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Much has been written about the subject of BE-DO-HAVE in the self-help arena. But applying it to screenwriting can be very helpful as well.


Much has been written about the subject of BE-DO-HAVE in the self-help arena. But applying it to screenwriting can be very helpful as well.

The basic elements of every story and character are be-do-have.

For a movie to be successful and keep our interest, its characters must accurately play out their roles through being, doing and having. Too much being, represented by characters always talking, is unsatisfying. So is too much doing, such as films with incessant car chases, explosions or treks. Similarly, too much having, in terms of environments and objects, without the balance of being and doing, generally results in a poor film.

The parallel to be-do-have in writing is dialogue-action-setting (setting in terms of the solid objects in the story, including location, hardware, bodies, explosions, etc.). A writer establishes the being of a character with dialogue. The doing in a story is described in the action. The having is how the writer describes the setting and objects of the story.

A film story is primarily about doing (action), but in order for the action to be meaningful and not pointlessly boring, there must also be a good amount of being (dialogue) and having (objects). Balance is the key.

A story starts in a state of being. The opening state of being could be said to be “normal”. This is the world we are introduced to at the opening of the film. The protagonist begins in a state of being which includes a personal goal. He is attempting to do something in order to have what he wants, but this usually isn’t working out so well for him in act one. That’s because he’s got the wrong ‘being’ which results in the wrong doing and no, or unwanted, having.

Let me make this a bit more real for you.

Kung Fu Panda © DreamWorks Animation

Po being...

Let’s break down the film Kung Fu Panda in terms of be-do-have.

Po is a fat, clumsy panda working as a server in his father’s noodle shop (being) who dreams of defeating an array of enemies with his kung fu prowess (doing) in order to gain respect as a master (having). Po’s normal world is then interrupted when the antagonist, Tai Lung, a vengeful kung fu warrior (being) escapes from prison in order to destroy his old kung fu master (doing) and get the magical Dragon Warrior scroll (having).

These two dynamics—Po’s be-do-have and Tai Lung’s be-do-have—come in conflict which results in the plot.

The key to developing a good plot is to have the protagonist’s personal be-do-have be thwarted by the antagonist’s be-do-have. This results in a change of the protagonist’s be-do-have to that necessary to stop the antagonist. It is this change that begins the character arc. But it is not the end.

Kung Fu Panda © DreamWorks Animation

Po doing...

Po’s original being changes when he is threatened by the approach of Tai Lung. He goes from clumsy noodle server to Dragon Warrior trainee. His doing also changes. Instead of serving noodles he is performing kung fu, albeit clumsily at first. His personal goal (to gain respect as a kung fu master) is interrupted and instead he is shamed to be seen as a terrible klutz at kung fu. Thus, he is forced to have something he does not want (in this case the opposite of his originally desired have). His desire changes and he wishes to now have something different. Instead of his dream of having the respect due a true kung fu warrior, he simply wants the magic scroll in hopes that it will give him the power he needs to defeat Tai Lung.

Kung Fu Panda © DreamWorks Animation

Po having!

After gaining the dragon scroll Po goes through another and final change of be-do-have. He realizes that what he really needs is a change of being not having. He needs to trust in his own innate skills, not an outside object (the scroll). This is the change of being that results in Po’s successful doing (in terms of kung fu prowess) and ultimate having (in terms of gaining respect from Master Shifu for being a kung fu warrior).

All good character arc’s end in a change of being that leads to the correct doing and attainment of the protagonist’s original desired have.

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved