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DC 101 - Character Arc and Archetype

Detailing the crafting of a character arc through the course of the screenplay. Examination of traditional character archetypes from mythic structure.

Patrick Wimp

on 20 June 2016

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Transcript of DC 101 - Character Arc and Archetype

Character Arc and Archetype
Characterization vs. Character
the sum of all observable qualities in a human being.
The person's essential nature.
True character is revealed in the CHOICES a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.
What SEEMS is not What IS
A hidden nature resides behind our traits (characterization)
The essential nature should surprise us. It should be more than the surface traits the character chooses to show
RAMBO - Loner walking through woods provoked and out comes this unstoppable killer. His true character. Depth lost in sequels.
INDIANA JONES - College professor who studies dead civilizations, ancient myths and relics.
True character: Well traveled, charismatic adventurer.

Principal characters should surprise us - they cannot be at heart what they appear to be on the surface.

Assassin with a heart of gold. Prostitute who falls in love. Street Urchin who is really a Prince. Con Artist who becomes a hero.
Character Arc
Expanding on this comes the idea of the Character Arc.
Great writing not only reveals true character but also changes (or arcs) the inner nature over the course of the story
Character starts as A and through the course of the film's events is transformed into B

2. True nature is revealed
3. Revealed nature is at odds with outer characterization
4. Increasingly difficult choices put pressure on the revealed nature
5. Choices have profoundly changed character
1. Tony Stark - Billionaire playboy and genius. Rich. Selfish. Arrogant.
2. He's not all flash and flare, he is clever and self-sacrificing - stands up to terrorists, builds Iron Man suit, tries to save fellow prisoner.
3. Announces he will shut down weapons distribution. Fights the thing that made him into his characterization in the first place.
4. Questioned by friends, new enemies rise. Decision to shut down weapons has to be dealt with and danger grows.
5. I am Iron Man.
1. Michael Corleone doesn't want anything to do with the "family business." He is meek and mild mannered. College boy/war hero. (Characterization)
2. Michael is protective of his family and father. Uses ingenuity to protect father from assassins. He is brave, intelligent and cunning. (True Character)
3. Michael wants to help protect Dad by murdering a cop. Even the family doesn't take him seriously. He fights for it.
4. Michael is beat up, forced to leave the country and watches his brother get killed. Someone is trying to kill him and betray him as well.
5. Michael chooses to kill everyone and become the Godfather.
Motivation initially propels character forward--pursuit of the WANT--until the NEED is revealed and they now pursue a greater goal.
Why does he/she want what they want?
What motivates them to continue forward?
Strive to make your arc APPARENT but not OBVIOUS
We (the audience) should function on a similar wavelength--we don't want to see the Need coming a mile a way. We should be emotionally connected to the arc so we feel the change.
Character needs to be CAPABLE of transformation. FLAW. Character who is perfect has no need to be transformed and therefore there is no reason to tell their story.

Perfect characters are boring. Bored people will not empathize with the character and thereby won't care about your story. Once our audience is empathizing and emoting WITH your character, you can take them on the emotional ride that is the character arc.
Your goals:
Provide progressively building pressures
Force character into increasingly difficult dilemmas
Force risk taking choices/actions that will reveal true nature
Character must have the qualities (characterization) that makes these choices convincing.

Old enough/young enough. Strong/Weak, Wise/Dull. We must be able to BELIEVE the character is capable of taking the actions that transpire.
Character and Story/Structure are interlocked -- if you change character, story changes and vice versa.
Different Genres require different levels of complexity:

Action/Comedy - relative simplicity of character so as not to distract from key elements of those genres. Action, explosions, laughs, jokes, etc.

Drama - Tends to study human nature so complexity of character is a necessity
CLIMAX - Pinnacle of all meaning and emotion within your story. Everything you have built culminates here and the final transformation of your character occurs.
Characters are not human beings.
They are metaphors for human nature-we relate to them as if they are real but they are superior to reality
People change and can be enigmatic--characters are clearly defined and knowledgeable
Choices under pressure reveal true character.
We should understand our character's motives but also leave some mystery--avoid cliches and creating a reason for every decision--people can be unpredictable.
Aristotle - Why a man does a thing is of little interest once we see the thing he does.
Action defines character. Once they've done the deed the reason trends towards irrelevancy.
MAD MEN - When Don cheats on his wife or proposes to his secretary we don't care why he is doing it. Same thing when he does honorable deeds--we have loose understandings of his code but the actions speak most loudly. He is both a good man and a philanderer.
INDEPENDENCE DAY - Randy Quaid crashes his plane into alien ship at the end. There are some hints at why--kids, save the universe, etc--but the action is more important. Characterization - screw up. True character - hero and loving father.
JURASSIC PARK - Lawyer runs away from car and hides in the outhouse (then eaten by T-Rex). True character revealed as coward. Why did he do it? Who cares. He left kids alone while dinosaurs are running wild.
Character Dimension
We strive to create "three-dimensional" or "multi-dimensional characters
This does not necessarily mean we should load are character with quirks and outlandish character traits
Finely crafted characters are defined by one dominant trait
Macbeth - Ambition contradicted by guilt
Kill Bill - Murderous rampage contradicted by love.
Aladdin - Street thief with good heart.
Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) - Ditzy blonde who proves herself in academic setting.
Yoda - Little green muppet who is most powerful warrior in galaxy.
Ex Machina - Nerdy pushover employee who is overcome by sexual desires.
Deep within character--guilt ridden ambition
Characterization vs. Character - A charming thief. An assassin with a heart of gold (The Professional). Quiet guy with insane violent streak (Drive)
Contradictions must be CONSISTENT - No nice guy who kicks a cat
The most compelling characters are walking contradictions that constantly surprise us.

