Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Building Character

Anatomy Of A Novel

According to Syd Field "the story has to move forward, from beginning to end, whether in a linear or a nonlinear fashion. The way you drive your story forward is by focusing on the actions   of the  character.  ... every scene in a screenplay should fulfill one of two functions:  Either it moves the story forward, or it reveals information about the character."   From The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

The story I am writing first appeared to me as a series of plot points complete with a handful of what ifs. That was the easy part. Populating the story with real characters was a little harder, but not impossible. I quickly recognized the antagonist and the protagonist and a bunch of supporting characters.

The main character arrived with two young sons and a whole lot of baggage. She's determined, overwhelmed, and single. She's also attractive, nice, energetic and a lot more unsure of herself than she was willing to admit. She has a ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend and isn't sure what had happened in either relationship. She sorta  knows what a relationship should look like.

I treated her as the main character. After all she was the one who caused things to happen in the story. I made a list of plot points, gathered my characters together and started writing. By page 52 I was less sure of myself.

Instinctively I knew that there was a problem with this story. Was it the order of events? The chapters did seem to be choppy and sloppy. I kept moving the index card into different patterns. It just didn't seem to matter. Did I have too many scenes? too many characters? Maybe.

I was so sure I knew what the story was about; the dramatic premise. I took another look at the characters. All of the characters ... and slowly realized that I had failed to recognize the main character. It wasn't her  at all, it  him  and his name was Dominic.  His problems are bigger .... deeper and more difficult to fix.  Dominic needs something (or someone) to resurrect him. 

He needs her. And she is the last thing he wants.  She is so obviously wrong that he is unable and unwilling to look beyond the complications. And suddenly this new information provided a different opening.  And a new direction. A new twist on complications.

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