Constructing Compelling Characters
The temptation when writing a film is to think of the big-picture elements first—a mind-blowing premise or fast-moving plot, the scope and spectacle—and then to consider characters who’ll allow the spectacle to take place. But this, of course, is working backward: character isn’t a way to reveal the world of a film—character is the heart of any film, no matter the genre or style, and the world, plot, and stakes of the film exist to reveal and to deepen our understanding of that character, not the other way around. Elements of story and the story’s world are only meaningful when filtered through a protagonist’s particular perspective and motivation, when the audience can see something of him- or herself in the protagonist’s quest and relationships with the other characters…allowing us not just to empathize with the quest but to see our own hopes and desires, our own shortcomings, reflected in the story, and feeling the stakes as personally as if we were the ones at risk, the ones victorious when the goal is achieved, or the ones facing ruin if the goal were lost.
In online lectures, supplemental readings, video clips, and written assignments and exercises, we’ll consider how character affects all other aspects of story, including plot, theme, and structure; how to build a protagonist with whom the audience identifies; the necessity of empathy and sympathy in crafting character, and how a character’s own shortcomings allow for these; how to both use and play against character types and tropes; the relationship between character arc and plot arc; and more. We’ll also reference—and occasionally take cues from—such seemingly disparate films as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, Vertigo, Silence of the Lambs, The Matrix, Fargo, The Breakfast Club, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and others.
In this online workshop you will learn:
- How an effective and sympathetic protagonist is driven by both external and internal motivations
- The essentials of character arc and its role not just in structure but in how an audience connects with the protagonist and feels the stakes
- How complex characterizations arise from clear motivations meeting with conflict
- The difference between character growth and breaking character
- How stakes are proportional to not just a character’s strengths but his shortcomings
- How character informs all else—plot, tone, theme, even setting and world
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