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Character Development in screenplays

Posted: Sun, 5th Apr 2009, 10:16pm

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Sollthar

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Probably an advanced question, but I'll try it anyways. smile

What would you consider important steps one has to watch out for when fleshing out characters for a script. To make them 3dimensional, come to life and be interesting for an audience. What would you say a character needs in order to be well developped?
Posted: Sun, 5th Apr 2009, 11:07pm

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Terminal Velocity

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I find this an extremely interesting topic, being an aspiring writer. Got a couple ideas; probably not what you're looking for though. I have a knack for giving good advice at the wrong time. Or bad advice at the right time, however you might want to look at it.

I think that firstly, the character cannot be perfect. It seems like too many stories make the protagonist either invincible, or infinitely wise, etc. Or a combination. This fallible nature was done especially well in Indiana Jones. Many times, his escapes or victories had little to do with his own skill or cleverness, i.e. fighting the Nazi brawler in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The propeller blades saved him, or he would probably be dead. And there is also, of course, his fear of snakes. I think this trait makes him more able to relate to by the spectators, instead of a superhero (hence the reason I hate Superman lol ).

Secondly, he/she should be unique in some way or another, or else just an interesting character. Give him/her (I'll use he for simplicity) minor idiosyncrasies, such as spitting before speaking, or cracking his knuckles when he wakes up. (Both of these examples derived from the story I'm writing.) It really fleshes them out; more than you would think.

And last, make the movie as if through the protagonist's eyes. This could increase the drama and emotion in the scene. For instance, if if he's angry, add a slight red tint to the footage. If he scared, a blue or sickly greenish tint; et cetera. Whereas if it's a third-person movie, then this might not make as much sense.

Okay, that's my two-bits' worth. Hope it was helpful but it probably wasn't. Chances are, you already knew all this and I am a completely redundant person who posted an entirely superfluous wall of text.
Posted: Sun, 5th Apr 2009, 11:11pm

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Sollthar

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Oh, not at all redundant! Very interesting ideas!

I'm currently trying to flesh out my characters for my script, since I have the basic plot together now. So I'm trying to collect ideas on little details or important charactericas to add. Some good ideas in your post. I do indeed have most of them in already, but it's always a good thing to hear suggestions and thoughts from others, even if only to reassure you you're not completely off. smile

I find it a bit difficult, having 10 main characters and a pretty tense plot to take my time to get to flesh out the characters. Also, the plot plays out in a single day and on pretty much one location, so that makes it even harder to have the characters do much else then react.
Posted: Sun, 5th Apr 2009, 11:38pm

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Terminal Velocity

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Sollthar wrote:

Oh, not at all redundant! Very interesting ideas!

I'm currently trying to flesh out my characters for my script, since I have the basic plot together now. So I'm trying to collect ideas on little details or important charactericas to add. Some good ideas in your post. I do indeed have most of them in already, but it's always a good thing to hear suggestions and thoughts from others, even if only to reassure you you're not completely off. smile

I find it a bit difficult, having 10 main characters and a pretty tense plot to take my time to get to flesh out the characters. Also, the plot plays out in a single day and on pretty much one location, so that makes it even harder to have the characters do much else then react.
That is a lot of characters to flesh out in a single day...Well good luck in your script anyway.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 12:03am

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Atom

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I didn't think I'd come to say this, but Big Gun makes essentially the same points I would have outlined- with good examples, too. Kudos on that, man.

All that aside, though, I'd exemplify idiosynchrasies to make a character more of an outlier to the rest of the film's scripted universe. Cliche perhaps, but charscter traits are a greate divider between important and unimportant characters, and I tend to feel when a character is more individualistic/esoteric you tend to care for or be intrigued by him/her much quicker and with greater depth. Josh Hartnett's 'Slevin', for instance, in the movie Lucky # Slevin was made unique even in a sea of other wildly caricatured characters because of his demeanor; how free from worry he kept. In the movie he says he has 'adorexia', a mental condition that keeps him sublime in tense situations- a preposterous bit of character traits; but it separated him from the rest very clearly an made you care what happened to him.

If that makes sense.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:09am

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FXstudios99

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I agree with all of you guys and I really think that the small characteristics add to the character a lot (licking his lips a lot, from Batman Joker characteristic).

Also I think that the characters should have sort of two personalities. One way they act around other people and another personality when they are alone. I.E: In public that character could be really nervous and finicky, and alone or relatively alone the character sould be curious and wise.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:17am

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spydurhank

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Solthar! Dude I swear you're a mind reader or something.
I've been working on a script a little over a year with my buddy Chris but the past couple of days we've been talking back and forth on the phone about character personalties and such. Dialogue and mannerisms that would better fit them since we gave all of them some kind of... mental type issue? This story is based where only economic status matters.

The bad guys.

Stromm- He was adopted by a rich man as a child. when the man passed away, his remaining family sent Stromm to a private school where he was repeatedly beaten and abused among other things. He became cold and hard. He took control of his adopted family's empire and left them in poverty. If he has an issue he throws money at it to fix the problem.

Bender- He was born on the right side of the tracks but took a trip to the wrong side and never came back. Nothing horrible happened to him, he just never learned right from wrong and has no moral center. He has a sadistic sense of humor.

Skinner- Without giving away too much...He's an ex cop that joined the military and sacrificed plenty during a war. It fractured his mind so, that he developed a 2nd personality "could be a computer virus" that badgers him daily to kill.

Richardson- A corrupt detective, diagnosed with A.D.D. He grew up in poverty and is now in a position of authority and he abuses it out of greed.

Bob And Jack- Two brothers and sergeons. They along with 6 passengers and pilot, crashed onto a mountain range and were rescued 6 weeks later. everyone survived the crash but they didn't survive Bob and Jack who muredered everyone to consume them. During those 6 weeks bob and Jack grew much closer than they had ever been... "in every way". They are now caniballistic and sell human organs on the black market.

Warren- A long lived Dr. This old man appears very soft spoken and kind but is really just crazy and has a strange world view.

The good guys.

Reilly- An artist that has vivid and frightening dreams that sometimes haunt him during his waking hours. There's nothing supernatural about his nightmares or any thing. his mind just can't cope with certain stressfull situations. His only method of dealing with this is with alcohol.

Barton- He is just your regular clown type of guy. He's really funny and outgoing but is really hyper and annoying at times.

Constance- She is the token wanna be tough chick that brags about herself at any opportunity. She is prone to childish tantrums and outbursts when she wants to be heard or make her point come across.

Celeste- a popular ex singer/actor. She was abducted by "Bob And Jack read above" for almost 3 weeks before being rescued. She was tortured and maimed. Both of her legs and left arm were amputated for consumption by Bob and Jack. She is now very mentally disturbed and bent on revenge wether it kills her or not.

Carter- Ex Army infantry. He's just a real bad-ass. His two step brothers were killed in a war and now he's just waiting for his turn. He believes it's just a matter ot time.

