A Final (but not truly final) Note on Characters

Many years’ ago I took a screenwriting class. Amazingly enough I still have some of the notes. These notes focus on asking yourself development questions. It was a screenwriting class, but the genre doesn’t matter. These notes can still apply to any other writing format.

  • Whose the main Character? Why? What so great about them that they get to be main character?
  • What’s the character look like? Who are they what are they like to the other characters in the story what are they like to the readers? To the narrator? What’s their history?
  • What do they want and and what’s in their way? What do they need to do to get what they want? I was watching the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch which he gave at Carnegie Mellon and he talked about things that we dream about. Things that we want out of our life. He described obstacles as the brick wall- Randy said, the brick walls are there for a reason- they are there to see if you want it enough- they separate those who do from those who don’t. You can break down, climb over, do whatever as long as you get over that wall. What is your character’s brick wall, and do they want it enough? My teacher expressed this idea as the “spine” in a film story. Actors use this too- it’s the ultimate goal, what drives the character.
  • What are the conflicts? They have a problem but they can’t just solve it easily, there are all these tiny obstacles that lead up to the main obstacle- the devils in the details, right? Try to think of it from every angle, think of the idea prompt- the most unlikely thing to happen. Make a list-a list can turn to a scene in a film a scene in a book and scene on a stage.
  • How do the characters change? How do they grow? This is something I’ve asked myself and oddly struggled with, I’d write something and then ask myself, but did they change? How? This is where you can build structure. What happens along the way to move the character towards change? Again my teacher had described the structuring of events as what builds the plot- and yes there are stories without plots or where the plot isn’t the main driving point, but most stories have plots. What’s it all about?
  • What is the dramatic situation that sits at the center of the story, around which your plot will form? So I took that one word for word from my notes. Those are my teacher’s words. The dramatic situation is the set of circumstances around the plot that are the events that affect the character as they try to achieve their goal- like what are the circumstances involved in the characters life at the moment that something happens? What does he/she want and what brought him/her to the place where they are now?
  • How does the character affect the dramatic situation- if the character wasn’t the way he/she is then how could things be different? What is so unique to this character to this circumstance that this story is being told?

Why tell your story? Because you must.

What drives us? What’s our obstacles? – And of course there is the eternal why? WHY? Why is it this way or that? Why am I living? Why are any of us living? Most of the time there isn’t even an answer in our own lives, but this is your story, your character, your world. You can see the purpose and the outcome and it’s up to you to let us know if we should see it or not. Isn’t that exciting?
Go be exciting.
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