The Non-Duality Of Character in Screenwriting


A novel approach to writing characters in your screenplay

When examining the inequity or discord between a character and the universe, we speak of non-duality. Non-duality is a Buddhist term used to describe the harmony, completeness and unity that exists between the two. Of course, the true journey of our main character begins when duality (call to adventure) strikes. The natural harmony and balance is interrupted and must be restored. Screenwriters call this the hero’s journey.

As flawed beings, characters live in a state of duality (unbalanced), where they define themselves by various habits, attitudes and belief systems. We wrongly disengage from our surroundings and define ourselves to prove who we are and to attain recognition and status to bolster our egos. Such self-centeredness causes dysfunctionality as we take from those around us and selfishly manipulating the world for our needs.

Striving to achieve a state of non-duality is the essence of character arcs in all screenplays. The main character realizes that they must undertake the journey when they stop and become present in the current moment to gain awareness of the situation. Once their natural world has been disrupted, they can either drift along aimlessly, or actively restore a state of non-duality (harmony) as they become one with their environment.

The concept of self does not exist in Buddhism as Westerners see it. We are one with the universe. Similarly, it is restrictive to talk of a hero’s journey in screenwriting solely in terms of achieving a personal goal. A hero has a personal ambition, but the true texture of a story becomes enriched when we see how the main character has instigated change in his surroundings and other people.

Since characters are driven by consciousness and consciousness is the essence of the universe, they cannot be separated. A shift in consciousness is analogous to a character’s transformation. They change from viewing their world with fear to acceptance.

The essence of consciousness lies in its desire to reach a higher truth. The truth isn’t a holy grail, but rather a shifting ideal/perception based on what the main character knows and where the story exists at a given point in time. Seeking the truth occurs from changing a character’s way of thinking more than their way of doing things.

The natural state of the human mind is one of contentment. It is only when we enter the dangerous state of non-duality, do we realize that we think we lack certain things; a new job, a partner or money.

These concepts will hopefully encourage screenwriters to examine characters more deeply by adding a spiritual and esoteric dimension to them.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. sometimes I think a truly non dual would be boring and not very dramatic–he just accepts everything with equanimity
    –raising not even one eyebrow —-John carleton

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