NYWIFT Blog

Notes from a Screenreader: Bad Contractors Build Great Characters

image

Photo via Go Into the Story.

Like badly built houses, when your characters suffer from faults in their very foundation they can get by just fine with good weather. But when conditions turn ugly, their weaknesses begin to show and the drama starts to happen.

To make a really great character, think like a bad contractor:

  • Get off to a bad start. Because logline models stress the importance of the protagonist having a flaw, protags become “jaded law professors” and “uptight dental hygienists.” Those descriptions are underpowered. Flaws aren’t decorations you add on after the fact; they come from where you choose to dig the foundation. Pick some uneven, shifting ground with drainage problems for prime flaw creation.
  • Build impractically. Spec characters turn interesting when they are ill-prepared for the inciting incident. Don’t build a character up on pilings if your inciting incident is a flash flood. Increase the drama by putting everything important down in the basement so that when the waters begin to rise, it’s a big, immediate, catastrophic problem.
  • Make the living spaces dark and cramped. Confine your building to a small footprint, a single circumstance from which all the troubles flow. Don’t be tempted to add on explanations. It costs in clarity and page space to build extra personality flaws (as with extra rooms in a house) to move the plot along. A restricted space creates layers, as an oyster creates a pearl by an inability to escape constant irritation.

— ANNIE LABARBA

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

PUBLISHED BY

nywift

nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

View all posts by nywift

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

*

*

Related Posts

Notes from a Screenreader: Hoarder Edition

Photo via Go Into the Story. A first draft is a hoarder house. It is piled full of things of great value to the writer,...

READ MORE

Notes from a Screenreader: Pitch Me

Photo via Go Into the Story. Ninety seconds is more than enough time to pitch a well-defined story. The elements that make a story interesting...

READ MORE

Notes from a Screenreader: Well, Obviously

Photo via Go Into the Story. The post “Writing Advice So Obvious It Gets Overlooked” covers the most fundamental of all story fundamentals (thanks to...

READ MORE

Notes from a Screenreader: This Stake Is Undercooked

Photo via Go Into the Story. Stakes are the thing in the story that makes a reader care what happens. Your fun characters and snappy...

READ MORE
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
css.php