For the most part, I’m trying to make this series stand alone blog posts, but for this one I can’t help referencing an earlier one, The Four Things You Need To Know. This post might make a little more sense if you go read that one, but as a quick refresher, here are the four things:
- What does my character want?
- Why does my character want that thing?
- What is my character’s plan to get this thing?
- What will happen if this particular plan fails?
I worry that the original blog post left out an important element: change. The answers to these four questions should probably not remain stagnant.
The best movies usually have at least one of those magical epiphanies or transformations. Think about when Dorothy clicked her heels and said “there’s no place like home.” Think about the moment Han Solo comes back to help blow up the Death Star. Think of when the Breakfast Club finally opens up to each other about their different life challenges.
There’s one thing all these examples have in common, and it’s the reason why these scenes are so impactful: change. In each of these cases, we see characters do things they never would’ve done in ACT 1. Dorothy started out singing some ditty about getting out of her hometown. Han Solo started out only looking out for himself and Chewy, with no vision of the greater good. The Breakfast Club started out hating each other, unable to see past their superficial differences. All that means that when ACT 3 rolls around and we see these characters change their priorities, it actually means something.
It’s important to be mindful of what your characters want because odds are your script would be better if at some point one of them does a 180. If you want a character that sacrifices themselves for the common good, it might be better to make them selfish at the beginning. This is also true for the other three steps. Maybe your characters want the same thing but their motivations for wanting it will change. Maybe they’ll change their plans for getting something upon seeing previously unseen consequences of that plan.
So whenever we talk about a character or their motivations, or their relationships with other characters, or their challenges, it’s crucial to ask “how is this going to change over the course of my story? What kinds of situations might prompt that change in a logical way without feeling too abrupt?”