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An Itch to Scratch

Banes at 12:00AM, May 9, 2024

I first heard the phrase “an itch to scratch” from the creators/writers of Better Call Saul. When they were expanding and deepening the “Saul” character from Breaking Bad, they needed to change a comedic side character into a fully rounded lead character. And Vince Giligan said that an early thing they worked to figure out was Saul's itch that he had to scratch.

It's a term about an inner conflict or contrast of some kind - something that bothers the character, that makes their journey through life and the story more complicated and difficult - and more interesting for an audience!

In a series, the itch might not connect to a specific plot right away. It's adding a layer to a character that we can see them struggle with, and see where that leads.

One approach to this “itch” is to have a character who, whether they realize it or not, wants more than one thing at the same time, and those things are in conflict with each other.

This is very human, and handled incredibly well in Better Call Saul, especially with Saul/Jimmy, and Kim.

It shows up in movies, too, and can drive a plot in a powerful way.

Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) in Unforgiven, wants to walk a straight and narrow path, give a life to his children, and leave his violent past behind him. But the family is desperately poor, and the only option given to him to make some real money is to go back to that life of killing.

Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) in Rounders, wants to honor his promise to quit playing poker and finish law school, but he's also pulled by the needs of his life as a card player and the friends who are still involved in that (and also the rush he gets from living that lifestyle).

Will Hunting (Matt Damon again) in Good Will Hunting, wants to live his current life of drinking, fighting and hanging with his friends, but also feels the pull to use his intelligence and test it. The conflicts multiply when he's torn between his emotional comfort zone and the demands of his therapist to confront his issues.

It counts as a character “itch”, i think, if the conflicting desires come from within the character, at least a little bit, and not that the character is forced into it. Even Will Munny in Unforgiven, I think, has some inner pull toward his former life. It's harder to resist because of external forces, but the inner conflict is there I think.

Anyway, that's all for this time!

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PaulEberhardt at 9:07AM, May 10, 2024

I like that expression! It very accurately describes how these characters must feel. It's a bit different from "It's just in my nature," said the scorpion in that the incentive to get back to their old ways seems to come from the outside rather than the inside - even if these outside influences are a consequence of their past lives and the inside certainly gives the final push.

Ozoneocean at 8:34PM, May 9, 2024

An "itch to scratch" or "to scratch an itch" its about unresolved wants and the want to address them- Just a want rather than a need. It's mostly what Bravo describes but it's not just a character motivation it is as likely to be a creator motivation too, like with Saul they looked at that character and thought "hmmm... I'd love to do more with this guy one day"

J_Scarbrough at 8:12AM, May 9, 2024

Really? Because that phrase has been around long before BREAKING BAD was even a thing.

bravo1102 at 7:27AM, May 9, 2024

Itch to scratch is like taking a journey. Something the character always wanted to do, something that always bothered them and now they have the opportunity. It could be the journey that is the story or how scratching the itch changes their lives.

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