Category: Characterization

Plant a Seed

You’ve got a brilliant idea. Start writing.

Five pages later.

You’ve got nothing left.

What happened? The conflict is good, the central character has a compelling goal, a pressing need, and an unbreakable flaw. Not only that, but the antagonist is superhuman and seems to know the protagonist’s every last weakness. There is a good plot outline, complete with critical events, such as the catalyst and crisis, and the central character learns a powerful lesson in the end: Everything is right.

Why is it so hard to keep writing?

Seeds need good soil.

Your idea is a seed. It is the seed to the most beautiful flower on the earth, or the most productive fruit tree on the planet. It is a complete package, and is capable of coming to fruition. But what does it lack? Soil.

And now I shall reveal the metaphor: the soil is what surrounds your idea.
In order for your idea to grow, you must bring soil to the planting site. Think about your characters. Write about their stories and who they are, what they tend to do, and how they feel about themselves and the people around them. What made them become who they are? Who played an important part in shaping their personality and bringing them up? What were their parents like? What do they want in life? What do they want life to become? What about them are they unaware of?

Next, think about how this could develop throughout your story. It is crucial that the central character noticeably changes. Does he/she change from wanting peace to truth? Does he/she change from wanting to make others please himself/herself to making hard choices for others’ benefit? What vices are uprooted? Do characters become better in the end, or should one get worse? How does the central character learn from what happens to the people around him? from what happens to himself?

What about the world in which the characters live? Are they surrounded by gangs? Wealthy doctors and lawyers? Resentful neighbors or happy families? What goes on that will affect your characters? Does their world change drastically during the story? before it?

Last but not least, what happens during your story, and why does it happen? Do things just happen, or is there a reason for it? Does what happens affect the characters in the story, or does it just happen?

Does everything lead up to the conclusion?

Once you’re satisfied with your soil, plant your story seed. Water it. Incorporate your idea into the soil, not the other way around. Look at the ground and see the flower in the midst of it. When you start writing your script, your idea will have plenty of nutrients.


Screenwriting Notes


The protagonist has two main conflicts, one outer, the other inner.

The outer conflict is often between the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist is usually conscious of this conflict, and support of his/her position often stems from attitudes already formed before the conflict is established. This conflict is often fought over the central character’s goal.

The inner conflict is within the protagonist, and is usually between the protagonist’s need and flaw. Sometimes, this conflict is visualized by a character counseling the protagonist to overcome his/her flaw (Ariadne in Inception, over Cobb’s need to see his real children and his guilt over Mal’s death).

Audiences watch movies to see conflicts resolved. The conflict between the protagonist and antagonist defines what the audience will walk away with from a movie.


A young man hold a Remington revolver. He points it through a window. Inside the window sits a man at a desk, typing away at a computer.

The young man hesitates.

The man looks out the window.

The young man looks frozen.

What happens next?

This is what the cinema is about; this is what keeps the attention of an audience increasingly plagued by boredom and disinterest. Suspense. Surprise. Intrigue. Entertainment.

But how does the screenwriter determine what will happen next?

The writer can’t. Screenwriters can’t make decisions in a screenplay. They can reason, argue, and plan for certain decisions to be made, but are powerless to make them. The screenwriter can pre-determine every last event in a movie, but cannot make anything happen in it.


Because characters make decisions. Nothing will work if the character isn’t the one making the decision. Nothing can happen if the character doesn’t do it. Characters are what motivate the world of the movie, not authors. Characters are the ones who learn the lessons, not authors. Characters are who the audience follows, not screenwriters. The audience understands why the character makes the decision, not why the screenwriter wants the decision made. A decision cannot be made unless the character has a reason to make the decision, regardless of what the writer thinks.

We watch movies to see characters make decisions.

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