Protagonist should be the MOST dimensional character in the cast - this focuses empathy on the star role.
Cast Design
Protagonist determines the rest of the cast
- Their roles are all defined by the relationship they have with the protagonist
- The can provoke, aid, love, inspire, anger--they are vehicles to bring out the contradiction/dimensionality
- Bit parts should have freshly observed traits that make them identifiable to the audience and worthwhile to play as an actor
Tips on Writing Characters for the Screen:
1. Leave Room for the Actor
Provide the actor with maximum room for his/her creativity. The actor is the expert who will bring your final character to life and make them a real person
Avoid overwriting and describing every behavior, vocal inflection, gesture, etc.
Actor will look for the subtext and look for room to insert themself into the role
2. Fall in love with ALL your characters
Your characters are your babies. All of them, if you don't give them the love. They will not grow into valuable people on screen.
Villains - You need to place yourself in their being. Give them motivations as opposed to comic book villainy. Sociopaths are charming. NO ONE THINKS THEY ARE BAD.
Love them but keep a clear head. Avoid melodrama.
3. Character is self-knowledge.

Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me. - Anton Chekhov
We find characters through observation and build them through different parts we find - Dr Frankenstein
A friend's wit, a sister's smarts, the quirks of the weird guy you see on the train everyday--weave them together to create dimensions of contradiction.
Observation creates CHARACTERIZATION
Deep character comes from SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
In life we only truly know ourselves but we are all human.
We share the same human experiences--joy and suffering.

This is why we ask "what would I do in this situation?"
This provides an honest, human answer which leads to self understanding, thereby better understanding others.
Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler - The Hero's Journey and Mythic Structure for Writers

Derived from FUNCTIONS of characters within the myth
Protagonist. Embody our own aspirations and values. Typically must endure some kind of trial of self-sacrfifce to achieve the goal (NEED) of the story. At this great cost they achieve significant personal learning and growth.

They will incorporate all the parts of his/her self--true character AND characterization--to become a complete and true Self.
Willing or unwilling, deliberate or accidental, heroic or ordinary.
Helps the hero in some way--furnishing them with skills and advice. They can appear and reappear to aid in challenges. Representative of the hero's highest aspirations.
Typically old and wise. If they are younger or peers, they will have some expertise that makes them more experiences than the hero (buddy comedies).
Provide obstacles to the hero at transitional points in the story. They can provide physical obstacles, riddles or mental problems that the character must surpass to progress through the story.
Often neutral, neither supporting or opposing the hero. Simply barriers to progress. Can sometimes act as lieutenants or soldiers of antagonist or become allies.
Thresholds appear before the journey begins, at pivotal scene changes and before the final battle. Crossing thresholds symbolize minor changes and growth of character.
Heralds verbally or non-verbally call the hero into action. They inform us of an event of some significance or something we don't realize that is going on.
Does not have to be an announcer or even a person--could be a phone call, piece of paper, letter, TV broadcast, etc. (Sleepless in Seattle)
Represents uncertainty and change--all is not as it seems. They may continually change sides in the story or have an uncertain allegiance. Femme Fatale in film noir.
Often love interests who's affections come and go throughout the story. Other characters may also be shapeshifters.
The opposite of light, the dark force of the story. They provide tension, anxiety and fear.
The shadow is typically the main antagonist. They will provide obstacles to progress but not in the same vein as the guardian. The hero must struggle with and overcome the Shadow's opposition.
Representative of the darker side of our own nature and we are disturbed to see how they are related to us or we could become them.
Provides entertainment throughout the story via wit, foolishness or other means. They may be wise or criminally deceptive. They provide further uncertainty and keep the hero on their toes.
They may remind us to lighten up or also to expect the unexpected.
The Hero's Journey and Character Archetypes will be studied much deeper if you delve further into screenwriting. What is important is that these Archetypes describe your characters in relation to your protagonist. They provide FUNCTION for characters in relation to the story. Like all writing idioms, they are not hard and fast rules, merely guidelines to shape and shift your storytelling.

- Read Syd Field Ch. 6-7
JOY - Characterization - Single mother. Working class. Beaten by system.
True Character - Inventor. Creative. Resourceful. Indomitable.
FURIOSA - Characterization - Lead driver for war cult. Killer.
True Character - Protector of life.
1. Nina is a timid, mama's girl who doesn't have what it takes to be the Black Swan. (Characterization)

2. Nina borders on psychosis, uses her sexuality to take the part. She has a dark side. (True Character)

3. Mother rejects her changes. Makes a new firend/lover. Nina begins to act in ways that are contrary to who we think she is.

4. Nina's psychosis grows and she is overwhelmed by her dark personality. Her friend/lover Lily is going to take her role as Black Swan.

5. Nina kills Lilly (figuratively) and finds the darkness required to win the role. She becomes the Black Swan and puts on a killer performance.
Bridesmaids - She makes bad embarassing choices (that are also funny) because she is insecure and quirky. They are however from the right place because of her true character.
Thor - Makes rash decisions and pick fights. He is strong which allows him to overcome initial conflicts, but this creates further problems for him down the line. He only succeeds through humility.
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