- What does your main character want?
- What are their goals?
- What or who is stopping the main character from getting what he or she wants/needs?
- What's getting in their way of achieving these goals?
- What flaws does your main character (secondary characters) have?
- What must the main character or characters overcome to achieve these goals?
One of the things I see a lot of in amateur screenplays, and in my own writing, if I'm honest, and it's a big thing, is a lack of character goals. There aren't any goals for the main character or characters to achieve. This leads to a story without any defined and clear direction. And generally the scenes that play out within the context of that story tend to meander and not actually go anywhere.
Giving the main character a goal to achieve will help structure the story that you want to tell, it will help drive the story forward and give it a sense of direction.
Character flaws and goals can generally be broken down into two categories.
Firstly, there's the INTERNAL struggle that the character is going through.
The internal struggle that the main character is going through usually revolves around some kind of personality trait. This personality trait is the character's flaw, it's their achille's heel that's stopping them from moving forward in their life.
This character flaw could be caused by a whole number of things.
- A bad divorce.
- Bullied at school.
- Just broke up with their partner.
- A death in the family.
- Maybe they caused the death of someone.
This major event (something bad happened to them) caused them to take on this negative personality trait. They're finding it difficult to get over what happened to them. They might not even be aware of this personality trait (flaw) that they have until it's pointed out to them or something happens (usually something bad) to them that brings it to their attention.
This is their INTERNAL struggle.
This internal struggle that manifests itself in the main character as a flaw could take the form of any number of personality traits.
- Maybe they lie all the time.
- Likes being in control (control freak) all of the time.
- They haven't grown up and still act like a kid.
There are so many to choose from. The list is endless.
Go to character flaws
Over the course of a story, the main character learns to overcome this negative aspect of their personality and hopefully by the end of the story they will be the opposite of how they were at the beginning. If they were irresponsible at the start, they have now learned to become responsible. If they were selfish, they have now learned to be more giving by the end of the story. They have learned something about themselves, their personality has arced over the course of the story. They may not even be aware that they have changed.
But as the reader/audience member, we have seen this change occur.
Secondly, there's the EXTERNAL struggles that characters find themselves in which are usually much easier to see.
- Guy gets girl, guy loses girl, guy has to win girl back.
- Beating the bad guys.
- Saving the hostages.
- Defeating the bad ass monster.
Generally, and this is just my own point of view. Dependent on the genre, certain films require that characters are flawed, otherwise those movies just aren't going to work. These are usually character driven pieces, and certainly not your tent-pole summer blockbusters. Generally in these types of movies I just want to be entertained, as long as the story makes sense and the characters don't behave in a stupid manner.
When it comes to a character driven story, I want to see a lot of depth to characters. This is when I want to see characters change over the course of a movie, and the more characters that have some kind of character arc, the better. This is when I want to feel something and possibly even relate to the characters and their struggles in some way. I want to feel their pain and anguish that they go through over the course of the story. This is when I want to be emotionally invested in the characters and the story and situations they find themselves in. And of course, I still want to be entertained with a story that makes sense.
- INTERNAL GOALS
- EXTERNAL GOALS
Make sure there are obstacles that get in the way of your characters achieving their goals. Hopefully this will create conflict for your character(s) to overcome.
This is just my take on how I approach my writing.
Movies to check out:
- Lost in Translation (2003)
- Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
- The Virgin Suicides (1999)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994)
- Sideways (2004)
- The Wrestler (2008)
- Juno (2007)
There are loads more.