It’s Not Easy Being a Fictional Character

And nor should it be.

A film should be about the most important moment in your characters lives. If it’s not, they why aren’t you writing about that instead?

If it’s the most important moment of their lives, it means that there’s a lot at stake. And I don’t mean a lot, I mean A LOT. Their entire future depends on this turning out the way they want it to to hit their ideal life. Whether that’s getting together with the love of their life, getting revenge on the person who killed their family or averting the end of the world, they will fight with everything that they are to get it.

So don’t GIVE it to them.

Make them work for it.

Perhaps it sounds harsh. But movies and films are about watching people in conflict. It could be physical or internal conflict; dramatic or comedic conflict – as long as there is something that is preventing the protagonist from getting what they want handed to them on a silver platter.

I saw ‘Cabin In The Woods’ on the weekend and it definitely had moments where things were too easy. I won’t spoil it for you, but there were characters who got very badly injured by were fine by the next scene. There was a scene where there was a very conveniently abandoned place for the main characters to shelter when it should’ve been populated. There was a scene where a character was told to kill someone and the someone they were supposed to kill turned around and handed them the gun – but not as a self sacrificial act. Just to hand them the gun.

Don’t be afraid to make it hard for them. You injure your characters? Let them be injured. They don’t have to be The Hulk or Thor, they’re human. How would they manage if they twisted their ankle or broke their arm running away from the bad guys? Would they use the injury to their advantage – play dead until the bad guys are coming over to inspect their prize and then the protagonist wakes up and punch them in the face? Or is that the end of them and do they completely give up, sobbing their eyes out? Or does someone else sweep in at the last second to help?

Don’t be afraid to have them be ignorant. The signs are all there that your protag’s other half got drunk and slept with your protagonist’s best friend the night before. Don’t feel like your protagonist has to see through it straight away. Let them lie in delusion for a little. Let the audience feel for them and relate to them as they know what’s going on and the protagonist doesn’t. Being ignorant doesn’t make them stupid characters. It makes them flawed. Character flaws are fodder for fantastic stories.

Don’t be afraid to put them in positions that reveal their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This stuff here is what reveals character. These are the moments that people really connect with. It doesn’t matter how invincible Indiana Jones is, as soon as he shirks at the sight of a snake, we laugh because we know what that feels like to be afraid of something so silly – especially when he’s gone through so much and dealt with much bigger things. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities can be internal or external – they don’t always have to be tangible. A character trait – perhaps your protagonist can’t let other people into their life. Other characters can be physical weaknesses – family, friends, animals are often kidnapped or threatened too.

Put them in a position where they have to give absolutely everything to get what they want. Then make sure they have to give absolutely everything to get it. Don’t tie them up with rope and leave the knife in their hands. Place it on the other side of the room, hanging in the top corner with a ladder that’s wonky and slightly too short and only one cushion there to place in case they fall off the ladder on their first attempt.

Maybe not literally, but leave the silver platter at the door. Make their battle interesting.

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