Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Screenwriter Secrets of Effective Storytelling!
Part II: The People

#1: Knock Down, Drag Out

The next time you watch a movie, pay close attention to the main character. Notice how he is always on the go. How she might be sitting at a desk for just a moment, only to spring up out of his chair and leave the room. How many times have you watched a movie or tv show and asked the characters "why did you go into that room - you knew the killer was in there waiting for you!"

Something I learned in one of the screenwriting seminars I attended over the past few years: characters in movies differ from real life people in one main respect: when given the choice between "throwing a punch" or letting something pass, the character will throw the punch.

Now let's take that real life person you find you need to write about. Chances are very good that his or her life matches our own - distinctly lacking in chances to throw a punch.

That's when you have to dig a little deeper. Expand your idea of what "throwing a punch" is. Our lives, and those of our constituents, abound with actions that can be construed as a bit more dramatic, when put up against an opponent. Getting that second opinion from another doctor. Returning that latte because it's "just not right." Running for the subway train as the doors close. Asking that certain person out to lunch.

Dramatic characters are all about "wants." It's something they share with us - and why we find them so compelling. Often a story is all about a person (or character) wanting something - and going after it. That's where the essence of the story lies. In the character's want.

A teacher wanting his students to learn (or behave) - and the punches he throws to affect this change. That's compelling. A teacher working with well-behaved academic achievers? Not so compelling. That's why the end credits come when the teacher's gotten what he wants. We don't want to watch even ten minutes of non-dramatic classroom learning. That's the reason so many movie sequels fail. They really aren't sequels, they're the original movie character having to go after her want all over again.

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