When it comes to stage or screen, the most important aspect of any story to be told is the script. Filmmaker and Friend of Geelong Waterfront Film, Mark P Sinozic explains.
The script is the foundation upon which theatre and film and television is based. Without a solid script, it doesn’t matter who you cast or what camera you use or how many special effects you pack in, the end result will always be a mess.
There are certain principles to creating a good script and they are universal. They go beyond genre and are necessary for any writer who wishes to expand their skills and talent and pen works of art that will shine in the final product.
PLOT OR CHARACTER?
One of the most prominent ways in which stories can be divided is whether they are plot driven or character driven.
Plot driven stories are often formulaic, predicable and uninteresting in regards to the characters. The plot of these stories is more important than the actions of the characters themselves who often become two dimensional and flat.
Character driven stories places the emphasis on the characters, who are they, what do they want, love, need? It is the actions and decisions of the characters that drive the plot. Overwhelmingly, audiences enjoy character driven stories over plot driven stories.
The reason for this is simple, an audience can connect and relate to characters that have depth and a sense of realism, as if they are real people we can get to know. This is the sort of investment you as a writer want from the audience. You want them glued to the screen to see what happens next. This is not easy. Writing any story requires revision, planning, forethought, connections and creating history and reasoning for your characters.
DETAILS OF CHARACTER
Your main character is usually the driving force of your story.
As a writer, you want to craft a character that has depth and a starting point for their arc.
The adventure they are about embark on will change them in some way and this change begins at the very start, while you are creating and planning your character. But first, who is your main character? This is the most important question a writer has to answer and in doing so you discover the main characters – ‘Want and Need’.
Want and Need can be classified as External and Internal respectively.
Want is the External desire of the character. What do they want to do? As an example, Frodo in the Lord of the Rings Wants to destroy the Ring. The Want works towards building the Plot of the film.
The Need is Internal and continuing the example, Frodo must realize he needs the friendship of his best friend Sam to achieve victory. The Need works towards the Themes of the story. A character’s Want comes with physical obstacles. Their Need comes with psychological obstacles like denial, delusion, manipulation, etc. As one explores the Wants and Needs of a character, you will find that they complement each other, creating strong reinforcements that build a character into an almost living person. It is far easier to write these characters once you have gone through this process because you understand how they will react to certain situations. This also means you will likely avoid characters making silly or ridiculous decisions that jolt your audience out of the narrative.
Not only do the Want and Need of your character shape the character itself, it helps to build up the plot and shape what is to come. However, characters do not just exist in stories. They grow and change from one mental state to another. As writers, how do we do that? Lots of times, writers will think that if the characters just changes in some way then there is the character arc. This is not so.
To arc your characters requires planning and determining where they are in their life at the start of the story then with your Want and Need you can see where they need to finish and everything that happens to your character during the story helps build the steps of their arc from beginning to end. So how do you do that? Well, first, you need to know your characters Lie and Ghost (also Trauma).
The Lie is some sort of inaccuracy that the character believes about themselves. It is what is going to be challenged and something they must overcome in order to achieve their Want.
The Ghost or Trauma is a traumatic experience that reinforces the Lie for the character in question. For example, you might have a main character whose Lie is that they believe they are good for nothing in this life. They have no prospects and no chances to pick themselves up. Maybe they are homeless. Their Ghost or Trauma could be that they were thrown out of their family home at a young age by neglectful or cruel parents. Here you have a character with a specific beginning, a point that is specific to them and which their arc becomes obvious. This character is going to learn they are not useless, they are good for something in this life.
When you apply the Want and Need to a characters Lie and Ghost, you not only have a character arc but you begin to see the main story of your script. Using our homeless character as an example, their Want could be that they desire to become a great actor or performer, earning love and praise. Their Need would be that they need to believe in themselves, to believe they are good for something that they can change and are in command of their lives. Here we have the beginnings of a ‘rags to riches’ story with a main character that has a Lie, Ghost, the back story of cruel and neglectful parents and a clear Want and Need.
The writing and character development technique I have described above requires practice, practice, practice. It is a complex technique to master and there is so much more to all this than what I can cover in this article. When I came across this technique, I was blown away by how much depth it allowed one to create. Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was something I learnt from one of my three university degrees. However, I actually picked this up from a Youtube video and a series of books published by a range of authors. I must admit to being quite disappointed in the somewhat limited knowledge I was taught by University, and I do feel there is a lot simply not being taught.
This is not the only way to create character arcs and in-depth characters. It is a very interesting way of doing it. For most of my writing, I have actually done very little planning and have relied on instinct. I spend quite a while thinking about a hook for the story. This hook could be a character who pops into my head quite well formed or a story point around which I build characters and story. A lot of the time, I produce very interesting works of fiction, both prose and script. Other times, this does not pan out and I find certain ideas run out of steam. As you can imagine, I have quite a few unfinished stories and if you’re a writer, if you love writing then I would hazard a guess that you too also have plenty of half finished works.
The process I have outlined above is just one way of crafting and writing your stories. I do feel it is one of the best ways to develop characters. Like every discipline, writing takes practice, practice, practice. Always keep writing and never stick to just one story. Have several stories on the go. Eventually, working on the one-story idea can lead to a burn out, boredom or a brick wall. Having other projects to move onto will help keep you refreshed and provide you with a brand-new setting and story to focus on. Meanwhile, your subconscious will be free to mull over the previous story and slowly work through any problems you might have encountered. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new styles. One never knows where that might lead one.
So, people, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and write, write, write.
Words: Mark Sinozic