Right? And it's like, nobody was paying any attention to you at all. And then it's also occurred to me that there's a lot smaller circle of people that I care about their opinion, and so I respect their opinions and everyone else. They all have one, right? If you write a book, you can look up any book and I always have new authors do this. Look up any book or look up any film that you know the film where you're like, this is the best movie ever made? There'll be someone who'd be like, Nick Casa Blanca, didn't like it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:01
I always I always tell writers like if you feel if you're feeling bad after a review or something like that, or filmmakers I go, I've been bad review Shawshank Redemption. Yeah. Bad review Godfather, like you just and I've read them and they're hilarious to read.

Eileen Cook 1:07:17
There's always someone who's not gonna like it. And it's like, I can worry about that person. Or I can worry about the people that matter. So

Alex Ferrari 1:07:23
Fair enough. Now, what did you learn from your biggest mistakes?

Eileen Cook 1:07:29
That I can survive? I think what you get is one of those life lessons if you can get back up, in most cases,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:38
What was the biggest fear you ever had to overcome when writing your first anything?

Eileen Cook 1:07:44
I think the biggest fear was, which is a truce, which is what is on the page is never as good as what's in your head. It goes through some sort of ugly metamorphosis, from like this brilliant idea in your brain to this like misshapen creature on the page. And that you have to work with that, that you have to accept that. You got to fix it. It doesn't come out pretty.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:08
There's sludge, there's sludge on it, a lot of sludge. And three of your favorite films of all time?

Eileen Cook 1:08:16
Shawshank Redemption would definitely be right on up there after my own heart. Also based on a great short story, so I'm going to give that I can't go wrong with that. I always watch Apollo 13. That's probably one of my if I'm going to watch like, you know, a tried and true. And I love old class. I love the Sinbad movies,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:41
The Sinbad movies. Oh,the thin man yeah, remember those Yeah,

Eileen Cook 1:08:47
I love I like an old classic noir kind of thing. So that would be on there as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:52
Very good mix. And where can people find out more about you and what you in the work you do?

Eileen Cook 1:08:57
Probably the easiest place to find me is Eileencook.com. But I'm on Twitter as Eileen cook writer and I usually have an opinion on something so you can find me there nice and easy. And if you're interested in being a writer, I'm on the creative Academy for writers calm and that's an online writing group. It's free. So it doesn't cost you anything to join. We have forums for screenwriting, we have forums for all different kinds of genres and all those kinds of fun things. We have a good time.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
We must have you back to talk in depth about character even more.

Eileen Cook 1:09:30
As you can tell, just keep talking if you don't shut me up.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:34
I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Eileen Cook 1:09:36
You bet. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:39
I want to thank Eileen for coming on the show and showing us how to create conflict with our stories and character. Thank you so much, Eileen. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to get her amazing book, creating story conflict, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv/104 and if you haven't done it already, guys, please head over to screenwritingpodcast.com and leave a good review for the show. It really, really helps us out a lot. Thank you so much for listening guys. As always keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.


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