There are too many characters to list but you get the point. No one of them is perfect and they all have thier issues.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:40am

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Axeman

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I am not a writer. Tried it, more than once, can't do it. But regardless, I do read books and watch movies, and here's my thoughts on the subject:

I think character development, or character arc, boils down to the character having learned something over the course of the plot. It doesn't necessarily have to be something life-altering, but they have to have changed somehow from who they were at the beginning. Their attitude, viewpoint, morality, or some other aspect of their personality ought to noticeably alter due to the events they go through. Once you have determined how it is they change, the arc of that journey could perhaps be plotted out, similar to the story arc. I think a good way to help the audience 'get to know' a character is by allowing them to interact with a variety of types of people. Seeing how they interact with children, villains, servants, minorities, peers, etc. can reveal different aspects of their personality that help shape the entire person.

Also, my 2 cents on character flaws: The concept is good, as it makes for more realistic characters, which the audience can relate to more effectively. However, to me, there seems to be a marked tendency of late to take this way too far. Example: Lost. I loved the first season, but by the end of the second, they had spent so much time developing a myriad of flaws for virtually every character, that I no longer liked any of them, stopped caring about anything that happened to them, and stopped watching the show. Other than one character, everyone there had turned out to be a loser or creep in one way or another. (no offense to anyone who still watches and likes the show, this is just my opinion) So while character flaws can be good, too many doesn't make the hero more realistic, it makes him unlikeable.

Small characteristics and mannerisms seem more the job of the actor than the writer to me, but I have seen single major mannerisms written into a character before.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 4:31am

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The Strider

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It's been said that the key to character depth is contradiction (Which is something FXstudios99 touched on). I have to echo Axeman' thoughts on flaws, too many and you kill the possibility of empathy. Contradictions are universal, though, and arguably, you can never have too many. What defines the character is what actions he takes, so in my opinion, as long as the character isn't unintentionally insane or unlikeable due to the wash of contradictions, you can throw in just about as many as you wish. Contradiction is the key to conflict. Going back to the original poster, in 'Raiders', Indiana Jones has both the desire to save Marion and the desire to get the Ark, and the reward that comes with it. The villain uses this against him, and it takes a literal Dues Ex Machina to get him out of it (which is proof that tropes are not bad.) When the hero makes it through to the end, as Axeman said, he should have learned something, or changed in some way. The internal conflict is what makes this work. An example of a bad ending due to a failure to use internal conflict is, ironically, the fourth Indiana Jones movie. When Indy returns the Skull and gets away alive, he doesn't resolve any of his internal conflicts. Sure, he gets married, meets his son, and saves Oxley, but he wasn't changed by the experience. At an internal level, there was nothing that made the decision to return the Skull an important part of the story. It just happened, like an undiluted plot device. However, in 'Raiders', even though he loses the Ark to the U.S. Government, his internal conflict is resolved because he still gets what he really wanted: the love of Marion.

While we're at it, there's a great wiki I found recently that's been giving me hours of intellectual stimulation: http://tvtropes.org

I bring this up as it contains thousands of examples of character development, broken down to principle, and contrasted with thousands of other types. It's a great resource for writers.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 5:33am

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No Respite Productions

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Sollthar,

From the sounds of it, watching Arrested Development (if you haven't already) might help you

I've yet to see any programme handle so many key characters as well as this show did. They have about 9 principle cast members with lots of overlapping plot arcs (usually taking place in a small time frame like a day).

The characters themselves are very well done, maybe not the deepest and most intellectually written characters but all are very believable and their interactions with each other are what really brings them to life

This may be one of the key things to focus on in order to bring your characters to life... how do they interact with the other characters... what sort of social/business hierarchy is there between them all? What do they think of each other and are those thoughts valid, or because of the character's own flawed perceptions?

Again, it might help give you some ideas when you see so many characters and storylines being executed on screen... just a thought.

Hope that helps,

NR
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 8:33am

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Simon K Jones

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Excellent topic and some great replies.

One thing to watch out for is avoiding a plot-driven narrative, as this can hijack your characters and turn them into wafer-thin slaves. smile There needs to be a constant interplay between the characters and the plot, a two-way thing. Otherwise you find the story romping ahead in order to get to Plot Point A, Plot Point B etc, with the characters getting dragged along and shoehorned into the structure whether it makes sense for them or not. Both Heroes and Lost are excellent examples of doing this badly (Heroes in particular, in which characters do massive 180 degree turns for no apparent reason other than to fit into the latest ludicrous plot direction).

FXstudios99's comment about characters having 'sort of two personalities' is also spot on. Everyone has their surface character, which they show to the world, and their inner character which drives their true motivations. The conflict between these two is what leads to the actual character that the audience sees on screen. The most intriguing characters, I find, are the ones that have the largest disparity between their internal and external personalities. Similarly, the most dull characters tend to be the ones with the most obviously surface motivations (although this can also be hugely fun in action movies like Die Hard, where the bad guy is a bad guy and that's all there is to it).

One thing to consider for your script is whether you absolutely need 10 main characters, and that's a pretty huge number of leads for a single movie/play. Perhaps make 3 or 4 of them leads, and the rest supporting, or merge some so that you have fewer characters but all of them have more screen time and quality?

As for it being a single day....that's still a lot of time in which a character can develop, especially if you've got a 'pretty tense plot' that is forcing people to make extraordinary decisions. But at the same time it's important to not make them have complete 180 degree turns of personality, as I'm not sure people can change that much that quickly. They might pretend to change, of course. smile

As someone once said, the universe operates on the complex interweaving of three elements: Energy, matter and enlightened self-interest. smile
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 11:00am

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PLANB

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Surprisingly, many film professionals were impressed with my script particularly with MY character!

I went to a script course in the beginning of the year, first thing we did was a drama report. Then we focused on the main character and what type of person he is.

e.g My guy is a troubled teenager getting beaten up by a guy named Troy, his goal is what we call 'strength' as he wants to prove Troy wrong and get him back. But also to not show his weakness and this clashes with power. He wants power over Troy, as Troy beat him up and took his wallet.

I am joining another script writing course in April 24-26 especially focusing on character development!

What helped me was going to film courses around my community and watching other characters that were interesting and 'borrowing' how they developed.

Hope the above helped Sollthar!
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:44pm

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Terminal Velocity

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I believe that the one of the greatest ways to build a character is to start him out a normal person, or worse than the average person (such as a thief) who gradually becomes better until he is a hero. Take Artemis Fowl and his bodyguard. Okay, Artemis is intelligent guy, and Butler takes care of the physical part, but they are not really people you can like. Why? Well, they're criminals. Practically no morals whatsoever. But over the course of the series they become more and more repulsed to crime until they are no longer thieves and find themselves suddenly doing things to help the entire world from massive wars. It's a character change that I thought was handled very skillfully.

I've done my best to make my character a fallible human being who learns and grows into a hero. If you're at all interested...

