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Character Is Contradiction

“Look for the contradictions in every character, especially in your heroes and villains. No one should be what they first seem to be. Surprise the audience.”

–Elia Kazan, “Kazan on Directing”

Here’s another quote that I love. Walt Whitman, the great poet of “Leaves of Grass” wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well! For I am large, I contain multitudes.” Amen, Walt.

“Leaves Of Grass” is ripe with the contradiction of humanity, therefore it’s a document that lives and breathes humanity.

What are your contradictions?

Keep in mind that it’s impossible for any human being to be “the same” all the time. Would we be the slightest bit interesting if we were the same all the time?

You can allow your own contradiction to spark your interests creatively.

In the communications work that I share with writing and presenting the monologue, you can take your character (you) from a flat one to a dynamic three-dimensional character. How is this helpful to you? More importantly, how is this helpful to you becoming the voice for your client? In a myriad of ways.

If you’re a trial lawyer this will reveal itself in your courtroom demeanor as well as give depth and understanding to the “character” (your client) you are asking the judge and jury to feel for…even if that person comes across as unlikable. Instead of fighting the contradictions, you’re using them to your advantage. You’re balancing the opposites. You’re using your own humanity to your advantage!

We are, each and every one of us, filled with an enormous treasure trove of contradictions, that we spend an excessive amount of unproductive energy fighting.

Think about the bully at school who pushes everyone, yet has an enormous capacity to express genuine feeling with classical music. I knew a guy like that. What’s the softness under the rough exterior? Or vise versa?

Search through the giant canvas of your life. Go back to your childhood. Your college years. Look at your relationships. Take a look at where you are now. Look closely at your contradictions, those moments where what you were saying was not what you were doing, and visa versa. Where you were having dinner with a longtime friend and couldn’t say what was really in your heart. Like it or not, as painful as those moments may be, they help define our identities, our character. Use them. Don’t downplay them. They’re juicy on stage, and absolutely necessary to the creation of not just a compelling character but a compelling story in the courtroom.

Use it. Every single ounce of it. Character is contradiction.

Defining your rich contradictions will pave the road for you to take a look at the crossroads in your life… and help tell not just “the greater story” but also the winning story.

In a great monologue by David Mamet, he’s got a character, a rough around the edges longshoreman who confessed to a boy how he used to want to be a dancer. ‘Not tap,’ he says. But ‘a real ballet dancer.’ He reveals this incredibly vulnerable side to the boy.

That’s great contradiction. That’s a great character.

Working With You And Your Team

I’d love to discuss working with you and your team on your next case. Please feel free to give me a call. Among the pre-trial and jury trial consulting that I share, here are other ways to benefit from Tell The Winning Story:

  • Law Firm CLE Customized Workshops
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  • Monthly CLE Accredited Workshops
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