When Writing Start With Character and End With Character – Scott Myers

When Writing Start With Character and End With Character – Scott Myers

Film Courage: What does character development
entail? Are you writing a backstory? Scott Myers, DePaul University Professor/Screenwriter/Creator
Gointothestory.blcklst(dot)com: To me that’s everything, it’s everything. Here is another one of my sayings, you ready? “Begin with character, end with character,
find the story in between.” I don’t know what paradigm people have in
terms of story structure. How you get there is critical. And so you start with your characters, that’s
my take. Again, there is not one right way to do this. I’m just saying that this is a smart way
to go about it because the characters, it’s there story. If we’re writing a story, we are assuming
that in some magical, mystical way that story universe exists, those characters exist. And if it’s their story, they know it better
than we do and so character development is about getting curious. It’s about asking questions. It’s about spending time with the characters. And so the typical things we see like biographies
and questionnaires, those are great. I call those indirect engagement exercises
because you are reflecting on the character, you are thinking about the character, as opposed
to direct engagement exercises. So for example what if I have a character
in mind, I’m going to imagine I am a psychiatrist. This character is my patient and if they’re
reticent to talk to me I can even go one step further. They have been court-appointed to appear with
me as a psychiatrist and they have to answer my questions and if they don’t they will
stay stuck in the situation until they do. So you just create a situation in which (like
I was saying earlier) you just ask questions, you get curious. That was a lesson I learned when I was an
Air Force brat, you just keep asking people questions and getting them talking. And so you just type, you let it go. You can even do something that is a little
bit spiritual I suppose you’d say in a way where you are going to do either a monologue
or a stream of consciousness with a character. It’s sort of like a Vulcan mind meld, you
know like in Star Trek where you get a character in your mind and you do some deep breathing
you get yourself so you are transitioning out of the busy world and you are going to
be here now with this character, you set your timer for like 15 minutes and you put your
fingers on the keyboard or pen on paper, you close your eyes and you just type and you
just type. And your mind will go “I’ve got to get
groceries or the cat…(whatever).” Let that go, you don’t get attached to it. You just keep coming back to this character
and you get done with this. So you’ve got all these words that you’ve
typed out some of them are like dialogue like a monologue and some of them are just like
stream of consciousness. 80% of it may seem like gobbledygook to you,
maybe 90%? But 20% or 10%, there is something really
interesting that popped out there and that’s getting in touch with the characters in a
subconscious level and they start to talk to you. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. I created a prep class 10 years ago that I
teach online (a 6-week workshop) taking a story from concept to outline. The first four weeks are all character development,
the second week is brain storming. That’s all they do it brainstorm and I’ve
had hundreds of people tell me that was the most eye-opening experience for them was doing
that type of work. Again, the characters exists, we act on that
belief and we reach out to them and get them talking to us so the character. So the character development, those are some
great examples for character development. What can happen out of all of that is if you
identify a protagonist in particular their state of disunity where they are disconnected
from their authentic nature and that can inform (if you know what the disunity state is) that
can inform where the unity state is. And so now they are not going to just jump
there. Then you’re going to say Okay these plot
elements and the characters with whom they intersect they are going to deconstruct their
old ways of being because they don’t work out here in the new world. But in the process of that they are going
to uncover their need. Their need is going to start to emerge. This is very Jungian. Jung talks about (he says) “When an inner
situation is not made conscious (and he’s talking about like conflict or inner conflict)
it happens outside as fate.” Now I don’t know if that’s in the real
world, but that’s the protagonist story. The protagonist starts off in a state of disunity
and what happens is the plot is informed by that, there’s a synergy between it. It’s not just these random events. It’s like these characters that they intersect
with and the events that they go though that’s going to provide the basis of their transformation
and so there disunity that gets deconstructed, well now this stuff starts to come out into
the light of consciousness (their need) and then they move into reconstruction, now they
are moving into their new mode of being and eventually toward unity. So you can take that raw material that you
get with your characters and see how that starts to shape the nature of the plot (the
story structure). And it’s not just plugging this into ‘this
has to happen on page 25 – the break in the Act 2.’ No, you are doing it through much more of
an organic fashion with your characters and letting them inform you what the structure
will be. The final value of that is that you’re writing
multi-layered, richly textured characters who actors want to play. So character development to me is like everything. It’s absolutely critical.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Okay, so, I've talked about roughly the same thing with my friend (we are both writers/storytellers) ? Well written characters create amazing plots. And that if you're stuck in your story, chances are its because you don't know your character as much as you think you do. But, yeah! I agree! For me, i learned that i enjoy making character driven stories so much and just sitting down and learning how to amplify whatever message or learnings it is that they learned in their lifetimes. It's fun ?