He starts out a normal farm boy and gets dragged into a war. Learning that he holds the world's fate in his hands, he has two options; return home and live a comfortable life, but condemning the world to destruction. (His family thinks he's dead and he does not want to keep them feeling that pain.) Or he can stay and fight the antagonists, but then his family will never know that he is alive. At first, he chooses the former option and returns home, showing that he's not perfect. But later, he goes back and fights, realizing his duty.
He grows stronger and learns that he is gifted with incredible powers. He can either choose to rule the world or serve it against the enemy. He chooses the latter option (so he doesn't make mistakes all the time). He helps lead the army into battle and fights the ultimate antagonist. He fails and is about to die when he is told to trust. The strange voice tells him that he is holding on to life. He cannot do that and must be willing to die to win. He does so and kills the enemy, but is wounded badly. He dies a few days later. I've done my best to make him something of a Christ figure.

Well I hope you were interested. Chances are that this is redundant, because I am completely incapable of posting two useful times on the same topic. But maybe it helped a bit anyway. There's always a first time.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:47pm

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Sollthar

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Thanks for all the valuable input and interesting viewpoints. This did indeed give me a couple of points to check for.
I don't have heroes in my story. It's about everyday people who made a mistake in their past mostly. Some are likeable, some not, some you just don't really know.

Great to hear there are so many writing-aware people here.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 3:55pm

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Simon K Jones

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Another question for people - how much backstory do you put into your characters? I don't mean backstory that the audience is specifically told, but material that only you (and possible the actors) know about.

Different writers seem to have wildly differing opinions on backstory in general, whether it's for characters or the fictional world setting. Personally I love it as it tends to give what I'm writing a bit of weight and history and helps to give characters that ulterior motive we were talking about earlier. Other writers I know seem to think it's all a waste of time and you might as well just get on with it and see what happens.
Posted: Mon, 6th Apr 2009, 5:59pm

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spydurhank

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Tarn wrote:

Another question for people - how much backstory do you put into your characters? I don't mean backstory that the audience is specifically told, but material that only you (and possible the actors) know about.

Different writers seem to have wildly differing opinions on backstory in general, whether it's for characters or the fictional world setting. Personally I love it as it tends to give what I'm writing a bit of weight and history and helps to give characters that ulterior motive we were talking about earlier. Other writers I know seem to think it's all a waste of time and you might as well just get on with it and see what happens.
I love this thread dude.
I think it's important to have a past for your characters. How else besides you telling them are your actors gonna know what kinda people they're playing. There is almost always something that happened to someone that made them into the person that they are today. This is called thier past. We wrote a 2 to 3 page bio for the 25 characters that we have. They each have a past that's unique from the other characters.
Through out the script we explain why this one person is just a complete jerk for no reason or why this lady is so overprotective of certain people. It makes you go "Aaaah" now I understand that characters point of view. He's still a jerk but now I understand why he's such a jerk.
We tried to go in a simple route for the audiance, it's almost the process of when you first meet someone... you either like them enough to spend time to get to know them and want to be and remain freinds or they just rub you the wrong way and you hope you never see them again. Make sense to you guys?
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 1:19am

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Evman

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I think the trickiest thing is getting inside the head of the characters. You truly have to know them inside out in order to write them how they would be in real life. You have to know the character even better than he/she knows his/herself.

Besides a basic plot oriented goal, the character should have some sort of internal need as well, that either complements or juxtaposes what he wants externally. This internal need should certainly never be spoken about, but should come out through action, not dialogue. Without both internal and external motivation, he's gonna fall completely flat in the eyes of the audience.

Another thing I've always found to be a useful tactic is to not bring up characters/character traits up front. Reveal them as the plot progresses. If the audience finds out everything about a particular character in the first 5 minutes, they really won't care about the next 85. Keep the audience in the dark as long as possible, dropping what information that is needed as necessary. This goes for not only character development, but story progression as well.

I'm by no means a master writer. It's one of the things I struggle with most (in terms of screenwriting and crafting stories/characters). But these are all things, though basic, are worth being said.
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 1:42am

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Terminal Velocity

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I really love history, so any fan of Tolkien knows why I love his stories so much. It's so shallow to say "there was a world of men and elves and dwarves who were created by some god guy." And yet it seems many writers have gotten away with it. Any book that does that should receive scathing criticism.

I haven't made any plot-based movies yet, so I don't know much about backstory in movies, but I think it a really good idea anyway. It can make your character react to his situation in a unique way. For instance, if they're in a small dark tunnel, and the character's friend/relation died in this tunnel or another small space, he'll probably fear it more than the average Joe.
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 4:31pm

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JasonX1024

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Sollthar wrote:

Oh, not at all redundant! Very interesting ideas!

I'm currently trying to flesh out my characters for my script, since I have the basic plot together now. So I'm trying to collect ideas on little details or important charactericas to add. Some good ideas in your post. I do indeed have most of them in already, but it's always a good thing to hear suggestions and thoughts from others, even if only to reassure you you're not completely off. smile

I find it a bit difficult, having 10 main characters and a pretty tense plot to take my time to get to flesh out the characters. Also, the plot plays out in a single day and on pretty much one location, so that makes it even harder to have the characters do much else then react.
I try to make each one of my characters as part of me. Like the anger inside me I hold back and builds up is the antagonist or the main character who is just like that. So yeah you have to put some familiar feelings in there.
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 5:01pm

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pdrg

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Something nobody's mentioned (either because its a terrible idea, or they didn't think of it - I imagine both sides have merit) is working with your actors to develop some of the characters that feel natural to them.

Now clearly you don't want the meat puppets getting too involved too soon, and you need to have evolved the major skeletons of the characters before you even start casting, but afterwards, some good workshopping time with the actors before you shoot will help the characters develop naturally in relationship with one another.

Out there, in the pool signposted 'actors', there are a lot of *terrible* actors, a lot of *pretty good* actors, and a very few *brilliant* actors. The brilliant ones can play a really wide range of roles convincingly and really become their character. For instance I rate Toby Kebbel, as an actor who invests a lot of himself into his characters and so brings a story to life. The various levels of good actors will play a range of roles very well, but be a bit limited in others (for my money, Ray Winstone is an example of a fantastic actor to watch, but in a narrower range of roles). I won't bother naming the terrible actors, you all know them, but rest assured most of your (in the broadest sense - mine too) mates are in that category wink

If you cast from the brilliant and pretty good areas of the lake, explain the motivations to the actors, make them workshop under your direction for a few days, you'll find new sides to the characters you'd never have imagined yourself. It can be quite exciting to watch your script take a fresh angle as the characters become real.

