How Your Screenplay Characters Perceive Their Truth
Screenwriters should write from a place of truth. Your characters should behave in the same way. But what is truth? Is it simply a logical, intellectual statement that comports to a verifiable fact? Or is truth a malleable judgment that can be influenced by morality, beliefs, cultural norms, personal bias, and emotions.
The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia, which literally means to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured. Socrates says that aletheia (Greek, ‘truth’) is a compression of the phrase ‘a wandering that is divine. (another god)
The Hebrew word for “truth” is emeth, which translates as “firmness,” “constancy” and “duration.” Such a definition implies an everlasting substance and something that can be relied upon. Truth has a degree of permanence to it.
Truth is a property not so much of thoughts and ideas, but more properly of beliefs and assertions. Truth is that which conforms to reality, fact, or actuality. All these are definitions are equally valid and open to interpretation.
The simplest definition of truth is a fact – something that reflects reality. Something can be dichotomously be shown to be correct or incorrect – like a mathematical equation.
How does truth relate to screenwriting?
The main character of any screenplay represents a particular point of view. Something that is real and specific to them. It demonstrates what they perceive to be the truth.
Truth can also have a more nuanced meaning. When someone lives their truth it means living their authentic self in a way that most accurately represents who they are.
Let’s take a look at some ways your characters can express their truth in your screenplay:
– Fixed Truth
Fixed truth is tangible and immutable. It is objective, unquestionable, and absolute. One hundred is a bigger number than eighty. You must always stop at a red light. This will generally never change.
This is often a religious concept without definable parameters. Buddhists are in search of nirvana while Christians consider heaven to be the ultimate truth. It is often considered a higher truth that can never be objectively proved, but can be known and achieved.
This is the easiest type of truth to identify. It is a mathematical truth based entirely on consensus reason and logic. There is no room for interpretation. The statement “Earth is the third planet from the sun is correct.” This is largely the fixed truth in that all the empirical evidence indicates that this is factually correct. Unless another planet is discovered.
A myth is quite obviously a lie fabricated by folklore. It includes fables, tales, legends, parables, and fairy tales. Everybody knows that fairy godmothers or Big Foot don’t exist in a physical form, yet these myths persist because they represent a deeper truth to the human condition. It takes a lie to reveal the truth.
This is another type of evidence-based truth that is almost entirely based on objective facts. The law is reason free from passion. A large part of judicial training is to examine the admissible evidence in relation to the law. There is no room for personal opinions. However, the law can be interpreted into a verdict, even with all the facts, especially when determining the degree of a crime.
– Changeable Truth
Changeable truth is a more mercurial concept and is subject to change. That isn’t to say that they are not true, but rather that they are true at a particular point in time. Two characters are in love. Their relationship is in the honeymoon period. They go through a rocky patch. They argue, maybe temporarily agree “to see other people.” They could reconcile more in love than ever after resolving their differences, or they could go their separate ways.
Political truth is a curious truth. People can support a particular political party for life without question. They will vote for the said party regardless of changes in policy and leadership.
Consider changes in political ideology. Conservatism and Liberalism may drift further toward their respective extremes of the political spectrum, or toward the center. Party purity is at odds with present society and forced to change.
Churches too, face this dilemma of succumbing to pressure to reform and modernize or remaining steadfast in traditional values.
This type of truth is often referred to as “societal truth.” It is a constructivist type of truth born from the moral values and constructs of a community of the time. It is beyond a simple opinion such as, “Every worker should be paid a minimum wage.” It is a truth agreed upon by general consensus.
“I am a good person.” This is both a matter of perception and aspiration. Personal truths can either be measured against internal or external benchmarks. A personal truth refers to how a character views themselves regardless of how they are viewed by others.
This is the most subjective kind of truth not necessarily tied to facts. It relates to deep-seated, visceral feelings that form the basis of a character’s personality. It is the basis of a strong connection to something like art, a situation, or a person.
The fluidity of truth arises when new facts or a new awakening come to light. There is a shift in prevailing paradigms to move a truth from a fixed to changeable state, or to call it a former truth or a lie.
The challenge to knowledge is knowing when you know enough to be right and not knowing enough to know when you are wrong.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
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