Writing Intriguing Characters

Edward, played by Sebastian Sage, is one of my favorite characters from Mountain Cult.

Let’s discuss dramatic action a little more and how it can develop a 3 dimensional character.

Let’s make one up – we’ll call him “Bob.” Bob loves to feed his golden retriever every day. He takes him on walks where he tosses a frisbee and laughs when others greet him. He’s always got a diet coke in his hand and yes – you guessed it – he’s even got a goatee. He’s not ashamed of his baldness – in fact he jokes about it frequently – but he does wear a “Bass pro shop” cap every day of his life.

We all know someone like Bob.

I hope by now you have a strong inkling of who Bob is and what he is about. Probably a simple man, loving grandfather, and woodworking enthusiasts. Now what would be a dramatic element that could make this character more intriguing? Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Bob is actually training his dog for dogfights
  2. Bob goes on long walks to find the next victim for his serial killing addiction
  3. Bob maintains a tumblr blog
  4. Bob mails death threats to celebrities he doesn’t like
  5. Bob starts taking steroids
  6. Bob catfishes college girls on tinder

A few of the above qualities are enough to craft an interesting premise from – meaning the bizarre behavior itself could be a plot. The smaller ones – like Bob taking steroids or catfishing on tinder – merely make Bob a more compelling and intriguing character. The actions don’t compute with our stereotypical understanding of Bob, therefore we feel he is a character worthy of a deeper assessment. In other words, he rises from being a side character to a main character. In some cases we even want to follow Bob around and can see him acting as a protagonist.

Let’s take a look at the main character Ryan from my film series Mountain Cult –

He is impatient, obsessive, and a loner. He does not trust others and refuses to let others help even when he should. He is abrasive, controlling, and has tunnel vision for his missing wife. He is also fearless in his pursuit of her. He is stubborn to a fault. He believes that he alone can confront a secretive cult and outsmart members who are much smarter than himself. Ryan’s the type of dude to chug 10 beers then decide to mow the lawn.

Alright, so he’s interesting, not extremely likable, but features bravery, persistence, and loyalty – characteristics that align with a protagonist. Now let me do some out loud brainstorming to figure out what type of actions could result in him being a 3 dimensional character.

  1. Ryan repeatedly dreams about the same clown kicking his ass while he struggles to punch back
  2. Ryan writes poems about the sounds leaves make
  3. Ryan is afraid of flies
  4. Ryan never learned how to read
  5. Ryan’s favorite food is veganese
  6. Ryan only listens to classical music
  7. Ryan gets jealous of small and scrawny dudes because he’s insecure about being built like a trash can

Even though many of the qualities are comedic to us, they can still serve the story. An important consideration whenever you introduce comedic elements to a story is whether they subtract from the tension in the story (if you are NOT writing comedy). A true comedy is about funny situations, not merely funny character traits. The Marvel movies are a great example of what I’m referring to here – even though they are riddled with funny one-liners, the jokes themselves never reduce the tension in the moment.

Here’s a quick example: Joe enters the store to rob the place. He aims a gun at the man behind the counter and demands money. The man behind the counter squints and says “Joe? I haven’t seen you in forever!”

That line reduces the tension immediately. In changes the story into a comedy. Now imagine the man with the gun slips on a toy upon entering, then carries on with the robbery. We may laugh at the mishap, but the tension is still there – meaning it could be a heist story or thriller. His character made us laugh, but the situation didn’t.

Ok lets mold one more character for the sake of 3. Let’s invent Julie – she’s thirty years old, stocks shelves at the local grocery story, and shrugs at the idea of marriage. She binge watches documentaries about serial killers, eats cereal at any time she chooses, and smokes something every 30 minutes. Her ambition in life is to find the perfect temperature for the air conditioner setting, and she loves her dog named Bucky – who is a German Shepherd (which she bought illegally on the black market through a “friend”).

Julie is a familiar character to me, and someone I could definitely root for. Her lack of ambition is surely a fault, however, her contentment with mediocrity is something that’s both relatable and oddly enticing. Let’s see what dramatic actions she may take that would cause us to reconsider our assessment of her:

  1. Julie trades stocks at night and has amassed over 3 million in earnings.
  2. Julie has an uncontrollable attraction to Benjie, the doofus manager who wears glasses, tucks in his shirt, and gets flipped off by her daily.
  3. Julie once single-handedly cleared and saved a burning bus filled with children
  4. Julie lends horror DVDs to the kid next door with the overbearing parents
  5. Julie organizes a funeral after the town drunk dies and gets the entire town to attend

Again, a few of these are story worthy. Some of the ideas (like the last one) require a major character change (arc) for them to occur and be believable. Ideas like her having a crush on Benjie merely make her a more intriguing character.