So - terrible idea, or just overlooked above? I believe the latter myself, but your mileage may vary!
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 5:45pm

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Sollthar

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Not a terrible idea at all pdrg. In fact, it's the way I usually work. Basics on paper, the rest developped during work together with the actors. I find that process to be much more effective, creative and open-minded plus once an actor gets into his character and you let him improvise, there's often a lot of stuff coming out of this that you'd never think of. Obviously, you need to have a tight grip on things not to let it go anywhere, but, coming from theatre myself, this is a practice I've always done. I give my actors a lot of freedom. But that also means, you need a lot of time rehearsing, which I plan to have this time around - other then Nightcast, where I met some of the actors the first time 20 minutes before shooting began. smile
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 10:37pm

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The Strider

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What Sollthar said smile . I do agree with the notion that a character's complete arc should be on paper, but the specifics (possibly including an in-depth backstory) should be worked out with the actors. It's the same idea for everything in the script, from character to camera to color. Only the essentials should be mapped out, because 1) It makes for much easier reading, which is especially useful if you are in the studio system and 2) The writer isn't the only creator of the film, he is part of a team, and everyone needs to be able to contribute. It's the writer's job to map it out, and the director's job to make sure all the elements come together cohesively.

Of course, if you are a one-or-two-man crew like most of us are, you're completely free to flesh it out in any way you like.

EDIT: I just read your little bastard signature, pdrg. You anarchic animal! lol
Posted: Tue, 7th Apr 2009, 11:04pm

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Terminal Velocity

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An actor should definitely know his character before starting to act him out. For instance, in the film I'm working on, I have Neo as one of the characters. That would be great...except the actor I'm planning to use has no idea even who he is, let alone how he fights and does things. I know the Agent I'm acting out and think that I can portray him convincingly.

So yeah, you can derive from my long-winded speech that I believe this factor is important.

Btw, shouldn't this be in the filmmaker's forum?
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 9:20am

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Simon K Jones

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Yeah, it's definitely a multi-stage thing, and characters will always benefit from additional tweaking once you've got some actors on board.

Interestingly, I find this also applies to writing in other areas. Working on my book, I find I work out a character on paper, but as they appear in the story additional elements appear unexpectedly, based on how they act and react in the scenes. Although it's all in my head, it's a similar process to once you get on set and see actors playing the role.
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 10:37am

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PLANB

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Sollthar wrote:

some not, some you just don't really know.
At least I was trying smile
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 11:15am

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Xcession

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Having been just discussing the brilliant character of Omar in The Wire (Season 1) on #chat, I thought i'd contribute my musings:

I think what makes Omar particularly good, is the fact that there is almost no backstory for him. Nothing he does is given context, but for the context you've seen in previous episodes, so since his backstory is private, his actions seem more real. When you meet new people in real life, theres no narrator, no flashbacks, so everything they do is unique and unpredictable. An interesting person IRL is someone who you can never quite gauge, someone who's motivations aren't quite known.

Not knowing stuff is generally hugely intriguing in films, but over-explanation is a big issue in (predominantly) American cinema these days. I call it the "dropped in the deep end" factor. Starwars IV was great, as you were literally flung in. The public's complaints about the force being explained in the prequels was completely missing the point: the problem was that all the prequels had been given a global 'update' to fit the noughty's story delivery format of "explain everything". ("I'm a person and my name is Anakin!" oh sweet jesus).

The problem with many characters is that too much backstory is given out over too brief a time period. I imagine theres quite a pressure to flesh out a character early in a series so that more time can be devoted to plot development. In that situation, the problem is that no more character detail is provided after a certain point, so the audience is left to make assumptions about a character's behaviour, based on the Character 101 summary in the first couple of episodes. The audience is left drawing simplistic conclusions about someone's motivations and of course if you can predict someone's reactions, you're going to get bored of them sooner or later.

Many series basically seem to suffer from over-development i suppose. You become so familiar with someone's motivations so quickly, that their actions no longer surprise you.
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 12:01pm

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Simon K Jones

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Rating: +1

The Wire is a masterclass in efficient character development. As you say, it doesn't 'do' backstory. Characters are defined almost entirely through their actions.

The trick, I think, is that the plot is derived from the characters, rather than the other way around. Omar doesn't do stuff in order to further the plot - Omar does stuff which then forces the plot to change. The character of Omar calls the shots, not the needs of the plot.

It's all interwoven, of course, but I think that's what makes The Wire's characters so compelling, even the minor ones, despite the fact we (almost) never see their home lives, as in more traditional cop dramas or something like ER.

It also makes Baltimore itself a character, which is always a good move. Make your location/set a character and it lends the film a unique feeling. Sunshine does this excellently with the spaceship. Seven does it with New York. LA Confidential does it with LA.
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 2:18pm

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Axeman

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I'm interested in hearing from Sollthar, or from anyone else with acting experience (BackofTheHearse?), what you like to see written into a character when you are looking at a role. From an actor's viewpoint, what type of character development makes a role appealing to you?
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 9:12pm

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Serpent

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Tarn wrote:

It's all interwoven, of course, but I think that's what makes The Wire's characters so compelling, even the minor ones, despite the fact we (almost) never see their home lives, as in more traditional cop dramas or something like ER.
I've always loved the characters in the Wire, I just never put it into words and you did fantastically.

*WIRE SEASON 1 SPOILER, DON'T READ UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN SEASON 1*



Highlight to read.
When Wallace dies, a minor character in the show, it caused me to tear up. It's so well done it's ridiculous, and inspiring.




*SEASON 1 END SPOILER*

Right now, learning how to write well is my focus, and watching The Wire and The Sopranos are both partly responsible for that. I haven't done anything film related in almost a year, and the break has allowed me to put literally all my focus into the art of the film as I don't have to do all the editing, all the camera work, etc.

I can't wait to fully read through this topic, good stuff. +1's all around when I get around to it, heh.
Posted: Wed, 8th Apr 2009, 9:52pm

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Terminal Velocity

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I think a fan fic thread should be created where people can share writings they've done.
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 7:30am

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ChromeHeart

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A great example of a flawed hero is Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds in the film Serenity. He is a very interesting character in what would seem like a very simple film. Definitely agree with the other people about The Wire. The writers do an excellent job of making the characters realistic and interesting. One of the best shows out there in my opinion.
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 8:38am

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Simon K Jones

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Serpent wrote:

I've always loved the characters in the Wire
What makes The Wire's characterisation so impressive is that it works even on the most minor character - as in the example you mentioned. You look at a minor character like Wallace or Sid and you get a better, stronger sense of personality than you do in many lead characters in other shows.

Their technique is so incredibly efficient. It doesn't need flashbacks, or expositionary dialogue talking about backstory. It just ties plot events and characters together so tightly that character pops out of the screen.

It doesn't hurt that they've got probably the best ensemble cast...well, ever. Given how difficult it is to find child/teenage actors I have absolutely no idea how they've somehow managed to find so many great ones.
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 10:55am

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Mellifluous

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Interesting thread. Many others make the points I would have made, e.g

- even with small characters, have something that makes them stand out as more than one dimensional. e.g. a character tells someone else a 30 second story about some demon-creating event in their past, which they confront later on.

