"The Basics On" investigates one aspect of screenwriting in depth. This entry will focus on the ins and outs of building dynamic characters who drive action, and why a weak or underdeveloped character can led to a film
Characters Drive the Plot
The most important point to utilize in writing is that the main character must be active in the script, and his or her wants and needs drive the plot forward. It sounds simple enough, but it’s sometimes difficult to write a script where a character always pushes the plot forward with action, not decision-making. A lot of scripts, particularly character-driven pieces, make the mistake of having the character change his mind or decide to change. This isn’t interesting enough to hold an audience’s attention; your character must ACT to keep the plot moving. Sometimes, a character’s inaction or inability to act can make a thematic point (Bill Murray in Lost in Translation springs to mind), but in general, a character must have goals and act to try to get those goals.
The More Contrary, the More Interesting
In my post on developing character, I mentioned that an easy way of making a character dynamic was to give him conflicting traits, so his own personality would be something he would have to overcome to reach his goal. This trick adds tension to films of any genre. It also makes characters more realistic. We recognize inconsistencies in the people around us (and sometimes in ourselves!) so when we see it in a character on film, we find them more relatable. Which brings us to the next point…
Characters Should be Relatable
Characters don’t have to be lovable – there are plenty of films about villains or dislikable people. But to have a commercially viable script, an audience member should be able to relate to the character in some way. Usually this translates into understanding the psyche of the character. This is why villains have backstories; we like to have explanations as to why a character behaves a certain way, especially if he’s behaving in a way we don’t like. It’s not necessary to explain each of a character’s actions with an involved backstory, but some small hints as to what motivates a character to be cruel in one scene and sensitive in the next makes a character all the more engaging.