This is the thing
When it comes to writing a story – any story! – there are two fundamentals that you have to nail, every time … Character and structure. Audiences and readers need to be able to RELATE to the characters in your screenplay or novel, in order to invest in the story.
But we all know this … After all, NO writer says: “You know what? I’m going to come up with the DULLEST story imaginable, with the most boring or weird characters EVAH.”
So how do we do it??
Character + Structure = Story
Lots of writers argue over ‘which’ is more important – character or structure? I argue they’re both as important as each other.
You cannot separate them. Character and story are inextricably linked by STRUCTURE. After all, we don’t watch or read stories ‘just’ about characters.
Someone once said to me that it’s not even 50/50 – it’s 100% character, 100% structure. Even though that person clearly doesn’t understand how maths works, I actually agree 250% (arf).
So summarising, we want great stories about characters who do stuff. That stuff may be good or it may be bad – or it may be both – but it’s that sense of a JOURNEY we want.
Where to start?
I’m a traditionalist, so I like to start with character motivation. That is, what my protagonist WANTS and WHY. From there, I like to think about WHY my antagonist wants to stop him/her – does my antagonist want that thing instead? Does s/he have a counter-goal?
But there’s lots of different questions you can ask your character. I’m not a huge fan of those epic questionnaires that ask characters everything from what they had for breakfast through to where they went to school. I find too much extraneous information can be a distraction.
Instead, I like to focus on role function after motivation. I break down more character questions in this vein in the video, below. It’s only short and gives a crash course on where we can start with our characters and build on top of that.
Proceed with caution
Because character and structure are linked, it makes sense to ensure you know how the structure works of your story BEFORE you put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard!).
Too many writers *think* they know how structure works and in all honesty they do, since the notion of ‘beginning, middle and end’ is universal. We’ve known this stuff since we were children. But the problem is, because they have not researched properly and immersed themselves in the subject, these writers LACK the understanding and the vocabulary to describe where there are potential pitfalls in the structuring of their work … as I describe in this second short video:
The good news is, BECAUSE ‘beginning, middle, end’ is universal, writers can catch up relatively quickly and avoid these pitfalls … IF they put the work in.