- actors can help shape character. Benicio Del Toro in Usual Suspects. Nuff said.

- conflict and character flaws are great. But don't make your hero character too unlikeable. I recently read a script with a protagonist who was an unlikeable misogynist, yet the script wanted me to accept him as someone who wins the girl. Think about what impression you want to give the audience of certain characters, and whether you accomplish that. If they have an arc, think about where they start off and where they end up.

- don't over-plot. Allow space for character action and reaction.
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 12:51pm

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Simon K Jones

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Mellifluous wrote:

- conflict and character flaws are great. But don't make your hero character too unlikeable. I recently read a script with a protagonist who was an unlikeable misogynist, yet the script wanted me to accept him as someone who wins the girl. Think about what impression you want to give the audience of certain characters, and whether you accomplish that. If they have an arc, think about where they start off and where they end up.
Reminds me of Meet the Parents. I came out of that utterly perplexed, because the Ben Stiller character came across like a complete arsehole but the film seemed totally oblivious to this. The film's conclusion utterly perplexed me, because I was expecting him to get his come-uppance, but instead he was treated as an underdog hero.
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 2:29pm

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EvansCinemas

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Over the years I've had the same type of situation where I wanted to have the characters more life like. One of the things I've learned in writing a script is every character had to have a personality. It gives the viewers something else to relate to! Also their personality has to be consistent the entire way through the script. Give almost every character a quality. Like the gentlemen above me mentioned with Indiana Jones about his fear of snakes. Something I try to do if I can't come up with anymore personality traits for my characters is I'll pick just one of my personality traits and make it bigger for the character I'm trying to create. Well I hope this helps! Even if it just a little bit!
Posted: Thu, 9th Apr 2009, 3:07pm

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Terminal Velocity

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EvansCinemas wrote:

Over the years I've had the same type of situation where I wanted to have the characters more life like. One of the things I've learned in writing a script is every character had to have a personality. It gives the viewers something else to relate to! Also their personality has to be consistent the entire way through the script. Give almost every character a quality. Like the gentlemen above me mentioned with Indiana Jones about his fear of snakes. Something I try to do if I can't come up with anymore personality traits for my characters is I'll pick just one of my personality traits and make it bigger for the character I'm trying to create. Well I hope this helps! Even if it just a little bit!
Ooz I'm a gentleman! Coolz.

Mellifluous:

You can get away with a pretty flawed character, depending on how he develops through the story. If he stays how he is, then no that's not a good idea. But many, many stories are focused on the protagonist's development, usually for the better (exceptions being Anakin Skywalker and some others). So the worse he is at first, the more admirable his development/turn-around. Artemis Fowl was a criminal, so it's even better that he becomes a good guy. But I agree that if he remains a jerk, that's not a good idea.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 9:20am

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CurtinParloe

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There have been some good points made, so I thought I'd add a few of my own and reiterate some.

Wants and Needs
Your character has to have a conscious goal and a subconscious goal. These are more engaging when they work against each other, especially when the subconscious goal is a character flaw. In Jaws, Brody wants to kill the shark, but to do that, he needs to overcome his fear of the water. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke wants adventure, but needs to be less reckless.

Change
Change is essential for a hero, not for a villain. If the story is about someone who doesn't change in some way, the audience will feel cheated if they succeed. If a character can't adapt to new situations, then they should be made to suffer for it.

The outside world
A great way to develop character is to reflect emotions in the outside world. In Jaws, Brody's fear of water is externalised by the presence of a deadly shark. We share his fear from the opening scene.

Who is the character:
The writer needs to know how the character will behave in a given situation. "Out of character" actions can be avoided this way.

Every character is a protagonist.
Every character in the story, however big or small, should have their own traits, character arcs, etc. The best villains are the ones who believe themselves to be the good guys.

There are a few things I've read on this which I found invaluable:
The Writer's Journey - Chris Vogler
Story - Robert McKee
There are some great articles about writing in the UK Moviescope magazine.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 7:22pm

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Terminal Velocity

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CurtinParloe wrote:

There have been some good points made, so I thought I'd add a few of my own and reiterate some.

Wants and Needs
Your character has to have a conscious goal and a subconscious goal. These are more engaging when they work against each other, especially when the subconscious goal is a character flaw. In Jaws, Brody wants to kill the shark, but to do that, he needs to overcome his fear of the water. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke wants adventure, but needs to be less reckless.

Change
Change is essential for a hero, not for a villain. If the story is about someone who doesn't change in some way, the audience will feel cheated if they succeed. If a character can't adapt to new situations, then they should be made to suffer for it.

The outside world
A great way to develop character is to reflect emotions in the outside world. In Jaws, Brody's fear of water is externalised by the presence of a deadly shark. We share his fear from the opening scene.

Who is the character:
The writer needs to know how the character will behave in a given situation. "Out of character" actions can be avoided this way.

Every character is a protagonist.
Every character in the story, however big or small, should have their own traits, character arcs, etc. The best villains are the ones who believe themselves to be the good guys.

There are a few things I've read on this which I found invaluable:
The Writer's Journey - Chris Vogler
Story - Robert McKee
There are some great articles about writing in the UK Moviescope magazine.
I would agree with everything you say, except one thing; that the best bad guys think they're good guys. I wouldn't say that. I think this depends heavily upon what kind of character he is. If he's a "champagne" villain, i.e. Renee Belloq, then maybe you're right. But if the bad guy is a brutal killer with absolutely no regard for life of any sort, i.e. Sauron, his evil is somewhat compromised when the reader finds out, "Oh, he thinks he's a good guy. Darnit." Evil incarnate knows it is evil, and that is what truly makes it evil; a direct and intentional contradiction of all morals in favor of power or whatever other goals it pursues. But that's just my opinion.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 8:17pm

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Axeman

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I don't think Sauron is a good example of a good bad guy. He is by far an exception to the rule you are discussing, and because he was 'evil incarnate', had to be represented throughout the books/films by a continuous stream of lesser bad guys, who the protagonists could actually fight against. There are far, far more cases where this type of character fails than succeeds at being a great bad guy, especially in film.

During an interview, someone once asked Willem DeFoe whether it was more fun to play good guys or bad guys. His response was:

"It don't matter. Everyone thinks they're righteous."

Even a brutal killer with no regard for life can think their actions are necessary from some standpoint, that they are justified in what they are doing, and that they are therefore in the right.

FYI, Really Big Gun Studios: when replying to the last post in a thread, it isn't necessary to quote the entire thing.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 9:18pm

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Terminal Velocity

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Axeman wrote:

I don't think Sauron is a good example of a good bad guy. He is by far an exception to the rule you are discussing, and because he was 'evil incarnate', had to be represented throughout the books/films by a continuous stream of lesser bad guys, who the protagonists could actually fight against. There are far, far more cases where this type of character fails than succeeds at being a great bad guy, especially in film.
I used Sauron as an exception. He does not think he's a good guy. You might have read me wrong. I like LOTR villains because they are not half-baked: Orcs, Melkor, Shelob, and Sauron whom I already mentioned.

