In Scott Adam's book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big"1 the author reflects on a goal that he was unable to achieve. He mentions how he wanted to create a Dilbert movie and worked at for 15 years with no success. He doesn't make it clear why. In this blog entry, we will explore the Hero's journey model for storytelling and place the character Dilbert in the story as the hero. In this series, I will refer frequently to (Field, 2018) who wrote and revised a landmark book on how to write screenplays. For this post, I will use page numbers from my Kindle (which I will update later once I get the paperback version.)
Every good story has a hero with a goal. The hero has a need for something (Field, 2018, p.39, Kindle Version). Field (2018) explains the importance of the character's needs which will propel the character in a series of challenges. As the primary character works through the challenges or obstacles, he/she will both achieve one or more goals and become a different person (e.g., more confident, happier, wealthier, healthier, more humble, more kind .. etc.). Consider a simple example of the Christmas story Elf (Hobbs, 2008). Elf is a human in an elfin world. He starts with a tragedy. He mother and father abandon him to an orphanage. He is accidentally removed from that environment and placed in a new foreign environment where he continually is inferior to his peers, the other elves. He suddenly learns that he's not an elf. He becomes angry and anxious. He decides to set off on a journey to accomplish a goal. He wants to (1) find his real father, and (2) learn who he really is, and (3) develop confidence. As a bonus he finds the love of his life. In the end, he achieves all of his goals. He overcomes obstacles along the way, gets the girl, and develops the confidence he needs to be successful. If you stop and think about this model, you can identify the flaws of any hero that may have resulted from a tragic event, and follow the hero on their journey to fix one or more flaws and achieve one or more goals. In Batman, his parents are killed and he's raised by the butler. In Superman, his homeland is destroyed and he's orphaned to a foreign world, raised by a race other than his own. Superman must go on a journey to understand who he is, reconnect with his roots, and vanquish the enemy. Wonder Woman doesn't know who her father is. She is different than everyone else but doesn't know why. She must leave home to learn who she is and develop her ability to use her special skills to achieve a series of goals. Doesn't that sound familiar? You may even have your own personal heroes' journey story.
I am going to draft Dilbert as the Hero, and break down his character, his needs and goals. Every good story has a back story (e.g. Superman's homeland story, Flash's mother is killed and his father is blamed, the Arrow is an arrogant playboy, who watches as his father kills himself, and is then shipwrecked on an island, etc.). I'm not sure what I am using so many DC comic references, but they just seem to fit the model nicely.
DISCLAIMER: I do not have permissions to use Dilbert the character to write a screenplay. I am doing this as a fun-creative academic exercise to develop my talent stack. I have written a few short stories and researched a topic called Entertainment Education in my PhD work. I am doing this because I enjoy the process and I hope that this will inspire you to do something similar.
Dilbert as the Hero
Backstory Part 1: Dilbert is about 8 years old (circa 1975) and sitting at the breakfast table with his mom who's cooking. You only see the mother’s back. A small dog is in the scene and frequently walks into the wall during the conversation. Dilbert has a very large stack of text books sitting next to him on the table. It is also clear that he has a Star Trek book in the stack, "How to speak Klingon".
DILBERT (child): Mom, where’s dad?
MOM: Oh dear, you father is still at the all you can eat buffet. The sign says … all you can eat. You know Dad, he’s not a quitter.
DILBERT: Mom, it’s Monday. We went to the mall on Saturday. You don’t actually want me to believe that Dad is still at the buffet?
MOM: Oh Dilbert, you know your father. He taught you to never face down a challenge. If you work hard …
Dilbert: … and learn something new everyday you will be a success. Yes mom, I know.
Backstory Part 2: Dilbert as a very young child begged his parents to have pets. His mother would give lame reasons for why they could not have pets. They eventually give in.
DILBERT (child): Mom, Dad .. can we get a dog? I promise to take care it.
MOM: Dilbert, you and your Father are allergic to dogs.
DILBERT: We can take allergy medicines.
MOM: The dog will shed all over the plastic covering on the couch.
Dilbert: I will clean up after him every day.
Finally, mom and dad gave in and they got a dog who started to go blind. One day Dilbert came home and his dog was gone.
Dilbert: Mom, where’s my dog?
MOM: Dilbert, he’s in doggy heaven.
Rather than pay for the eye surgery, they had put down Dilbert’s first dog. He never wanted a dog ever again. Dilbert later settled for a hamster who he named Hambert. Dilbert was afraid that Hambert would bite him, so he picked him up with a work glove. When Hambert tried to bite through the glove, Dilbert flung the little guy across the room smacking him into the wall and he died. Dilbert was a murderer at 10, scarred for life.
1. Does Dilbert have sufficient flaws and tragic events to propel him on a journey of change?
2. Does Dilbert have a clear goal or mission to achieve, or maybe more than one?
1. Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Portfolio/Penguin, 2014.
2. Field, Syd. Screenplay: the Foundations of Screenwriting. Langara College, 2018.
3. Hobbs, Buddy. Elf: a Short Story of a Tall Tale. Price Stern Sloan, 2008.