How to Create a Bulletproof Character Arc with K.M. Weiland
Today we have a special crossover event between The Indie Film Hustle Podcast and The Bulletproof Screenplay podcast. Since I’m the host of both podcasts I thought it would be fun and educational to do these kinds of episodes every once in a while. Today’s guest is best selling author K.M. Weiland, the author of Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development.
K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY, NIEA, and Lyra Award-winning and internationally published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.
We dig in deep on plot, story structure and of course character arcs. Enjoy my conversation with K.M. Weiland.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- K.M. Weiland – Official Site
- K.M. Weiland – Youtube
- Helping Writers Become Authors
- Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development
- Outlining Your Novel
- Structuring Your Novel
- Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration
- BlackBox – Make Passive Income From Your Footage
- Studio Unknown Audio Post – Mention the IFH podcast, and you’ll receive 50% off one day of ADR
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Martin Scorsese Film Directing Masterclass
- Ron Howard Film Directing Masterclass
- Judd Apatow Comedy Writing/Directing Masterclass
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Master Class
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
- IFH MASTERS CIRCLE – Filmmaking Community
- IFH’s Online Film School
- Six Secrets to get into Film Festivals for FREE!
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Welcome to the bulletproof screenplay podcast episode. Number 12. The reason I write is because kidnapping people and forcing them to act out. Your interesting make-believe world is technically illegal. Anonymous broadcasting from a dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next round.
It’s the bulletproof screenplay on cast showing you the craft and business of screenwriting while teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof. And here’s your host Alex Ferrari. Welcome to a crossover episode of the bulletproof podcast. I am your humble host Alex Ferrari now Today’s Show is sponsored by bulletproof script coverage.
Unlike other script coverage Services bulletproof script coverage actually focuses on the kind of project you are in the goals of the project you are so we actually break it down by three categories micro-budget in the film market and Studio film. There’s no reason to get coverage from a reader that used to reading Temple movies when your movie is going to be done for $100,000, and we wanted to focus on that at bulletproof script coverage.
Our readers have worked with Marvel Studios CAA wnbc HBO Disney scot-free Warner Brothers, The Black List and many many more. So if you need your screenplay or TV script covered by professional readers. Head on over to cover my screenplay. Not today. We have a crossover podcast event. We are publishing the same episode on both the bulletproof screenplay podcast and the indie film hustle podcast.
Now being the host of both podcast every once in a while. I’m going to um, do these kind of crossover events? Because I feel sometimes that the guest from one episode or one podcast my benefit to audience of the other one and vice versa. So every once in a while, I’m going to be doing that and today’s guest is no exception.
K my island is the author of creating character Arc the masterful authors guide to uniting story structure plot and character development. It is an amazing book and she has written multiple books on how to write us story and plotting and character development. But this book specifically is one of those have to have books if you’re a screenwriter or a Storyteller at all.
And I was so thrilled to have her on the show and pick her brain about character arcs and something that I think so many of us as storytellers really don’t uh, focus a lot of energy on it’s like actually having full-blown character arcs and how important it is. Um four characters to change from one at the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie and sometimes they don’t change and there’s good reason for them.
We talk about that as well. So, please enjoy this special crossover episode and my conversation with Kate. I like to welcome the show km wild and thank you so much for coming on the show. Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I know we’ve been we’ve been we’ve been trying to get this schedule a while, but we’re finally here and we’re here to talk about something that a lot of screen writers and filmmakers have problems with which is character Arc and and plotting and just general stuff and I loved your book and it’s uh, it’s one of the, you know, best-selling books in regards to this and that’s why I wanted to have you on so thanks for being on the show.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. It’s great to hear that. You enjoyed the book. Yes. Now, how did you get started writing in the first place? Well, I like to say that uh stories were my language. Um, my first memory actually is of myself up in a tree house at a family reunions making up a story.
Um, it wasn’t um becoming a writer really wasn’t something that I saw as um, you know career path when I was young. I was very interested in horses and I really thought that I was going to end up doing something with them, but they’re just. You know came this day, um probably mid teens when I realized I’d rather stay inside and right then go outside and ride.