Axeman wrote:

Even a brutal killer with no regard for life can think their actions are necessary from some standpoint, that they are justified in what they are doing, and that they are therefore in the right.
You are right about how a "bkwnrfl" can believe his actions necessary. I do not think, however, that they believe their actions moral. Rather, they think themselves justified because their actions because they are self-centered. Therefore, since their actions benefit themselves, they are justified. Or else, they simply don't care, which is also what I think makes a great bad guy. Their actions are not tempered by anything: mercy, a sense of fair play, etc. I think the reason these characters fail is because they are not handled well, rather than being a bad category of villain. It seems to me that most of the famous villains, such as Darth Sidious, Sauron, Morgoth, and Ungoliant are this villain type well-handled. It is difficult to make a character fully evil and still an interesting character. But that's why I am disappointed by many antagonists.


Axeman wrote:

FYI, Really Big Gun Studios: when replying to the last post in a thread, it isn't necessary to quote the entire thing.
I know that. But I would rather not do all the editing.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 9:26pm

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Sollthar

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Apart from made up bad guys that are just truly "EVIL", I believe an interesting and more importantly believable villain believes he's doing a good thing. In fact, I believe people always believe what they're doing is good, otherwise they wouldn't do it. And even if they realize that other people disagree with that stance, they chose to ignore that and still act according to what they believe to be good or that some good somehow outweighs the evil.
That's the core concept of my screenplay. I have no bad guys in it who are evil and know and enjoy they're evil. They are all acting upon their beliefs that what they do is good, or serving a greater good, but it's others who perceive their actions as evil. That's a concept I've always found interesting in any sort of film.

Though, obviously I also enjoy the simple layout of a comic book bad guy: You know he's evil, he knows he's evil and everyone's allowed to hate him.

So I think it depends largely on the type of story you want to tell and write.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 9:36pm

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Axeman

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Yeah, to some extent it seems we are just describing the same idea from different angles. To me, when we discuss a villain who thinks himself a good guy, what that means is that he believes his villainous actions are justified. He might know that his conduct is wrong according to the legal or moral mores of his society, but still believes that it is the necessary or right thing to do. This, in fact, can place them precariously on the line between hero/villain, like Daredevil or Indiana Jones, who are willing to break the laws of the land in pursuit of justice. While presented as good guys, they are quite definitely criminals. Whether they fall into the category of heroes or villains is entirely up to how they are written, and how well the audience can relate to their motivations.

I think what makes pulling off a bad guy who is just evil for evil's sake so hard is that those people don't actually exist. Real villains invariably have some justification for their actions, even if it is a purely selfish desire to increase their own wealth/power/influence. And even then, much of the time, I think, they feel that they are owed that increase for some reason or other.

An excellent example of a powerful villain who thinks himself a good guy, to me, is Frollo, from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He thoroughly believes that what he is doing is right in every way, while it obviously isn't. But at the same time, the audience can understand his thinking on the subject, and he comes across as a thoroughly realistic and believable character.

And as to the quoting thing, what I meant was kinda that you could just not quote the previous post at all, and that would work, but that works too. Feel free to quote however you see fit.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 9:58pm

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Terminal Velocity

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I guess it all boils down to your definition of "evil"; the act itself or the motives behind it.

He could be insane and/or incapable of controlling his actions. If the former of the above options is your idea of evil, he is still evil because he is doing evil deeds, despite what he may have chosen if in his right mind. A kind of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde thing. I don't like this kind of villain because he could be just anyone who's gone crazy.

He could be doing evil because he is mistaken or misguided and thinks it is good; therefore, if he could be convinced that he is doing wrong and was shown another path that was good, he would follow it willingly. I don't think this is realistic because few people are stupid enough to do really bad things, thinking they're good. I can't think of any examples. Anakin Skywalker? I don't like these guys because they are generally half-baked villains who "turn good in the end" or some other crap like that.

He might just not give a flying hoot whether or not it's evil, as long as it benefits him. This seems the most realistic type of villain, and the most common. Pontius Pilate, probably Attila the Hun. I don't like these guys because they are generally pretty weak-kneed and at the first sign of trouble will concede to the others' wishes. Moral apathy. General apathy. Fairly boring.

And my favorite: the villains who are villainous to the marrow. These are difficult to portray, as there is pretty much no internal conflict. They are driven by hate, by a desire for revenge, or by a wish for power or immortality. These are difficult bad guys to portray as interesting villains, but they are also the most fearsome or mighty, because you can let your imagination go wild, as with Sauron and Darth Sidious. These villains are often gifted with supernatural powers, and have a generally diabolical nature. I like these guys because they are just plain bad.

Now let's discuss good guys! I'm all pumped now.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 10:01pm

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spydurhank

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I love this thread.
It brings to light on how many types of villains there are and what thier motivation is or could be.
It would be pretty hard to portay a bad guy that is pure evil in the sense of the word. They would do the baddest things that you can imagine but do you think of them as a force of nature? Something supernatural? I don't know.
Because even the worst of the worst have an agenda or something that they're striving for.
I see the devil as someone who felt jealosy and unloved much like a middle or first child would when a parent pays more attention to their newborn. He rebels and starts a war on his father. Was he just causing a ruckus to get his father's attention? It makes me wonder about the nature of a really bad guy.
Could it be something as simple as someone throwing a tantrum but they never stop and take it to far? Are some people born evil or did they experience things in their lives that made them that way?
Those are just questions that I ask myself when writting any character good or bad for any given script. Yes some are completely evil or insane but something happened to make them that way.
hope that kinda makes sense.
Posted: Sat, 11th Apr 2009, 11:20pm

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Terminal Velocity

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Not to get into religion, the devil was the greatest of the angels (a bit different from being ignored biggrin), who was corrupted by pride into believing that he was the equal of God. He refused to serve God and was kicked into Hell. That is Catholic doctrine, but I really don't want to argue about it.

Anyway...a bad guy's origins can be many, many different things. In fact, a villain can come from almost anywhere. But what kind of villain does he become, and how do his origins affect this?

Good Guys

There are quite a few categories of good guy. I think they are harder to portray than a villain. While an antagonist can be simplistically bad and still be a gripping villain (providing he's handled correctly), a protagonist is harder to portray. It is imperative that he struggles against temptations or infirmities, or else he is narrow, one-dimensional, and impossible to relate to. He can either win decisively in the end (Christ), find their own skills are not up to the task but win due to chance, fate, or their friends' aid (LOTR, original Star Wars, the Matrix), or lose but leave their legacy (The Last Samurai). There must also be some kind of internal conflict (Frodo vs. the Ring, Han Solo, Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade). These are traits that all protagonists share and are necessary for a good protagonist. Other optional traits are: a romance (ugh), a friend who can either die or live, and a motivation that can stimulate him and keep him moving during the tough points.


