The Art of Screenwriting – Part 4

The Art of Screenwriting – Part 4
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The goal of all feature films, TV movies, episodic series, short fictional films, documentaries, daytime soaps, commercials, news, sport and weather is to create an emotional response in the audience.”

– William K. Coe

Come on, we all know that Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won are the reasons behind Parasite winning the best original screenplay at the 92nd Oscar academy Awards. Actors or producers are not the only ones responsible for the success of a movie. So, once more, let’s look at one of the skills that a screenwriter needs to capture the attention of audiences.

Skills of a Screenwriter

4. Crafting Compelling Characters

Character is the essential internal foundation of your screenplay. The cornerstone. It is the heart and soul and nervous system of your screenplay. Before you can put one word on paper, you must know your character”

– David Howard & Edward Mabley

Whether it is a film, television episode or tv spot, they all contain characters. Characters the medium by which you draw your audience into your film and get them invested in the story. A good character is fully fleshed-out with depth and complexity, one that an audience can root for as they watch him or her push the story forward, unfolding events by overcoming obstacles on their way to the climax of the story. The bottom line is, without great characters, a film cannot capture audiences’ attention.

As both the quality of a script and the film depend strongly on the scriptwriter’s skill at crafting characters that audiences find compelling, they should be able to master this skill and balance the interior and exterior aspects of the character.

Now let’s discuss the interior and exterior aspects. The interior element consists of the backstory of the character and what shaped him or her. It begins at their birth until the moment of their life that is shown in the film.

The four interior qualities that a compelling character should possess are:

  • A strong and well-defined dramatic need

This refers to what the character wants and they must carry strength, weight and importance. For example, finding a lost necklace does not carry enough weight or significance to be sustained for two hours in a film or even thirty to sixty minutes in a television episode. These simple wants should consist of a sense of urgency. Only then will the audience care enough about the characters’ desires and want them to achieve their dramatic needs.

  • A unique point of view

A character has a belief system that informs how he or she views the world. Their point of view will influence their actions and will make them unique individuals. The characters’ points of view will make the story unique as the characters make choices based on a belief system different from others.

  • A personified attitude

The manner in which a character’s opinion is expressed through what he or she says or does reveals the attitude of that character.

  • Character should be able to experience a form and degree of change or growth during the film.

All compelling characters undergo some kind of change as at least one aspect of their life transforms by the end of the film. The transformation can also be less visible on the external level rather than the internal side. Compared to novelists, screenwriters do not write paragraphs to describe the interior aspects of characters but reveal their interior aspects through what they say or do in the movies, consisting of their exterior facet. As a result, it can be deduced that the interior and exterior elements are interconnected. For instance, an essential aspect of the exterior facet of a character rests in action. An audience will relate and empathise with a character only when the latter does something about a difficult situation. No one really cares about a character who just complains about what he or she cannot have.

Furthermore, another interesting principle that screenwriters like to use is the concept of protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the central character of the story while the antagonist appears as the personification of the obstacle that the protagonist has to face to attain his or her objective. In most films, the antagonist is the villain. A conflict arises between the two when the antagonist introduces a resistance that prevents the protagonist from satisfying his or her dramatic need and this conflict propels the action forward.

Now, it is not enough for a scriptwriter to know the minute details of the characters, but he must also carefully choose the timing at which details of the characters are revealed to the audience. And, let us not forget about secondary characters. They are as important as the main ones. So, much time and effort should be spent in developing the sociological and psychological profile of secondary characters.

So, according to you, which movies had the best compelling characters? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

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