So for me really it was I was always making up stories and it was just a natural progression of of deciding one. Damn. I’m going to write this down so I don’t forget it and then, you know falling in love with the art and the craft of writing and storytelling as well now, um, why do you write in the first place?
It’s just something that you just can’t. Get away from I mean, that’s a good question. It’s something that I continue to ask myself actually and there’s always different answers. I think that. Writing is I mean first and foremost, obviously, it’s this wonderful source of self-expression. It’s a way of of Exploring Life of trying to um, make sense and bring reason to you know, this Grand Adventure that we’re all on and so for me, I’ve always been very much attracted to ethics stories to the archetypal ISM of that and.
Being able to you know, take our prosaic lives and be able to see the deeper. Um, you know archetypes and symbolism and transform that into the you know, the delicious drama yet because basically life is uh, basically a journey. It’s a story and we are the archetypes. We are the the protagonist of Our Own Story.
Uh, but what you do is writer what writers do in general, it’s just kind of all the boring Parts structured a little bit better. Uh, would you agree? Uh, yeah. I mean, I think you know, it’s a common bit of advice that writers, you know, you can’t write until you’ve lived and I think particularly since a lot of writers are introverts that something that we struggle with we have this tendency to want to do our living in the stories, but I definitely find you know, the older I get I’m seeing more and more of the wisdom of that that advice and I think that we you know, we were our stories.
But living teaches us how to write great story. So it has to be this symbiotic circle of developing both kind of both the inner and the outer lives if we’re going to both if we’re going to live worthwhile lives and if we’re going to write worthwhile stories, absolutely, I think as Artisan General you have to live a little you can really create unless you’re a prodigy which their few of them.
There’s few Mozart’s in the world. Now, what is your writing routine? So, um, it changes from season to season it kind of feels like just whatever feels right. Now. What I do is um, I like to dedicate mornings to writing so I’m not I am not a morning person. So when I say mornings that’s like 10 o’clock got it so that um brunch myself out of bed and you know eat breakfast workout, um, take care of just basic email stuff just to make sure that the, you know, the internet has an imploded on me or something and then from I’m it.
That’s always the most important part and then from about ten to twelve Thirty is kind of my dedicated, um writing time. I like to start by reading what I wrote the day before to just in a kind of to be able to correct what I’ve done, you know, keep it the coffee as clean as possible. But also just to get back into the flow and the mindset of what I was doing the day before and um a good soundtrack and then just try to.
Keep typing. I you know, I definitely found um that when I when I’m too concentrated, I’m trying to make every word perfect that I get so caught up in that I never move forward. So even though I’m perfectionist and it’s hard. I try really hard to get into that flow and just keep typing. That’s kind of my Mantra just keep typing.
And ironically I find that actually I write much better. That there’s actually less to correct. I can get that flow State and just keep writing rather than um, you know getting sucked into the procrastination of of reading and tweaking every little sentence as I write. It procrastination is one of the devil’s of existence, isn’t it?
Yes. Now what are some of the biggest mistakes you see writers make when it comes to character and character development. I think this is something that I I mean, obviously this is something I think about a lot. It’s been a focus of of my own writing my own Journey as a writer and also, um, the things that I teach on my website and through my books, but something that I have really been thinking about a lot lately, um, particularly in response to a lot of the big-name movies and books that we’re seeing right now is I think that that we’re that one of the biggest problems that we see is.
A lack of realization that character and plot are not separate. They are two sides of the same coin and you cannot have one without the other and still end up with a an excellent story. Something that I harp on a lot is cohesion and resonance. I think that Benchmark of great fiction is something that presents both.
It’s a story that is cohesive. It presents a whole that is all of a piece and it has it has something to say and that what it has to say is is one unified thought that also good also. Go ahead. No, no. No, go ahead. I don’t mean to cut you off. Gosh. I was just gonna continue and say that resonance is part of that is again kind of the flip side of that and that you can have a really cohesive story where the plot works great and the and the characters all seem to belong within that plot.
