Compelling Characters Hold The Keys To Your success
Trust me when I say this, character is everything. EVERYTHING. If you don’t have compelling characters in your story, characters that the audience can fall in love with, then you’ve already lost.
When I think about some of the movies I love, there’s no doubt in my mind that characters are everything. I don’t give a shit about your fast cars, explosions, fake dinosaurs and terrible fucking dialogue. I love characters. When I watch Titanic, I don’t care about the sinking boat. We all know the boat sinks, who gives a shit. I care about Jack and Rose. I care about their love. Those characters are memorable and the only reason audience members come back to that film, year after year, to watch the same story unfold. Think about it, without Jack and Rose, it’s a fucking documentary, right?
So the question is, how do you write compelling characters? How does one get the audience to buy in? What’s the secret?
Fuck if I know, but I can tell you how I approach things and what works for me.
Ever notice that great characters always seem to be opposites? They have different backgrounds, come from different places, live totally different lives and yet they come together in one way or another and make the story work. They leave you satisfied and with love in your heart. Or sometimes even hate.
Looking back at the Titanic example, simply put, Jack is poor and Rose is rich. He lives on the street and she lives in a mansion. He’s in the bottom of the boat and she’s in the top. Opposites, people. I’m talking about opposites.
Think about the movies you love and it’s going to be the same thing. Predator? Arnold is a man and The Predator is an alien. Aladdin? Street rat and a princess. The Princess Bride? Princess and a stable boy. The Breakfast Club? Jesus Christ, I fucking love this movie. John Hughes literally hands you the keys to the goddamn treasure chest right in the voice over!
But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.
Chills down my fucking spine.
So the question here is, why does this work?
FISH OUT OF WATER
When the audience watches a character, outside of their element, struggle and fight to win, we can’t help but cheer for them. It’s relatable. It’s everything we want in life as humans. We want a goal or a dream and we want to fight for it. We want to succeed.
Think about your career as a writer or a filmmaker. Remember that first screenplay you ever wrote? That first movie you ever made? You didn’t know what the fuck you were doing. You weren’t in your element. But you did it! Remember that sense of pride you felt? That sense of accomplishment? That’s why the audience can relate.
Let’s look outside of the arts. Remember when you finally got your license? The birth of your first child? Thrown into the fire, you go all in. You’ve never been in those situations before, you simply jump into the deep end. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you arrive safely to your first destination. The tears flowing down your face at the kids graduation, knowing you got them into adulthood without killing the little bastard. These are the feels we’re looking to give the audience.
It’s the same reason good girls like bad boys, is it not?
Opposites, attract. People are drawn in by this shit. We can’t help ourselves,it’s fucking compelling.
It’s like a car crash, we just can’t look away.
Compelling characters can be made simply, just by putting them in a situation opposite of what they’re used to. Yes, it’s that easy. Look at how quickly I can make this work below.
What kind of movie do I want to write? Love story.
My main character? A man.
His/Her name? John.
Where does he/she live? A small town in Michigan.
What does he/she do for a living? Low level accountant.
Personality? Shy, introvert.
Who does he/she fall in love with? Isabella, an extrovert who runs a drug empire in Mexico.
That’s fucking gold and I did it in less than five minutes. Hell, you can take it a step further by changing Isabella to Manuel and make John question his sexuality throughout. The possibilities are endless.
It’s simply a game of opposites. Take time, think about your main character and surround them by situations and characters that are VERY different from themselves. Take them out of their element and you’ll win every time.
What have you come up with?