As some of you may have already seen the second instalment of my screenwriting workshop. In February I discussed characters. This blog post turned out to be a very long one but I feel I didn’t even scratch the surface on the subject. A single character can make or break a screenplay. Just ask George Lucas. His character Jar Jar Binks quickly become one of the most disliked characters in the science fiction genre. What makes a good character? Depth. The character is three dimensional. There is more to them than just the plot around them. A good character has a history, they have a past before the movie and a future after the movie.
In the workshop post I talked briefly about the character’s flaw. Every character should have a flaw. It is the flaw that helps make a character more realistic. Gone are the days where the hero wore the white hat and the villain wore the black hat. A good hero has a flaw that he starts the screenplay hiding behind. At the start of the movie the hero is in a position where he has moulded his life around his flaw. In the movie Sideways Miles’ flaw was an inability to have meaningful interactions with others. His only true friend was a man he shared no common ground with. He’s at his best in the world of wine tasting and we see him open up a little once he is completely engulfed in that world. Then he meets Maya and we start to see Jack come out of his shell. He starts to turn away from his flaw in order to be with Maya.
Where does the flaw come from? A lot of Miles’ problem comes from the pain of his divorce, which he addresses towards the end of the film. Your character’s flaw should come from a past event in there life. In my own screenplay my lead character Eric Knight’s flaw is his arrogance. He’s always right, especially when he’s wrong. Being so opinionated leads Eric to become the vigilante, Knight Shadow. He truly believes he’s above the law and the world is waiting for him to issue justice to the world of crime. Giving a character a flaw is only the beginning. During the movie the character needs to confront situations where he must decide about either keeping or abandoning his flaw. Eric will be faced with an event that will cause him to reconsider his arrogance. He will need to ask for help, something the Eric at the beginning of the film would never do even with his dying breath.
Point of View
In March, my workshop topic will be the setting of your screenplay. While I’ll focus on locations, the setting also helps develop a character’s history as well. This is the character’s Point of View. Where the character was born and where they grew up will influence how they see the world around them. A character who grew up in the rough part of a city will be considered street-wise who would have decided between living a life of their own or falling into gangs or drugs. While the same character who grew up on a farm in the country would know nothing about gangs but could assist with delivering a calf. Each of these lead characters would give you a completely different films. A character whose parents divorced while he was in high school would be different from a character who parents remained married until the day one of them died. The environment has a influence on everyone and that gives a person character.
I can hear some of you moaning. Most people are taught that stereotyping is a bad thing and they shouldn’t paint a group of people with the same brush. While I agree in real life every person is an individual, in a screenplay stereotypes bring a lot to the screenplay. Don’t look poorly on the power of the stereotype. When you describe your hero as Swedish there are some characteristics that your audience will think of immediately, such as blonde hair. These stereotypes bring a wealth of information to the character without the author putting a lot of time into him. What your job would be is to take one or two of these stereotypical characteristics and give them a twist. A Chinese man with the last name of Woodsworth would suddenly make your audience wonder what is in this man’s history to give him such a culturely unusual last name. Suddenly your audience is interested in learning a little more about this character.
And that is the point of creating a character with depth, getting the audience interested and invested in your character. You need to keep your audience’s attention for 12o pages and characters with personality and life will do that.
See you soon, Steve