There are a few categories of protagonist (note: not necessarily main characters, but good guys in general);

Gung-ho: Han Solo, Indiana Jones. They know what they're doing and do it with a unique flair and recklessness. They obey very basic morals and often work as mercenaries. They usually use a customized/rare weapon or tool as their trademark, i.e. a bullwhip or the famous DL-44 blaster pistol. These can be either main characters or secondary characters and do just as well for each, because their job is generally to add spice or difference to a story. They are a lot of fun.

Wise Mentors: Yoda, Gandalf the Grey, Obi-Wan (original trilogy). They teach and guide the other characters, and usually know pretty much everything. But their might of former ages is dwindling and they cannot combat the villains alone. Often they possess magic or strange powers, and are connected in a mysterious way to the main character. It is difficult to make them the heroes of the piece, because they generally die at some point in the story. This is usually a medieval or archaic-type setting. They are often necessary, but are not so much fun.

Teacher-Fighters: Aragorn, Obi-Wan (prequel trilogy), Morpheus in the first Matrix, Gandalf the White. They are not as old and venerable as the above class, but make up for it with prowess in battle. Their strength might dwindle as the story goes on, or it may not. They are the ones who are imposing and unmerciful; they teach in a less kindly way than the Wise Mentor category. They might or might not die during the story, but usually temper their fighting instinct and go on to be Wise Mentors for the next generation (Obi-Wan). They also are not really main characters.

All-Out Warriors: Aragorn, Mace Windu, Morpheus in Reloaded, Neo in Reloaded. They can kill pretty much anything that gets in their way. Their solution to life's problems consists of a knockout punch, a big sword, or a bundle of high explosives. I personally like these guys because they're dynamic, good at fighting, and mean. They have little or no personal conflict. But...they often follow a combat-based code of honor, such as no backstabbing or crotch-kicking. And often this attitude spills over into life outside the battlefield, leading them to be fairly blunt and honest men. They often die fighting against heavy odds, covering their friends' back. They could be main characters, but are better as secondaries.

Simple but Loyal: Samwise Gamgee, Sancho Panza, and maybe Chewbacca. They don't really need a reason to follow their masters other than loyalty or friendship. They are the staunch supporters that help their masters out of scrapes and give them the fortitude to keep going through the toughest and hopeless times. This is also one of my favorites. They are very prominent characters, but by definition are not main characters.

Comic Relief: Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took. They are not necessary, but often round out a story and add some lightheartedness to the gloomy and hard-to-read parts. They generally don't do much, but can do something important if not pivotal eventually. These are not main characters.


Oh man, I'm tired. This is too much to put into one post. I'll finish later, I think.
Posted: Sun, 12th Apr 2009, 1:25am

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spydurhank

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That's cool Big gun. biggrin
I didn't really want to bring up religion since I don't know a whole lot about it, the bible anyway. Plus most folks always want to argue the point... whatever it may be? Like I said, that's just my take on it.
So we at least agree that he had some kind of motivation for being kicked out of heaven. So he thought he was better than god? He probably should have acted like it. When people think they're better than someone else they generaly try to do and be better. A father and son, A teacher and student, that kinda thing but because of his hang ups he's now a super duper bad guy which was originaly my point. He did something in order to be in the situation that he's in right now, he never got over it because he's probably stubborn. I'm just thinking that there's gotta be a back story that fills in the blanks you know? I don't think that he in one day, all of a sudden just decided that he was and could do better than god. Oh man that would be a nice story to write, maybe from Satan's point of view. He'd be like, hey guys I know you see me as a complete nimrod but let me tell you why I am the way I am. but even if you felt any sympathy for him after he tells you his story you'd be like, Wow dude that really sucks for you but guess what man? You're still an ass. That would be so cool if done right. It could have a message like, you may have bad stuff happen to you but you still have the choice of wether or not to act like a jerk. I don't know if anyone would go for it but it sounds like a good idea.
Posted: Sun, 12th Apr 2009, 3:42am

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Terminal Velocity

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spydurhank wrote:

That's cool Big gun. biggrin
I didn't really want to bring up religion since I don't know a whole lot about it, the bible anyway. Plus most folks always want to argue the point... whatever it may be? Like I said, that's just my take on it.
So we at least agree that he had some kind of motivation for being kicked out of heaven. So he thought he was better than god? He probably should have acted like it. When people think they're better than someone else they generaly try to do and be better. A father and son, A teacher and student, that kinda thing but because of his hang ups he's now a super duper bad guy which was originaly my point. He did something in order to be in the situation that he's in right now, he never got over it because he's probably stubborn. I'm just thinking that there's gotta be a back story that fills in the blanks you know? I don't think that he in one day, all of a sudden just decided that he was and could do better than god. Oh man that would be a nice story to write, maybe from Satan's point of view. He'd be like, hey guys I know you see me as a complete nimrod but let me tell you why I am the way I am. but even if you felt any sympathy for him after he tells you his story you'd be like, Wow dude that really sucks for you but guess what man? You're still an ass. That would be so cool if done right. It could have a message like, you may have bad stuff happen to you but you still have the choice of wether or not to act like a jerk. I don't know if anyone would go for it but it sounds like a good idea.
No offense but I only understood about half of what you just said. You mind organizing the text a bit? biggrin
Posted: Sun, 12th Apr 2009, 6:25am

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Atom

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Bound to get me into trouble again, but yeah:

Paragraphs.
Posted: Sun, 12th Apr 2009, 8:05am

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Sollthar

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The devil isn't really a good example again. Like most fairytale characters, he's written without much depth concerning the morals. The good guys are always good, the bad guys are always bad, both know which side they're on and the reader knows it too. (Obviously, you can add a certain bit of struggle in it, but in the end, good wins, bad loses, everybodys happy).

However, let's keep religion and the bible as an example of character writing out of the debate.

Personally, I find stories and villains more interesting who are written in a realistic way and who work the way this world works. Every action will be perceived as "good" by someone, as "evil" by someone else. Good and evil are just viewpoints of an individual with entirely different outcome depending on who you ask. There's nothing everyone agrees on to be either good or evil.

So in terms of writing interesting characters, it would be important to have background information on how their morals work and how they deal with the situation at hand. I have a character in my screenplay who eventually kills someone. While he doesn't believe that he's a hero for it, the situation he finds himself in ultimately makes him believe that killing another person is the best way to act. And some people sympathize with his decision, other condemn him for it. And another person would have acted differently in the situation.

That's what I'm trying to write, hence it's quite a difficult task. But all of my character have opposing moral beliefs, and all of them are convinced they're acting good. They just don't agree.
Posted: Sun, 12th Apr 2009, 9:29pm

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CurtinParloe

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Sounds interesting Sollthar, I'd definitely recommend that book - The Writer's Journey. The original memo it developed from is reproduced here.

