Friday, March 16, 2007

Tools and Character

Now we've identified a set of problems in our story with X's. And, by describing and building out our characters, we've got some solutions. Wha?! We do?!

Yes, we do. One more rule for a good story, not only must the story be identifiable throughout, so must the character. Think about it. What would happen if you watched an action film all the way to the climax, and then the hero got himself out of his pickle because of something that wasn't established earlier? It would seem like a cop out, right? Characters need to be organic, and they need to grow. The audience wants to explore them, whether they're fighting aliens or dealing with a divorce.

So take your X's. And take your list of character traits. What can your character DO to solve the problem? Find a trait and try matching it to a problem, then brainstorm possibilities.

Inevitably, action and visual convey information much better than dialogue. They are also more entertaining. Let's go back to the hedge fund trading issue -- an issue that's complex and difficult for the audience, but necessary for the plot.

What's the hedge fund trader like? He's ambitious, driven, ruthless, greedy. He's a womanizer and he's got a penchant for expensive gadgets. His weak spot? He feels guilty about his mother, who lives alone and misses him, but he never has time for.

How do you match these two problems?

Bob the hedge fund manager is in his office. He stares at his computer screen.

His secretary arrives with an important file. He tells her to get out.

He watches the numbers on the screen tumble.

His wife calls. He doesn't answer.

The numbers fall further. Beads of sweat form on his forehead.

His mistress calls him from the restaurant. He's late.

As the price on the fund drops to 25,000, he sends in his order.

As it goes through, he holds up his hand in triumph. The phone rings again.

He picks it up, expecting his wife.

"What do you want?"

His mother answers, "Bobby? Is that you?"

He shuffles to get off the phone, but fails to notice that the price is now moving in the wrong direction.

We know all we need to know, and we've learned more about him.

Next time: The instinct to go with dialogue.

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