Thursday, March 15, 2007

"X" marks the problem.

If you've been following along, you've probably got a rough idea of your story. In the last installment, we broke the story down into short paragraphs that look at each ten minutes or so. We then measured those beats against our one-word THEME and our one-sentence DESCRIPTION.

And we put an X next to each short paragraph that didn't necessarily sound like it came from that story.

You may have one X, or none. You may have a page full of X's. You may well have not been able to break your story down into ten-minute beats. No worries. Here's where the fun part comes in.

CHARACTER. We all think we know what it means. It's the guy on screen, right? Well, kind of. Actually character is a lot more than that.

Character is a set of traits that lets an audience engage the story. It's why they care. It's how they identify. New writers almost always take this stuff for granted. Don't.

We're talking about making a character sympathetic or likable. Hannibal Lecter is neither. But he's a great character. Why? To my mind, there are two reasons.

He has a POSITIVE GOAL. He's himself, and he's intent on showing his superiority at every turn.

He possesses DRAMATIC POTENTIAL. We can experience what he experiences vicariously. This is the quality that turns something horrific and nasty in real life into entertainment.

I think just about every good character has these two traits, but character is pretty much an infinite field -- just like human nature.

Take a moment and write down everything you know about your character.

Now write three things you DIDN'T know about your character. How do you do this? Imagine it, yo. It's all in there.

Think of as much as you can. Take some time with this. Why?

Because these traits are the tools of a screenwriter. Find what's unique. Find what's exciting. Find what'll keep your character from having to stop the plot and teach us all about the intricacies of hedge funding.

We'll apply these to your X's in the next post.

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