03 May 2007

Getting Closer to the Character

People read stories and go to the movies 70% for the character. We love to peek into other people's lives, even if the other people are mere characters in a book or movie.

This last writer's story was filled with dramatic action, which made for an exciting story. I found myself anxious to hear what happened next, and what happened after that. The writer masterfully provided more and more compelling action, and did so seamlessly through consistent cause and effect. The Dramatic Action plot line rose quickly and effectively.

Still, amid all the intrigue and mystery, suspense and fear, the characters became cardboard action figures who allowed the dramatic action to happen. The more exciting the action, the more the characters were ignored and the less I found out about how the characters. especially the protagonist, were being affected by the dramatic action. Without the help of the character to draw me closer, I found myself separating further and further from the story.

At this point in the consultation, I went over the importance of goal setting ~~ both at the scene level and the overall story level. The better a writer is at establishing concrete goals for their characters, the easier it is for them to keep track of the affects on the character as the character succeeds and fails in achieving their goals.

[Note: At a recent Plot Planner Writers Workshop, one of the writers expressed confusion between a goal and a dream. A goal is quanifiable and under the protagonist's control. In other words, the character is capable of succeeding. Whether they actually do or not is up to them. A dream, on the other hand, requires a bit of magic or help from outside sources. The protagonist cannot fulfill his or her own dreams, but must rely on the help of others.]

In the consultation, I never find out why the protagonist is missing when her husband is nearly killed. Why? Because the writer didn't know either. A critical door into the character on a deep, personal level was never opened by the author and thus, would have robbed the future readers or movie-goers from the intimate bond of knowing.

The writer used the protagonist to advance the Dramatic Action plot line, but ignored the Character Emotional Development plot line almost completely.

Still, she had done the hard part. The story was written. The dramatic action propelled the story in fast and exciting ways. Once pointed out, the doors are easily opened. By attending to what's behind each door, the writer's chances improve for bringing satisfaction to future fans through knowing the character even better than the character knows herself.