Anyways, that’s all I got for today. I hope you found some use or chuckles out of these ideas. I also hope that I’ll be able to find a proper dramatic action for my own character in order to make him more appealing. Most of the items that I’ve listed are forms of irony – the proposed characteristics contradict what we anticipate the character would do or care about. That’s what makes them interesting – it adds color to their otherwise black and white demeanor.

I’ve spent my downtime while at work viewing other low budget short films searching for one worth of analysis. Oh boy do I feel better about my own abilities. If you ever want a night of cringe inducing laughter start checking out homemade movies that cost less than $100 to produce.

I’ve contacted one creator so far. Hopefully he will get back to me promptly so I can work on the video this weekend. Aside from that I have continued to reading through the 2 scripts I have from other writers in order to return coverage notes. I am not looking forward to the reception my feedback receives.

Hope you have a great day today and please don’t apply any of these ideas to your own life in hopes to make yourself more interesting. You may get you arrested.

How to write movies and books – 4/3/20

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A subtle metaphor for the prison cell you are being held captive in if you don’t read this post.

Why do we watch movies and read fiction? What are we looking for?

There are endless resources for writing fiction. Many of them include the same essential elements – inciting incident, plot, character arc, theme, conflict, tension, etc. But the truth about what makes a great story runs much deeper than that.

We turn to stories for truths about the world we live in – spiritual, psychological, and societal truths. We are always looking to learn something, and that’s what a good story does for us.

The fundamental nature of “plot” is to give your hero a quest and throw obstacles in his path to prevent them from reaching their goal. I believe the next step is the most overlooked aspect of a powerful story.

The main character must learn something to complete their quest. That’s it. That’s the secret of a moving story. If you can do that, you are already taking care of character arc, theme, internal conflict, and character growth. The way to formulate that in a compelling way is what determines the strength of your story.

If you are a writer, start observing the obstacles in your own life. What character trait gets in the way of accomplishing your own goals? Even something as simple as procrastination provides a life lesson for us. Why do we procrastinate? When I find myself too overwhelmed to complete the task that will bring me closer to my goal, I ask myself why. Many times it’s a fear of something – the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown, the fear of wasting time and effort on an eventually failed pursuit.

Just like that, you have everything you need for a story. For example:

Joe is at the post office one day when he meets a beautiful girl who inexplicably decides to give him her number (inciting incident). He forgets to call her when his ex returns to his life (obstacle). When he does call her, she is much more reluctant to go out after learning that he’s been talking to his ex (obstacle). Joe decides to tell his ex that their relationship is over for good. He calls the girl again, tells her that he wants to see her and only her, and she accepts his idea for a date.

The story can go on from here with new obstacles and lessons to be learned. But every major event needed for a story is included above. What did Joe learn? That if he truly wants to create a new and loving relationship, he’s going to have to move on from past relationships (theme).

I’m not a great writer by any means, but I have spent years studying the story telling essentials. All that I’m trying to do with my new youtube channel is tell good stories. I guess that’s why I made this post – there’s so many formulaic stories out there, short films that are weighed down by editing techniques, and movies that are weighted and shackled by their own genre. I’m trying to approach “Mountain Cult” with a more liberal view. I want to craft stories that provide actual life lessons. At the end of the day, when we think of the movies that mean’t the most to us, I believe it’s because they taught us something about ourselves that continue to help us navigate through our own lives. I hope that in some way this post can help you create your own stories. There’s way too many pencil petes out there telling you what you can and cannot do with a story, and I don’t think we need any more of them.

Below is episode 1 of my webseries if you’d like to check it out and tell me how disappointed you are to discover you just took advice from a guy whose writing is amateur at best.

Conflict: Damien Vs. Ronnie McDee – Round 2

CONFLICT: DAMIEN VS. RONNIE MCDEE ROUND 2

Greetings everyone. Let’s pick back up where we left off yesterday. If you weren’t here, we talked about the importance the role of conflict has in maintaining the interest of your readers. If you’d didn’t read the previous lesson, you’d be wise to go back and take a look, that way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.

