Sunday, September 2, 2012


Even if you don't have the foggiest idea what your story is going to be about, or what will happen or exactly when and where it is to be set, it would be helpful if you could at least complete the following: "My main character wants _________ more than anything else in the world."

What does your character WANT? Love, respect, courage, revenge, a kidney for his kid sister, to find the son that was given up for adoption? If you want to write a DRAMATIC screenplay, the minimum requirement is that you have a character that wants something.

At about the same time you allow yourself to start discovering what your character wants, and  who or what opposes them, you'll begin to find out where your story is going, and what it’ll be about, both narratively and thematically.  Dramatic characters can only be dramatic insofar as they are fighting for something.

Fighting does not necessarily mean using fists or guns or joining an army, but they must be striving for something that is not easy to attain. In short, dramatic characters are goal-driven, and in order to achieve their objectives they have to act.

A character’s actions involve both confrontation and avoidance. Avoidance? Yes! Characters also want/need to avoid things, like being killed, or captured. But whatever it is that the character is avoiding, it only has meaning (i.e.: emotional power) if it is enacted within the context of what it is that the character hopes to win, gain or achieve.

What scares your characters? Humiliation, disfigurement, pain, terminal illness, poverty?
What lengths will they go to to avoid what they fear?

What have they already done to avoid their greatest fears?

Discover what it is that will cause your characters to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, hands clutching the covers, body rigid with terror.

If you want to really make your characters come to life, choose something that terrifies YOU! -- you'll find that when you write something that makes you shake, you'll also make your reader shake.

A rule of good storytelling is that the protagonist will confront the thing s/he fears the most and overcome it in order to win the thing s/he desires the most.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule. For every 100 successful dramatic films where the writer followed it, you'll find at least one successful drama where the writer ignored it completely. 


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