So ... last night was the second night of the free screenwriting course as part of my London Screenwriters Festival ticket, once again with Claire Moorsom.
It's kind of tricky, we have a huge range of writers on the course from people who've barely put finger to keyboard to create a screenplay, to those who are pretty competent and experienced. Which means that not everything is either going to be new, or of interest, but this week was a good one for me.
Again it's not necessarily a matter of anything being new (little here was "new" to me), it's both the environment, and the difference of viewpoint - particularly when it's the viewpoint of someone who's worked with writers for a long time.
So we were looking at character, what is that makes a character in a story effective? Where effective means: the audience experiences an emotional reaction to the character (doesn't matter so much what that emotion is, as long is it was intended by the writer).
(Why do we call those who write screenplays "writers" and those who write novels "authors"?)
One of the key elements put forward was "contradiction but not inconsistency" which is to say people are full of contradictions but those are the person's character; while a contradiction is the behaviour of a person that does not fit their character.
A character has values - things they care about - which inform their behaviour, they have commitment, drive, complexity and depth. And characters in stories have to be like this - after all, who's interested in someone who wanders through life doing nothing?
These motivations lead to conflict with the environment and characters around them, which in turn reveal more about their character.
One useful item which I had not come across before was the emphasis on Choices and Decisions. I mean, it's pretty obvious that a character makes decisions as they proceed through their story. What's not so obvious is that the depth of a story increases with the number of decisions the characters can make and how they affect the plot.
I want to discuss the artificiality of stories in another blog entry, but it comes out here: We have characters whose decisions create a plot line (or plot lines) , but as the writer we generally know where we're going with the plot. So the characters are pre-destined to make certain decisions ... and yet the depth of the story is affected by the choices available.
The point is: the audience does not know where the plot is going, and do not know what decisions the characters will make. The less predictable you can make those decisions the better the audience will like it - as long as it is not contradictory behaviour.
Claire commented that it's common for writers to play it safe with their characters. For whatever reason they don't put enough pressure on them - and it is absolutely essential to make the decisions hard, and make your characters really suffer. The audience will love you for it.
A final point (well, for me, unfortunately I have to leave a little before the end because I have a long way to go, so it might not actually have been the final point) was about a character's transformation in regard to the narrative spine of the story. Identifying the change of your main character (we did discuss the stories where the protagonist does not change, as I did here) and isolating three key scenes at the beginning, the middle and the end gives you the narrative spine of your story.
Now that's a useful technique.
(There was more, of course, discussions and so forth - and there'll be stuff like this at LSWF and much more besides. You know it makes sense.)
What's on the turntable? "The Diary of Horace Wimp" by ELO from "Discovery"