Second Act, Constructive Creativity for the Screenwriter

Hey, jump into our workshops that can pump some new life into your writing!

Has anyone dared to mention:
  • Your main characters lack focus
  • Your characters lack depth -- too superficial
  • Your anatagonists are not mean enough
What, your characters don't suffer from the above? Well delve in anyway, you're a writer, aren't you? Right? Write.
Character Workshop  

Who is your main character, and why is she doing what she is doing? If you're having problems with character motives and the characters seem to be losing their motivation, it is possible that the characters' needs and desires are nor clearly defined. In most stories, the main character serves as an emotional conduit for the audience. In other words, the main characters will be a source of identity that the audience can sympathize with. They are more internal than other characters. Main characters will often have significant needs that are developed throughout the story. But, these characters' needs are usually implied, they are not explicit or verbalized.

Something that a character wants explicitly is a desire. If your main character wishes to own a BMW because she believes that they perform better than other automobiles of equal value, she is demonstrating an explicit desire. She says what she wants and why she wants it. On the other hand, her needs may not be so apparent, especially to herself. Let's say her need is to be looked upon as someone with a high social status. Maybe because she has an irrational fear of poverty. This would be her implied need, since her fear is suggested by her mannerisms or revealed by other means.

    Implied needs:
  • Introduce the main character's inner world.
  • Introduce "ghosts".
  • Can be psychological and/or moral
  • Establish contradictions in the main character.
The Unforgiven
William Munny keeps mentioning that "he isn't like that anymore"(explicit desire). He's a changed man. Yet after "The Schofield Kid" leaves with word of a reward to "kill a couple of no good cowboys", he prepares to go. Implied need: The money? Is it to avenge the "cut-up whore"? Or is it to do something that is apparently good? Thus redeeming his past...
So, explicit desires and implied needs are essential to main character development. They are an exellent source of internal and external conflicts and serve as a catalyst for their (the character's) motives. The main character should encounter a series of obstacles that impede her way to getting what she wants. Needs and desires give dimension to a main character's motives, which enables the readers to understand and sympathize with the character's story world.
List your character's desires and then make a list of the character's needs. Create relationships between the needs and desires. How can you reveal the character's needs throughout the screenplay without being explicit? One way to reveal a main character’s needs is by her relationship with other characters in the story. Other characters can provide insight to a main character's motives and inner being.

Dreams, dreams, dreams, all is but a dream where the wind wanders, and the barking dogs come out on the road. Andre Breton, "The Manifesto of Surrealism"

Does your character dream? What would be a good dream for him? What would be a bad dream? Write a dream that would symbolize where that character is now in the story. Have your character share it with someone else, and have that someone interpret or misinterpret it for him. How do your characters relate to dreams? Do they dismiss them or write them down when they wake up?

What is the time period that your characters live in? If they picked up a newspaper what would be the headlines? What would be on the back page? What would the classified ads look like? It may help if you could go to your local library and dig up a current newspaper for your main character. This would give you a sense of the time period and let you understand what current events may be affecting your main character. Besides, your character might be looking for a job in the classifleds or just browsing for garage sales.

If your character exists in a place or time period without newspapers, try to envision how other social  groups or governments affect the behavior of the character. How would contemporary technology, whether of medieval France or of the 23rd century, affect his or her life?

What is the history of your character? Does the character have famous or infamous descendants? Write out a genealogical tree for your your main character. What nations or tribes did the character descend from? How does this affect the character's attitudes, mannerism, or social class?But when all else falls, take a good look at your character. Is he or she likable? Likableness doesn't require being good or evil, even Hannibal Lecter and Lady Macbeth are likable by the manner in which their complexity evokes a sense of admiration. They have a certain logic behind their motives and philosophy. They are the characters we love to hate.

What is crucial is whether or not you like the main character. If you don't find a certian intimacy with that character, no one else will. Are they interesting enough to arouse a response from the reader? If you don't find them interesting, it's going to show in your work. Evoke passion for your characters. Make them as real to you as possible. Believe that they exist, give them a life.

What does your character love the most? Is it a dog, a job, a plot of land in a Mississippi swamp? Take this away from the character and you can build your story on how he attempts to get it back.  Conflicts and struggles give depth to your characters and your story. Don't give them such an easy life.

Please note: many successful stories revolve around a character being caught in the wrong bed at the right time, or the right bed at the wrong time. Sleep on it...


Where do your characters live? Refer to maps or charts in the reference section that describe the locations in your story. Browse through picture books that depict settings your characters are in. Get a feel for the location. Memorize the vegetation, the terrain, the man-made strucrures. Get a feel for the weather. How cold does it get? Is it hot or humid? Feel it.

Go to an art museum.  If you were your main character, how would you interpret the artwork? What would be appealing to your main character? Bring a notebook and write down these feelings and impressions. Would your main character find solace or apathy toward certain works of art? Would your main character find the individual paintbrush strokes fascinating, or would he be intimidated by the guard who seems to be following him around? Use these moments to explore your character.

Go to the library. What books has your main character read in the past? Can he read?  What books would you like your characters to read? In which section of the library would their interests lie? Go there and browse. Look at contemporary magazines that your characters would find interesting. What ads would they respond to and how?

Go to the library. What books has your main character read in the past? Can he read?  What books would you like your characters to read? In which section of the library would their interests lie? Go there and browse. Look at contemporary magazines that your characters would find interesting. What ads would they respond to and how?

Go to a graveyard. Is your main character buried there? Does anyone visit her grave? If the character is still alive, what is her attitude toward death? How does she want to be disposed of? Is the subject of death easily confronted by your characters, or is it sornething they would rather not discuss?.

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