Thursday, September 10, 2009

Throw out the shrink

When you have a character with serious emotional needs it's often tempting to throw him in the room with a shrink so he can talk freely about his feelings and get advice form a professional. Don't do it.

On The Sopranos, the shrink was interesting because the idea of a mobster seeking therapy started out as the key premise of the show, and eventually became a real plot element as his therapy mixed with his mob life.

In The Wackness, a kid's therapy life mixes with his real life when he deals drugs to his therapist and takes him on a tour of the kid's seedy underworld.

In both cases, the therapist was part of the story. If your therapist's only purpose is to let the character vent, take that therapist out. Replace them with an existing character and find some less on-the-nose dialogue choices.

All a therapist is most of the time is a chance for your character to say some on-the-nose stuff about his feelings while two people sit in a room and stare at each other. It's not the most exciting way to go about things. Instead, have your character try to say those things to someone he's already close to.

Let's say he has mother issues. He really resents his mother for making him feel like he's not good enough. One scene with him trying to impress his mother will tell us all of that without him having to say it directly and without him having to sit in a room staring at a therapist. You can instead have him doing something, and in that scene we learn about him and his mother - two characters at once.

I've done this before. I had a project once where a character had a therapist scene. Then I thought, who else could she tell this to? And where could she do it? And the scene not only got more interesting, but I discovered a plot twist I didn't know I had.

I know a lot of people throw that shrink's visit in there because it's your first instinct when you're thinking about character emotions. I think everyone should resist that temptation and figure out a better way. I think it will always end up better if you do.


  1. It's funny. I literally JUST read this. I was in the middle of a bad script and came here to take a break, only to see you citing the cliche I read not five minutes earlier. Creepy.

  2. That is weird. I guess it's a pretty common thing.

    For me since I like explosions, any time I see a shrink scene I'm immediately wishing someone would explode.


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