Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy, Sad and Angry: The 3 Dimensional Character

Yes I know. I should be writing scripts but sometimes it's good to write about the craft to get it straight in your own head. After all, no one knows nothing so maybe you're nothing will be worth something to you.

So as the title states, we're blithering about 3D characters, but not those of the Ratatouille type, but those of the "having depth" type. I see people struggle over depth all the time but it's a really simple topic.

Depth means
the amount of knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, insight, feeling, etc., present in a person's mind or evident either in some product of the mind, as a learned paper, argument, work of art, etc., or in the person's behavior.


Basically a person has more than one emotional state. You have to create situations(scenes) that take each of the aforementioned states and "reveals" them - or at least the character's version of it. Every great character has scenes with these emotions.

The great thing is that these emotions are a part of screenwriting structure and are a direct product of conflict\resolution in a scene or sequence. For example, action movies have killing so the direct result is sadness - depending on who gets killed. This also works in drama and horror as people usually get killed, maimed, tortured or just plain treated bad.

In a drama you want to concentrate more on the happy and angry cause drama usually implies "not the best of times or situations." Comedies are just the opposite, where you want to focus more on "strong emotion" not quite sadness but there needs to be a moment where we aren't actually telling a joke, but exploring a relationship or character flaw - which usually only turns up in relationships - aaah the circular notion.

Also, in a comedy you always want a serious person (straight man) to balance the actions of the comic. That's I guess why buddy movies don't usually consist of two of the same personality. Like Father's Day where Robin Williams is the neurotic while Billy Crystal is the calm in control type.

Or even Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey is the wild man and Jeff Daniels is the "level-headed" one (very loosely - they're both idiots).

With dramas, you normally will contrast social graces with characters to maintain that 3D balance. With a film like Shawshank you have Morgan Freeman playing the outward people person and Tm Robbins is the introvert. A movie like North Country goes even farther and places the strong-willed Charlize with the seemingly "spineless" everyone else.

Horror has a built-in mechanism for this as you always contrast the "last victim" or hero with the killer. Take Alien for example, the creature is patient, biding his time while Ripley is moving fast to kill it. Or with The Ring, you have an unloved little girl contrasted with a loving mother - yes it's not direct but relevant.

Thrillers usually fall into the same vein as action, though a good thriller will give you more "character time" rather than just inserting a heart-wrenching moment in the middle of a shootout. Not to say that's a bad thing. It actually gives your hero a little "reality" to them - or 3D-ness if you will.

If you plan well, you can have three characters who lean towards one or the other and juxtapose what shakes them into one of the other emotional states. That's what I like to do, compare and contrast characters. In one of my scripts, I contrast two "stalkers" to show how a person reacts to stress and even courtesy.

In another I contrast the two heroes by showing one as a younger version of the other - it's a buddy movie with a kid and a super spy - or rather two kids and two super spies.

I was on UNK and got to talking about a horror flick with a serial killer. We are just fleshing out our "anti-hero" but he will definitely be a complex person on the edge (for 10 minutes of the movie) who then falls and commits horrible acts in contrast to the ugliness he perceives.

So in essence, once again, your mileage WILL vary as I probably have serious mental problems. I mean how can you make a grandmother into a torture tool? Very carefully, I think. Well, we're going to stop now as I have blogs to visit and work to do - well not much work as I'm currently doing an application support job where most of my day is spent trying to not be bored.

And remember,

Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul

And also,


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