Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Best Of – Characters, Characters, Characters!

Hey guys,

In the great debate of Story vs. Character, I proudly stand on the side of character. Character always comes first. One can debate endlessly about how to approach a story, but there is never a debate about having great characters. In fact, people will forgive weaknesses in plot and structure if they really, really love the characters.

So here are three posts wrapped in one little bundle about characters, which is my favorite subject. The first is a highlight from an old script review, which you may not have seen. The second is my Character Development Sheet, a seemingly never-ending series. But you get 6 links so far, and I’ll eventually complete the entire sheet. And finally, I have highlights from our character depth study.

Hope you enjoy it.



Characters as Individuals

“...I have always loved studying cultures and beliefs and personalities and psychology, but yet, the human resource groups who teach these classes annoy me to no end because they do little to broaden anyone's horizon and do more to foster narrow, racist thinking with all the ways that they categorize, generalize, label, and stereotype entire groups of people. Human beings never ever fit easily into limited, compartmentalized categories. Life and truth and movies are, in fact, complicated and multi-faceted. Within any large group of people, you are going to find such a vast and unquantifiable range of personalities, beliefs, opinions, styles, etc, that it almost feels wrong to lump them all together. The only thing that connects them just happens to be that ONE THING. When it comes to everything else, frankly, all bets are off, because one cannot say that entire groups of people have certain behavioral tendencies because that's simply not true. There is not a single person I know, and I know a lot of people, who, when you really get to know them, would easily fit into the common perception of a particular group that that person might be associated with. Everyone I know is an exception. What does that mean? It means that they are, like everyone else in the world, unique individuals. More often than not, great movies are about AMAZING characters who DEFY tradition, BREAK barriers, and WOW us by their UNIQUENESS. Am I wrong...?

“Now, I do believe that you can THROUGH STORY make statements about classes, professions, etc, and illuminate problems within ethnic, cultural, political, and social groups, but you cannot ever construct A CHARACTER that's intended to represent an ENTIRE GROUP. That kind of thinking has got to go. Besides, you can tell when you're watching a bad movie that that studio has been thinking along the lines of 'here's a typical X-kind of person,' and I believe that engenders more resentment in those groups than it does appreciation. In any case, writers have to treat every character as an individual, not a stereotype. Okay, so you have a character that's gay. That's not enough. Who is this person? How can you create depth in this character through inner conflicts and believable contradictions? What is this individual's personality like? Religious, political, philosophical perceptions? Fashion? Education? Family? Integrity? Attitude? Where would that person's personality fall under the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators? Or the DISC pattern? What's their temperament like? Does that character have any neuroses? Insecurities? What is that person's relationship like to all of the other characters and how do those relationships SERVE your overall story? How are you going to handle the Cast Design so that we get to see ALL the different sides of this particular character? You have figure this out. And you have to make sure that all of those factors have a place in your story, because it's not enough to have a character that's 'just gay.' That character has to have depth and serve a STORYTELLING FUNCTION...”


From my
Character Development Sheet




Character Goals:

Inner Conflict:

Character Arc:

Character Depth:

Cast Design:

Physical Appearance:

Character’s Voice:


Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:

Which means:
How others may see this person:
Areas for growth:

DISC Pattern:

Which means:
Judges others by:
Influences others by:
Under pressure:


Dimensions of Characterization:

A. Physical

B. Sociological

C. Psychological

D. Spiritual

E. Philosophical

F. Neuroses

G. Freaky Habits

Character Mood Intensity:

A. Temperament

B. Heartbeat

C. Breathing

D. State of Perspiration

E. Muscular Tension

F. Stomach Condition

G. Sensory Condition

H. Intelligence – Kind

I. Major Frustrations

J. Insecurities

K. Paranoia




From our
Character Depth Study:

How does one create depth? By constructing contradictions in the personality. For example, a character talks one way but BEHAVES another way. Or a character ACTS one way but at his/her core, that person’s True Character is in fact, something very different. This is one area that we can thank Mr. Robert McKee for teaching us. In “Story,” he wrote: “Dimension means contradiction: either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent. It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice throughout a film, then in one scene have him kick a cat.”

For a time, we did a study where we each wrote a paragraph, usually about 300 words or fewer, chronicling the various dimensions / contradictions of a character.

Everyone wrote such great samples. Here are three. First, our very good friend,
Pat (GimmeABreak), wrote about Hannibal Lecter:

“That a sociopathic cannibal could be brought to tears by beautiful music, recall with delight the fate of a census taker who had the temerity to disturb him, behave so tenderly toward Clarice (the finger touch as he hands her the file), take such pleasure in tormenting Miggs, salivate at the thoughts of eating Dr. Chilton, patiently explain the delicate flavor of (human) brains to a child, gently guide Will Graham toward death, and disfigure himself instead of his captor (who happened to be the only person he loves or has ever loved) makes Hannibal Lecter my nominee for the most interesting and complex character in modern cinema, the only character I've loved, feared, admired, and despised all at the same time.”

Christina Ferguson gave us a fun paragraph about Graham Dalton:

“One of my favorite movie characters of all time is Graham Dalton from
Sex, Lies and Videotape. He's an honest pathological liar. An impotent man obsessed with sex. A man who is able to know the female subjects he videotapes more intimately than their husbands, without touching them. He comes to town to obtain some measure of closure on a relationship he destroyed ten years earlier and ends up inspiring a naive woman to leave her deceitful husband, his former friend. In doing so, he redeems himself. All of this - while in dire need of a simple haircut.”

And finally, here’s a sample I wrote about
Cyrano de Bergerac:

“Cyrano is an interesting character for sure full of contradictions - on the one hand fearless of nothing and on the other terrified of rejection. He will openly mock his own nose, declare that he is proud of his great appendage, and yet, his hopeless insecurity about said nose keeps him from declaring his love to Roxanne. He is self-involved and yet selfless as he sacrifices his own happiness in order to give his love that which her heart desires most. He talks to Le Bret about refusing to be morally tainted or compromised and then Cyrano allows himself to become entangled in a great big deceptive lie to his most beloved object of desire. All the while, apart from the occasional duel, he fights for the pride of the Gascons, he fights for France, he fights a hundred men for Ligniere, he fights for everyone within reach but himself.”

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I think I may have to have your cyber babies MM. As well as Unk's. And Billy Mernit's. Damn I'm gonna be busy.