What to do when a reader says “I don’t buy that he/she would do that”?
In part 1 of this 2-part episode, Chas & Stu look at examples of good character motivation. We’ve all watched movies where we don’t believe the motivation of a character or characters. We may have even written scripts where readers don’t buy the character’s choices. And that’s often a real problem because most of these choices coincide with key structural moments — e.g. the moments where the characters decide to do something “out of character” in order to progress to the next part of the story. To help us solve the problem of how to improve our character motivations, in this episode we explore great examples of character motivation and how they have helped the audience believe a character’s decision.
This episode started out as an exploration of bad character decisions; ones which are universally derided by audiences. And, sadly for us filmmakers, it is often a key structural decision being made by a character that audiences just don’t buy. However, as Stu and Chas did their homework, this episode swiftly became an exploration of character motivations (because that is really what you have to get across in order for your audience to believe a decision) and – in true DZ style – good examples of character motivations.
And so Chas and Stu dive into NOTTING HILL, TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, GAME NIGHT, ARRIVAL, IN THE BEDROOM, BEIRUT, BREAKING BAD, THE MATRIX, BLOCKERS, A NEW HOPE (of course) and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Passing/honourable mention also to MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, THE COMMUTER, THE LOBSTER, GAME OF THRONES, IRON MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and DOCTOR STRANGE (as we re-visit and re-contextualise stuff we’ve analysed previously).
The potential craft tools they uncover are character patterning, structural timing of the decision, debating the decision (both internally and externally), withholding the decision from the audience, and using external plot elements to either remove obstacles or push the character into making a decision that is… well… out of character. But believably so.
Stay tuned for Part II where we – for once – actually do explore some bad examples of character motivation.
As always: SPOILERS ABOUND!
Audio quotations used for educational purposes only. Timestamps indicated below. Chapter markers included in the mp3. Watch it on on YouTube.
Read the transcript on GitHub or in HTML.
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- CRAFT TOOLS AND THE ISSUE OF SUBJECTIVITY
- DECISION vs MOTIVATION [@ 9m 48s]
- CHARACTER PATTERNING
- EARLY CHARACTER DECISIONS
- LATE CHARACTER DECISIONS
- DEBATING THE CHARACTER DECISION
- INTERNALLY DEBATE THE CHARACTER DECISION
- WITHHOLDING THE DECISION FROM THE AUDIENCE
- PROVIDING MOTIVATION THROUGH BACKSTORY
- WORLD BUILDING AFFECTING DECISION MAKING
- REMOVING OBSTACLES/ANCHORS
- OVERCOMING CHARACTER WOUNDS IN MARVEL FIRST ACTS [@ 1h 38m 8s]
- GOALS, STAKES & URGENCY
- WRAP UP [@ 2h 9m 14s]
- BACKMATTER [@ 2h 15m 20s]
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