“Characters and Scenes”
Must possess these two things: WANT and NEED. Also known as a: GOAL. To create conflict, the life-blood of drama, the character’s wants and needs must encounter a PROBLEM, someone or something standing in between what the character is chasing, and the main character must solve the problem; this requires THOUGHT, and, most importantly in cinema: ACTION.
To add depth to the character and the story, make sure WANT and NEED are tied up in the character’s ARC, the change he or she will endure.
The amount of change the protagonist undergoes should be in proportion to his or her goal and the amount of force the antagonist exercises to keep the main character from achieving that goal. It was necessary for Maximus (Russell Crowe) to die in Gladiator. He wanted to be reunited with his wife and son – both of whom were dead – and he wanted to avenge the besieged throne of the Roman Empire. To do this, he had to face gladiators and the Caesar of Rome. These are epic goals and epic obstacles. In Bridesmaids (2011), Annie Walker (Kristin Wiig) wants to retrieve her dignity and keep a childhood friendship from being swept away by a newer, wealthier, prettier woman. No death needed here. That slipper would not have fit. But yelling and crying were definite musts.
In order to keep your main character believable, compose him or her with FLAWS. What is the strength? What is the weakness? (You can pluralize those questions, too.)
Common methods for character development include: writing a monologue or a biography – in the character’s voice.
And that brings me to this point about DIALOGUE. Characters will speak, unless they’re mute, or you’re writing a silent film. Characters must all speak differently.
The differences can be dramatic: one speaks in a southern twang or drawl style, while another speaks in a British parliamentary clipped style. The difference can be more subtle: one character speaks in complete sentences, while another speaks in fragments or single words. You decide. But it better serve the story. If not, it may seem cool, but it will become superfluous and distracting.
Also, dialogue works best when it relies on SUBTEXT. Unless a character is intentionally written to say whatever is on his or her mind, make sure the character speaks with the subtext where it belongs – beneath the actual words. Besides, a character that completely speaks his or mind will have a whole other bag of problems to handle; think, Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) in As Good As It Gets (1997).
Should be built with a three act structure – Beginning. Middle. End.
Get in as close to goal as possible. Get out as soon as the goal has been achieved, or the goal has been pushed too far from the main character’s reach. When Agent Smith first interrogates Mr. Anderson, Smith wants to extract information from the naïve “human,” but when that doesn’t happen, when Mr. Anderson demands his phone call (because this is the real world, right?), Agent Smith cuts the talk, seals Mr. Anderson’s mouth, and inserts a tracking device into the Mr. Anderson’s body. Scene done.
Some scenes will need to be longer. What does the character want to accomplish in the scene? Answer this, and you will have a decent idea of how long the scene must be.
Each scene should have something gained and/or something lost. Though the main character may learn new information, he or she may find the gap expanding between him or her and the goal. Robert McKee talks about this in his book, Story. Each gap forces the character to press on. It demands another scene, until the end of the film.
Each scene must move the story forward. Even in flashback, information must be doled out that gives the character (and the reader and the audience) something new that propels the story onward and upward. Ordinary People (1980) relies on a flashback that reveals more and more information as the story progresses – and as the flashback develops, so too does the main character’s arc.
Lastly, this is where CAUSE & EFFECT comes into play. One thing happens in a scene, and it causes another scene to occur.
A noteworthy means of keeping your scenes (and your entire script) on track: NOTECARDS. In his book Save the Cat, Bruce Snyder explains a good method for notecards.
“Plot Points, Problems, and P.O.N.Rs.”
Have been defined as key moments that spin the story in another direction. Something happens or something is revealed that shocks the main character and pushes him or her in another direction, demanding that he or she summon forth greater effort and alternative tactics. This is a good definition.
I’m going to adjust it, some.
Consider a Plot Point as the moment that propels the main character further into the story and the plot.
Or…Plot Points are bridges from one act to another act.
It may serve to write a slow, thoughtful plot point, and then speed up the Act Break. Neo gets a lecture on the matrix, which is also a lecture for us the viewer, and after the talk, after taking the red pill, Neo crashes into the second act. Slow ending of Act One. Boom entrance into Act Two.
The same works for the DARKEST HOUR moment that leads into Act Three. Again, Annie Dillard, from Bridesmaids, gets a slapping-around-heart-to-heart talk. This wakes her up to her (real) problem. It’s short. It’s hilarious. Annie decides to pick herself up. But, wait, the bride is missing, and the new best friend needs Annie’s help to fix things. This leads us into Act Three. A short Plot Point. An slower arrival into the third act.
Demand attention – thought and action. Give the problem an external manifestation (e.g. a murder, a court case, etc.) that connects to the main character’s internal want and need, and you’ve got a layered film. But the problem cannot be solved easily. The main character must work for it.
Point of No Returns…
This occurs at or just after the Mid-Point. It concerns the protagonist’s relation to the antagonist; the main character is drawing closer to the villain; so close, in fact, to turn back would require a greater distance to travel. The Point of No Return works as The Darkest Hour.