Ana K. Wrenn portrait



Photo Credit: The Sapphic Book Review(July 2023)

This blog post is long overdue.

Last July, while I attended my first Golden Crown Literary Society Con, I spoke during a panel about scripting theory, and several attendees asked me to write about it, especially in relation to storytelling. So, without further delay....

What are scripts?

If you’re already thinking about Cate Blanchett rehearsing lines for her starring role in Carol (2015) or Viola Davis doing a run-through for an episode of How to Get Away with Murder (2014-2020), you’re on the right track. See, we all carry around scripts that help guide us during our daily performances and social interactions; it’s just that most of them are in our heads, rather than a physical copy in our hands.

Scripts advise us how to behave, what to think, and how to respond, and most of the time we don’t even know we’re using them. Think about when you greet someone in person. Even if you feel wretched, you might slap a smile on your face, shake hands, hug, or bow—whatever’s customary in your part of the world—and act like everything’s fine. That’s because these scripts are mainly unconscious and habitual, and we end up using them without much thought at all.

But scripts do way more than guide our behaviors. They also inform our judgments.

First, let’s tackle one kind of script, cultural scripts, typically invisible, silent ways that our dominant culture tells us what’s normal and abnormal.

I grew up in the Southern US and was taught that women and girls are supposed to “act right” (a saying in these parts), and if we didn’t, then we could get punished. Like a woman who doesn’t smile when greeted: she could be scolded, “You’d be pretty if you smiled,” be called, “Bitch,” get coldly shunned or viciously harassed.

Personally, I love so-called “difficult women” who resist larger gendered scripts about how females are supposed to act and talk. Like Annalise Keating (HTGAWM), a protag who openly defies traditional ladylike behaviors. She unapologetically has lovers, female and male, and is aggressive in and out of the courtroom.

If you've watched the movie Carol, you already understand how broader cultural scripts (*clears throat* heteronormativity, patriarchy) complicates Carol and Therese’s budding relationship, forcing them to go to great lengths to be together without facing punishment from the larger society, family, etc. The next time you watch that movie, notice how Carol and Therese use objects (camera, piano) to explore their growing intimacy while seemingly abiding by societal expectations.

Second, let’s tackle interpersonal scripts, communication, acts, and deeds that are considered ab/normal within a given relationship.

Lee Winter is a master of playing with tension between cultural scripts and interpersonal scripts. In Vengeance Planning for Amateurs (VP4A), notice how Dr. Blackwood, a retired academic, behaves at the beginning of the novel, especially when in a position of authority. How does she perform in the larger world, and in contrast, while she occupies her private spaces? Who does she touch? How does she touch? And as this Ice Queen develops relationships, how do her interpersonal scripts shift? Hint: think face stroking and the act of undressing. Sigh....

As you’ve likely already gathered, interpersonal scripts can complement or contradict cultural scripts. Ice Queens (IQ), for instance, are often high-achieving members of cultures that revere wealth and power, but as the IQ protag emotionally melts, she/they explore other ways of being and acting—but only within the context of very special relationships (think of Fiona Zedde’s Agnes and Lola in House of Agnes, Lee Winter’s Michelle and Eden in The Fixer, Milena McKay’s Magdalene and Sam in The Headmistress, and Roslyn Sinclair’s Ari and the Assistant in The Lily & the Crown).

Third and finally, there are intrapsychic scripts, the do’s and don’ts we have in our head that guide our perceptions and behaviors.

Let's explore some examples (while avoiding spoilers).

For example, in Carol,what messages does Theresa send herself as she begins “breaking the rules” of falling in love with an older, married woman? What about Jae’s modern classic, Backwards to Oregon? How do Luke and Nora privately make sense of their shifting identities and feelings (think about self-talk)? How do they negotiate their growing attraction, intimacy, and love in a world that reviles them both? And in VP4A, Dr. Blackwood keeps a journal, a wonderful way of helping the reader see how those intrapsychic scripts shift across the story, especially as the protag heals from heartache and considers opening herself to love again.

Intrapsychic scripts can convey a protag's contradictory and complementary emotions, such as both wanting and fearing love. Character growth, as well as internalized homophobia, racism, and sexism, can be explored with self-talk/internalized messages (such as Dr. Crystal Byrd in my debut novel, Strange Attractors who reveals personal stories throughout the book about being a successful academic while also surviving intersecting racism, sexism, and biphobia).

Keep in mind that these three scripts (cultural, interpersonal, intrapsychic) work together and against each other, leaving characters—and ourselves—feeling bewildered, empowered, determined, and defeated, simultaneously.

All people, IRL or in books/movies, are guided by cultural scripts, negotiate interpersonal scripts in their own relationships, and are subjected to various intrapsychic scripts.

What creates tension, moves the plot, and reveals character is when protags become aware of the scripts at play, then flip those scripts, actively deciding which do’s and don’ts will guide their actions, lives, and relationships, essentially helping them declare,"I'm in control of my stories now" (D.A. Hartman, Round Trip).

Okay, I’m wrapping up now to continue putting the protags of my upcoming book through the wringer. 😊 Stay tuned.