Wednesday Workshop – Mapping Your Characters
Blogged by Jayne Kirkham
A Workshop for writers, script-editors, producers and commissioners who want to tell more emotionally compelling stories.
Produced and presented by:
Laurie Hutzler, Television, Film and Online Content Consultant
“Really inspirational. It was interesting learning not just about plotting characters, but about yourself.” Denise Green, Producer
“It was very good; going to the core of human psychology and asking who we are, which is the essence of scriptwriting.” Alexander Lentjes, Stereoscopic Consultant
“Wow. It’s too early; I need to think about these things. Ask me on Friday.” Anon, Writer.
Top 10 Takeaways, in case you weren’t there:
- Everything discussed is freely available on Laurie’s website: www.etbscreenwriting.com
- Things have to feel real in all areas of entertainment, not just scripted but also reality shows.
- In order for audiences to connect emotionally with a character there needs to be vulnerability and verisimilitude.
- If your audience isn’t feeling something they’re not being entertained. And they won’t remember.
- The antagonist is the person that sets traps for the protagonist, and invokes the protagonist’s fear.
- There are nine different character types.
- Character is structure.
- People aren’t looking for happy endings but endings that are just, and that feel right.
- Ask what does the character want? What does the character need? And what price must be paid for either?
- Life is confusing. Stories shouldn’t be.
Four solid hours of story theory and analysis of the human condition. The writer that said ‘Wow’ wasn’t wrong. There was so much good stuff for anyone involved in telling stories that it is impossible to do justice here. I am very glad that Laurie’s insights are available on her website, www.etbscreenwriting.com.
Much of the session was spent taking us through Laurie’s Character Map: a diamond shaped diagram that charts six aspects of a person:
- The three misconceptions that acquaintances think about you.
- The anxiety you felt as a tot about something.
- Your three strongest traits.
- Three traits you wish you had.
- Three traits that get you into trouble.
- The three traits that that you instantly despise about someone.
You’ll have to look at the website to see how these data points are configured to make a kite/diamond shape and align with a three act story structure. It’s worth it. Notice from the six data points that they centre on ‘you’ – this was because Laurie got us to apply the questions to ourselves.
It’s not easy sitting in a room of strangers and thinking about that dark hidden secret fear you’ve not visited since you were two or three. But a number of people shared their answers and there was a remarkable similarity across the room: most fears boil down to a fear of being unloved or unlovable.
Not sure how my fear of Daleks coming up the front stairs fitted that but… it was clear from the session though was how characters and people are ultimately motivated by fear and that our strongest traits are also our greatest weaknesses because they are how we cope with, manage, contain and control our fear.
I need time to remove my Dalek-based concerns before I can apply Laurie’s excellent map to my own fictional characters but essentially, a character begins the story using those misconceptions of point 1 as a mask to keep their fear contained. By the end of the story, the character will either have attained point 4, their true self, or will have fallen to the ‘dark side’ of point 6 and become the thing they despise.
New theory to mull over: Laurie’s Nine Character Types. Laurie is a self professed heretic – doesn’t subscribe to archetypes (“ King, Wizard: they’re just a job”). Instead she has identified nine definitions of how characters deal with their fear of being unloved or unlovable: ‘if people really knew me, how could they possibly love me?’ resulting in us all building shells or masks to hide our ‘unlovable’ true selves. Other story theories talk about ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ of a character but Laurie identified the price a character must pay when choosing either. If you obtain what you want, you sacrifice what you need; if you embrace your need, you let go of the want. If it is not expensive, the audience doesn’t care.
Another scrumptious way of looking at character is to consider the character’s ‘emotional playing field’. What a character values defines what they choose (want or need) which in turn defines what they do, which defines who they are: actions speak louder than words as the saying goes.
Another heresy: Laurie is not a big fan of Genre theory – sees it as a marketing tool. She suggested that it is not a good idea to muddy character types but instead one should respect the integrity of each character’s emotional playing field. As I said, there is a lot to think about and digest. You really need to check out her website.
……and nobody mention that nowadays Daleks can climb stairs.