I’ve been re-reading Screenplay by Syd Field lately as I gear up to write my first screenplay (I’m currently in the early developmental stages of it). Now that I know craft as well as I do, I love to read badass books on craft, because it really refines and clarifies and expands my current understanding of how stories work and how to write them.
Creating characters–and especially your Protagonist–is one of the big reasons why I love writing stories. I have a deep desire to understand the human mind and the human condition, and why people do and think the way they do.
And a story is nothing if not a study of the human condition.
But this is where a lot of fiction writers fall off track. Because while a story is about a character, that’s not the whole story. There’s so much more to it than that.
If you don’t know this or haven’t implemented it properly in your story, what you’ll end up with is an episodic narrative that gives the day-to-day account of a character’s life. Almost like a journal.
The reason it’s episodic narrative as opposed to an actual story is because there’s no definitive end point. You could just keep going, writing forever about what happens in the character’s life.
But that doens’t make it a story (OR a series of stories).
What makes it a story is that it has a character who wants something, another character who opposes what the other one wants, and a journey ensues toward a resolution.
And that’s just the starting point.
Your character needs to be three-dimensional, so they feel like a real person and are believable as a real person. Otherwise your reader won’t be able to empathize for them.
Without reader empathy your story is dead in the water.
As I’ve been reading Screenplay, I’ve loved gaining further clarity on creating a character–in this case, a Protagonist–and how to really bring them to life.
There are four essentials to creating a three-dimensional character and making them compelling and someone readers can empathize with.
1. Goal–this is what your Protagonist wants in the story. It’s the whole enchilada. This is the reason we’re even reading the story or watching the movie to begin with.
The main character has a goal and we want to watch and cheer them on as they go up against an Antagonist to achieve the goal (or have another goal introduced by the Antagonist, which then causes the character to have to overcome that before being able to achieve the initial goal).
2. Point of View–this is the internal landscape of the character. It’s what they believe about the world and themselves and their backstory. This is where you really have to go deep on what makes the person tick. And beliefs are the core of what makes up a person.
It’s true that what you believe you become, and the same thing works in fiction. So what beliefs does your Protatonist have and how has this shaped the way he sees the world and himself?
This is also where the character’s inner demon will come into play.
3. Attitude--this is the external aspects of your character. It’s how he presents himself to the world and the opinions that he holds. It’s his mannerism and way of being.
This is where you’ll figure out how your character acts or would act when presented with certain scenarios and situations.
4. Transformation–this is the overall change the Protagonist makes in the story. It’s when they’ve finally overcome their inner demon(s) and defeated the Antagonist.
This is the other thing a reader comes to a story for. To watch a character go through hell and come out victorious or at least changed for the better.
What transformation does your character make in your story? And how does that transformation stem from dealing with and overcoming the inner demon and Antagonist?
Creating compelling, interesting, engaging and empathetic characters is what will bring your story to life on the page. But you can’t just write a day-to-day account of their lives or even a specific time in their lives.
You have to write about a character with a specific need or goal they must achieve and the journey that ensues toward a resolution when another character steps into the story and tries to stop them from achieving the goal, or creates an entirely new goal for them to have to acheive before they can achieve the original one.
Do that and you’ll have yourself a story that’s actually worth reading.
Dream life or bust,