  2. This really calls back to the teachings of Robert McKee in Story. He asks "which is more important Story or plot?" He implies the synergistic relationship these two have. Story characters and plot work together in unison to build a compelling film. No one element is more important than the other

  3. I tend to be a bit less methodical in my character development. I start with a story idea and my characters tend to be a bit cardboard at first. As I write my first draft (sometimes even in the outline), a character will do something I didn't expect. As the process continues, the characters evolve. I have a story where a throwaway character who was put in to add contrast to the views of some others turned out to be so interesting and changed so much that about two or three drafts ago, she became the main character.

    It begins anywhere. Character and plot bounce against each other until I can tune the story to where it finds a harmonic. (Pity I'm tone deaf.)

  4. Character is 100% THE most important aspect of any screenplay and story. Sure, there have been instances such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" where the idea or concept carries the film and leads to a great story being told, but even in a story like that we follow characters on a journey to achieve a goals of some sorts. Without having a compelling character to follow from start to finish, we're watching a soulless story take place and it makes it hard to connect to any film without it. Films such as "Cast Away," "American Psycho," "Blade Runner," "Wolf of Wall Street," and "The Social Network" would lack the impact it had if we didn't have Chuck Noland, Patrick Bateman, Rick Deckard, Jordan Belfort, or Mark Zuckerberg to follow and see their character progression take place. A lack of a great character = a soulless story.

  5. I have this method of meditation, I hold a coin in a palm of my hand and sit in crossed-leg position and wait for that coin to beat like a heart, in a real sense it's my blood running in the vain. So anyways now with closed eyes more I focus on the coin the deeper I could take my character while talking to them, sometime I don't even realize that it's not me but the character is driving me around. It's mysterious and unbelievably pulsating.

  6. Brandon Sanderson teaches of prose consisting of the structure box (which consists of plot, setting, and characters as they all are tied together by conflict). You can start wherever you like. If you don't have a good structure box, you have nothing, Where to begin? I often generate stories and characters from titles I want to use as my movie. I brainstorm 1-3 concepts then develop characters once the concept is chosen.

  7. to 'isolate, interrogate and interview' one's characters, seems like a highly effective tactic, when determining the scenarios and circumstances, into which, these characters are to be placed

  8. I agree from deciding the character arc aspect before even started writing. Completed the first draft of feature film screenplay this week and I actually start writing once I had clarity about where character starts and how they ends. Atleast for the central characters, so that when writing the scenes, the structure or the sequence of the scenes can be written with clear clarity so that in the re-write, writer can concentrate only on dialog improvement and logical consistences in the screenplay.

  9. The hard part is coming up with organic events that forces those increasing character change that enables the need of the character to emerge in Act 3, or forces catharsis on them.

  10. It doesn't matter where or how you start but character and story are not separate in terms of one having more value. Yes, its true characters are audiences first and main port of call and our guide to the story but it's called storytelling not character telling and if one was – if asked – more important I would say story. However, not really because both should be treated as equally important because both are parts of the same animal. It kind of annoys me that its in question because it's kinda like saying which one out of the two should I not focus on as much and if its story – why would anybody think that necessarily that story would be worth the time and energy of anyone on the planet? If you want a reason why so many scripts or manuscripts are so terrible I would reckon its because story is so undervalued. Character is the easy bit – its the bit that walks and its the bit that talks but its the bit that we as individuals are so attuned to because well we're human and we are like that part of the storytelling/story writing process. Story is the hard bit and its the bit that takes the most practice because what works effectively in terms of structuring has been figured out – what actually keeps people interested. Naturally taste does play a part but story and structure are the most important part in this way or at least it's important to think about seriously because that's the bit that will work for people beyond a joke, funny line, scary moment, interesting character etc. Story and Character are just as important as each other and I would go as far as saying every part of the crafting of a story is as important as the other. You fail at one – potentially you will not have an effective story. I really wish this was understood more because maybe we'll have better crafted stories. Just to be clear I'm saying it's not character or story – it's story and character – interwoven in your thinking and both working together to create a story synergy.

  11. I Highly recommend the book "Characters Make Your Story." By Maren Elwood. This is the best book on Character Development ever written. The Character is the cause and the plot is the effect. The Protagonist does what he does throughout the story because of what he is. Your plot is his Character in action. The technique is to underlight your plot and to spotlight your people. The plot journey should be uniquely set up to test the inner nature of your character.

  12. "
    Do you agree on beginning with character and ending with character?" I like this approach. When I tell a character-oriented story, the audience gets what I want to say, and, sure, as a storyteller I want to connect with them (don't get me wrong. It's how I feel. I'm not saying it's the only way).

    Yeah! Film Courage is incredibly helpful and I'm telling everyone. Nobody asks smart questions as FC's interviewer. (I didn't know you have a monthly ad package on the official site. Good to know!)

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