Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Story Is About Character

Todd Alcott is a writer of screenplays. He also maintains a blog where he analyzes other peoples' films. His central rule of analysis is simple: "What does the Protagonist want?". I'm not sure that I agree 100% with the implications of that, but it is a good way to approach a story.

Kurt Vonnegut has a simple rule for writing: everything that you write must either,
  1. Advance the plot, or
  2. reveal character
If, at the end of the story, we haven't learned anything about the characters, then it's not really a story, it's more like a list of events. This is the weakness of a lot of movies, including Inception. At the end of Inception, what do we know about the characters?

Dom Cobb:
  1. Wife died, (sad)
  2. Children are inaccessible (sad)
  3. Used to be really good at dreamweaving, but issues with wife have made that impossible.
  1. Is a student
  2. Has a hopelessly pretentious name (This reveals more about the screenwriter than the character)
  3. Becomes relatively proficient at dreamweaving
And so on. If you want to know if a character is well fleshed out, imagine them in a different context. What would Dom talk about with a stranger at a bar? How would Ariadne act at a fancy wedding? Compare those "characters" to your favorite characters. Think of listing everything you know about Han Solo, or Andy Dufresne.

If you want to make a good story, create a character that we care about. Everything else comes second.

PS. Inception could have been shortcut entirely if Michael Caine had just brought Dom's children out of America.


Anonymous said...

You don't watch Inception for the characters. It has Leonardo DiCaprio for crying out loud. You watch it for the story. Also, dream movies are cool. Like time travel movies.


Carsonist said...

My entire point is that you can't have a story without characters. You CAN'T watch Inception "For the story".

The dream mechanics are interesting, but not a story. I found them offensively unrealistic, particularly the time dilation issue.

If you skip that issue, there's some interest there, but most of the movie is still 1. Explaining how dreamweaving works, or 2. meaningless combat against anonymous dream guards.

I can't think of any cool dream movies. Were you thinking of any in particular?

Anonymous said...

Waking Life, Science of Dreams, The Cell. Eternal Sunshine is kind of dreamish.


Carsonist said...

OK, I haven't seen any of those. Are they as good as Galaxy Quest?