Yesterday we wrote three versions of the same scene. In the first, Damien casually left his office building and greeted his wife outside. In the second, we added a ticking clock, which in this instance was (literally enough) a time-bomb. In the third scene we added Ronnie McDee, a sinister clown who was meant to be Damien’s ultimate antagonist, but wound up making everyone feel dumber for ever considering any of my advice by behaving like a cartoon goofball (and I don’t know that there is any higher insult to a full grown man then to consider his comedic fodder goofy).

So we’ll add conflict to what we already have, and observe how the scene improves.

level 1 – an objective (get to his wife)

level 2 – a ticking clock (time bomb)

level 3 – a nemesis (Ronnie McDee)

Level 4 – Let’s get a real nemesis. Someone we’re actually afraid of. So where do we find an antagonist worth fearing? It’s not about we. It’s about Damien. What’s his greatest fear? What are his short comings in life? Ah, you see what I’m getting at?

Adding an internal conflict to this scene. From here on out, Damien is no longer the blank faced cubicle worker, he’s about to become a someone. Let’s cut the shit and get to the scene already.

* * *

Damien watched the circular lights flash as he descended floor after floor in the elevator shaft. He knew the bomb was going to go off in a matter of minutes. He knew his wife would die if he didn’t get to her in time. And he knew the only person he ever prayed to be struck dead was waiting for him at the bottom floor. There was a battle ahead, no doubt. But Damien was having trouble focusing on what lay ahead of him. He was to busy trying to suppress what was supposed to be behind.

The memory felt like it had been branded to his brain.

This wouldn’t be the first time Damien found himself face-to-face with Onaldo. And both encounters involved a woman of his dreams. Only the last time, Damien lost her.

He remembered her light hair, her dark eyes, and the way she kissed his cheek. Every day since her death, Damien felt the burden of his failure. His wife always told him he’d never moved on – and in fact, Damien never did. She was not the type of girl you forgot about.

The elevator reached the bottom floor and the shiny silver doors rolled open. Standing twenty feet away from him was Ronaldo, wearing his typical yellow jumpsuit and red suspenders.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I interest you in a McBlurry today?” Ronaldo raised a frag grenade in his right hand. “Or perhaps a big and tasty?” He unzipped his orange pants, whipped out his white-and-red member, then began helicoptering it around in a circle by the swing of his hips.

“You’re a sick fuck,” said Damien.

He stepped out of the elevator and clenched both fist so tight his knuckles cracked. He did his best to hide his nervousness, but couldn’t hide his subtle gulp from Ronaldo. The clown caught everything.

“Ah! Now I remember. What was it I served you a few years back?”

“Don’t.”

“I think I know.”

“DON’T!”

“She got a happy meal, didn’t she?”

Damien shook his head as his breath fumed through his nostrils. He heard something beep – no doubt the timebomb, somewhere nearby but hidden.

He winced his eyes closed. The memory was resurfacing. The most painful moments of his life. Her name was Lela.

“What was her name again?”

“You say it I’ll cut out your fucking tongue.”

Ronaldo began tapping his chin with his finger. His eyes rolled up toward the cieling. His painted lips raised in the corners, smiling that sick smirk he always got before he killed someone.

“Ah yes, I remember. It was for your daughter, LELA!”

***

Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave you there, due to time constraints. I’ll try to pick back up here tomorrow, and go into detail about whatever I feel may be of benefit to you. For now, notice all the questions raised throughout the scene. They mostly have to deal with Damien’s fear of returning to his past. (Why is he afraid? What happened between him and Onaldo? Who was this girl? Also, where is the timebomb, and will it blow before Damien gets past the clown?)

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

 

How To Write

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Morning comes, nights fly by, hour-to-hour and most words die.

Don’ t stop writing, no I don’t, trying hard to get much wrote.

Never tire, always sweat, not quite happy, not quite upset.

This is the life of trying hard, of perseverance, of living poor.

Simple style, basic’s best, no need to shout or pound your chest.

Learn a thing or two from me – don’t worry much, don’t reach to deep.

Things are simple, yes they are, the heart is gold, the brain it lies.

Listen careful, see me speak, hear my eyes, confused I think.

All right one more I’ll end with this –

If you want to write just never quit.

– Thomas M. Watt