There are several different character types mentioned there, Big Guns, not just heroes can fill those shoes. Furthermore, any given character is capable of changing from one type to another, or embodying more than one at once.
Posted: Tue, 14th Apr 2009, 9:34am

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Simon K Jones

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There's a lot of talk here of heroes and villains, as if those are the only character types available to a writer. In pulp fiction such as Star Wars that may be the case, but if you move away from pulp stuff a lot more options open up.

I think Sauron and LotR is misunderstood, to some extent. Bear in mind we never get a scene from Sauron's point of view. At no point does he have a chance to explain himself. We never see what drives him. All we get is a bunch of scared, confused hobbits accepting everything they're told by Gandalf, the elves and the various Western humans.

It's Middle Earth propaganda!

There's a key bit in (I think) Two Towers that is probably the most important part of the entire series. It's slightly different in the book and the film (I think different characters speak the words), but in the film it's Faramir talking about the dead Haradrim and wondering what caused him to fight for Sauron, what lies led him there etc.

The point Tolkien is making is that the dead soldier is not An Evil Servant Of Evil, but a soldier - the same as Faramir's men. The only difference is that he's on the other side. We don't know why he's fighting for that side - it could be because he had no choice, or because he misinterpreted information, or because he was lied to. The point, though, is that labelling them as 'evil' is a dangerous over-simplification.

Pulp heroes and villains are great fun but they tend to get a bit tiresome after a while. It's generally much more fun to have something more nuanced.

Once again, The Wire is a perfect example of 'bad guy' characters that are perfectly justified in their own minds. Stringer Bell considers himself a businessman. When he has to do so-called 'evil' things, it's for the greater good of his people or his business. He's not evil, he's just very self-centered and locked into the goldfish bowl of his gangster world.
Posted: Sat, 18th Apr 2009, 4:44pm

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Terminal Velocity

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What I mean is that Sauron probably considers himself justified because of the simple fact that what he is doing is to his own advantage. Meaning, he doesn't care whether he's good or bad. He doesn't justify things from a moral point of view, but an "is-it-beneficial-or-not" point of view. As for the soldier, I agree that he is probably just a grunt, or had no choice. You've got a gang of slobbering, sneering Orcs glaring at you and you don't have many options but "I pledge allegiance to the Eye".

Tarn wrote:

There's a lot of talk here of heroes and villains, as if those are the only character types available to a writer.
Well, that's kind of because that's who we happen to be discussing right now. I guess if someone brings neutral (you mean neutral, right?) characters into the story, we can talk about those. But generally they're either good or bad, because correct me if I'm wrong but I can't think of a single example where someone is just hanging out on the sidelines.

EDIT: I don't know if you're suggesting that Sauron has some kind of grudge against the universe or something, but he is a fallen Maia and Morgoth's main lieutenant. It would make him much more vulnerable and less fearsome if you could see what was happening inside his head, especially if it was an emotional conflict.
Posted: Tue, 26th May 2009, 4:37pm

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Terminal Velocity

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Bump. I love this topic.

To clarify my earlier point about justified actions, I think many villains see "justifiable" as different things. Is it morally correct? is a question brought up by Anakin Skywalker to embrace the dark side, thereby saving Padme. Is it to my benefit? is a question most likely brought up by people like Sauron and Palpatine. "Good" can mean different things to different people, whether morally good, self-beneficial, or just best for people in general.

Please help me continue this topic.
Posted: Thu, 28th May 2009, 2:06pm

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Richard III wrote:

Please help me continue this topic.
Okey. (I did not skim through the whole thread so if I say something that has been said, sorry in advance)


Here goes. As you said everyone thinks that they are doing the right thing on some level. If you thought what you were doing was the wrong thing to do (notice I didn't say what you were doing is wrong as society often dictates if something is wrong) you wouldn't be doing it. Also remember that a character doesn't have to change much or be very realistic to be effective. Take Harry Potter. His parents are dead and he has been abused by his aunt and uncle all his life and would be a nervous wreck of a person in real life, but instead he is a quite normal, well adjusted 11 year old.

Ron on the other hand has been scarred by constantly having 5 older brothers overshadowing him and raising the bar. Also his mother has 7 children and the last one is a girl which indicates that she kept trying until she got a daughter. This could lead Ron to think that he was the last in a series of failures.

When Harry and Ron meet Harry is the most humble, kind, sane person out of the two even though he had the worst childhood by far. Harry also pretty much stays the same over 7 years. He only goes through the normal problems of growing up. Apart from that he is still kind, brave and compassionate. The thing about Harry is that he helps people around him change. Ron becomes much kinder and more confident in himself (albeit Harry adding to the overshadowing), Hermione becomes less uptight and looses her pompous streak, and my favorite development: Neville Longbottom...

*Mild Spoiler for Deathly Hallows*

...goes from being an awkward, clownlike, Jar-Jar Binks type, to being the brave and confident leader of the Rebel Alliance (Dumbledore's Army) at Hogwarts in Harry's absence. He becomes a man worthy of his fathers shoes. All this due to Harry's influence.

What I am trying to say is that a character doesn't have to develop to be a strong useful character or even main character.

Take something as simple as Madagascar (the DreamWorks picture) where Marty (the zebra) wants to go to the wild. He starts the entire story and is the main character. Alex (the lion) on the other hand is the one who develops during the journey. He finds out that he is actually a carnivore who's best friend is on his diet, and learns how to deal with it.

Hope this can keep the thread floating a while more.
Posted: Thu, 28th May 2009, 2:23pm

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Terminal Velocity

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Staff Only wrote:

Here goes. As you said everyone thinks that they are doing the right thing on some level. If you thought what you were doing was the wrong thing to do (notice I didn't say what you were doing is wrong as society often dictates if something is wrong) you wouldn't be doing it.
Yeah. I guess "right" and "wrong" might be misnomers, because they automatically make you think of morality. Maybe "beneficial" and "detrimental" are better for general terms. Beneficial for the entire world, beneficial for yourself, or beneficial for your best friend, etc.


Staff Only wrote:

Also remember that a character doesn't have to change much or be very realistic to be effective. Take Harry Potter. His parents are dead and he has been abused by his aunt and uncle all his life and would be a nervous wreck of a person in real life, but instead he is a quite normal, well adjusted 11 year old.
True, but of course the more realistic, the better. I haven't read or watched HP, so I don't know, but the fact that he is so normal could be an indication of what?--courage, resilience, toughing-it-out kind of thing. Maybe he could be externally normal, but internally battling with himself. (I don't know if he is or not, these are just possibilities for a person in that position.)

Staff Only wrote:

All this due to Harry's influence.
So basically, Harry Potter is assured, helpful, brave hero of the piece, while everyone else needs help. I don't think I've read books like that before...It makes you more able to sympathize with the main character when he's the one who needs help. When the guy is practically perfect already, doesn't it raise the question "if he's so great, why doesn't he go kill the bad guy (Voldemort?) now and leave his friends behind?" kind of thing.