screenwriting

Why You Should Know What Your Characters Want and Need

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     Constantly studying craft.

It’s vital that we, as storytellers, understand what ALL our characters (major and minor) want and need. If you have a cast of passionate characters, passionate about willy-nilly things, a story can get befuddling and difficult. Unless their passion circles the same topic the story wanders off in too many directions and then a reader gets lost.

For example, I recently read a manuscript wherein one character was passionate about rebuilding old cars, another passionate about remodeling kitchens, and a third passionate about going to day spas. Okay, interesting. Unfortunately these three passions never intersected in the story.  I suggested to the writer that if all three could meet as a result of vintage cars, remodeling, or at a day spa, then they could bond over that single shared passion, the crime could have something to do with that, and so on. But instead the reader was sent in three different directions, down three separate roads only to wonder why and then quickly get tired of the story.

Working on my next novel…

When I realized that the cast of characters in my upcoming novel, all of whom are holocaust survivors, all had the same needs (safety, community, nourishment, etc.) I had to write them with conflicting wants or the story would be boring (remember, wants and needs are VERY different) – some want to remember while others will do anything to forget. Some seek justice while others have lost hope in the jurisdiction of this world. Some seek the truth while others see only lies – and so on. These conflicting desires surrounding the same topic (the holocaust/concentration camp survival) create conflict no matter what else is happening. That tension filled topic is at the core of my story and keeps the spokes of my story-wheel spinning all in the same direction.

So remember, know the wants and needs of your characters and ALWAYS create conflict on every page.

Here’s a great article from K.M. Weiland on The Thing Your Character Wants VS The Thing Your Character Needs. 

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Staying Grounded in Basic Storytelling Principles

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This last year I’ve really gone ‘dark’ as they say, which means I’ve been very quiet (and unproductive) on all fronts. It’s been a good break, a needed break so I could recharge and take care of myself, but now it’s time to get back to work.

When I’m struggling with a section in my WIP (work in progress for you non-industry folks), or trying to re-wrap my mind around my story I return to basic tools for guides out of that self-imposed darkness.

Larry Brooks, who if you don’t know him yet, you should – who writes writerly-how-to books is one of the gurus (via his books and blog at Storyfix.com) that I return to over and over again. Not because I’m that stupid (well, not always) but because stories, characters, plots, themes and all the magic elixirs that make up a story world, are fluid, changing, often morphing into something completely different from what I thought I started out to write. So back to the basics I go. If I don’t go back to those grounding basics of storytelling; premise, concept, plot, theme and so on, then I get lost in the words. SO MANY WORDS! And when I get lost in the words it takes FOREVER to finish a project, be it novel, short story or essay.

Oh, and when I said my story could ‘often morph into something completely different’ I meant it. I recently had a conversation with Hollywood script guru, Michael Hague (author of too many books to mention here) who asked me which aspect of my story fascinated me the most, because, he said, that’s where your passion lies and that’s what you should follow. My answer shocked the baggeebies out of me. So, with that answer, which I wont’ share here…maybe later in another post – changed my entire story. After the initial shock, I was happy our conversation happened when I was only 150 pages in.

When a local writer friend, Pam Carter (Writer, Producer and Playwright) asked me about premise,

            From Larry Brooks Workshop materials

I realized during our conversation about hers that I actually needed to re-consider my original premise now that the story had changed so dramatically, and so revisited all my information on premise and concept. Again, back to Larry Brooks

 

who teaches this stuff like hell fire and damnation from a preacher ablaze with the truth. If you’ve seen him live you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So while I press through; re-entering my story world, getting back into a writing groove, editing, re-outlining and all the other blue-collar work a writer does to create a story-world and narrative that will be of interest to readers, I wonder, what tools do other writers return to time after time, and why? Okay, back to work.