But if it’s not. Um looking deeper into saying something that’s beneath the surface you really miss out on that resonance. So enjoining cohesion and residence. I find that that pretty much begins and ends with joining character and plot now. I’m assuming you remove ego. ER you see you. Okay, so I’m assuming you watch Marvel movies and you watch big fan the big and the DC movies as well.
And not such a big fan exactly. So I was gonna ask you what makes Marvel what Marvel’s doing, whether people like it who listening who like their movies or not. They’re doing something right because it is resonating with an audience and a large audience at that and it worldwide audience. Is that whereas DC is not and arguably have more popular characters.
You know, how did Black Panther? Troy everything including the biggest stars what what happened there? So I don’t know if you wanted I don’t want to get into a Marvel DC battle here. But um, but just as on any Story character plot stamp Point, what is Marvel doing? So well that DC just does not get other than obviously the Chris Nolan Batman.
I think that for the mentally I think that Marvel started out with a vision for what it was doing in DC is kind of playing catch-up at this point. They’re trying to copy Marvel success rather than than creating their own vision for what they’re doing and I think that’s fundamentally what’s happened.
Um Marvel, I mean has certainly had many entries within the series that are not prime examples of great storytelling absolutely, but I think that overall. You’ve done is created an atmosphere where there’s leeway for those mistaken entries because they’ve created an overall story where people are identifying and interested in the overall plot and particularly what they’ve done with character.
I think that they have done an excellent job particularly with their primary. Um, They’re Cornerstone characters, um of Captain America and Iron Man and I think that what they’ve done is they have they’ve been willing to be really honest with these characters. Um, I think the Captain America movies the last two Winter Soldier and Civil War particularly good example of this in that they did they did things with the characters that were not.
Which you usually see in these kind of movies and I think that they did that from a place of honesty about who these people really are rather than necessarily who audiences have been trained to expect there. Um, Their action heroes to be that’s a really good point of view actually because I mean that’s probably why the Nolan Batman’s did so well because we knew Batman, I mean we all know what Batman is but what he did with them.
He made it a completely we just got a different take on the character in a different perspective and he acted in a way that we weren’t expecting and I think you’re right the the especially with Captain America and with Iron Man because arguably those are not. Pop end characters in the Marvel Universe they are now but in the you know, they’re not Spider-Man.
They’re not the excellent and great acting side because I think they were both extremely well cast absolutely. They’re not characters that on the surface you look at him. And you say this. Yeah audiences are just going to love this person. You got a goody two shoes on one hand in the and somebody who’s an absolute jerk on the other and yet we love these characters the way the honesty and the empathy with which they’ve been portrayed is I think at the heart of why the series has been so successful in the long run and what do you think the success of black panther was?
Because unfortunately, I didn’t get to see that in the theater. So I yeah, I didn’t make it helpful. You have to go Peter’s closed down. I live in a little one theater town and the theaters closed so so that have to wait for VOD fortunately. Well it is I it is it is a phenomenal entry into the Marvel Universe without question, but it did something right because it actually out performed the Avengers.
Yeah, the trailers look fantastic. I’m definitely looking forward to it. Yeah, it’s so and I can’t wait for Infinity war that I can’t even imagine what’s gonna happen but we’re kicking out. So let’s move on. So, um, what do you how do you write a positive or and or a negative character Arc for for a character?
So, I believe that the fundamental premise of Story versus situation is that there’s change involves something changes from the beginning to the end of the story that something is usually the protagonist. Although it can be the protagonist changing the world around him. But usually what we see is either a positive change Ark.
Um, which has a happy ending or negative change Eric which has generally a unhappier saddened. So, can you give me an example of two of those arcs from um some so, um positive change Arc. Um, one of my favorite examples, um from classic literature would be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. And um- change the Great Gatsby think about negative change actually is there’s there’s more there’s more variations of of the negative change than we see of the positive.
So we have um a disillusionment Arc, which is something we see in The Great Gatsby which is actually very similar to a positive Park except that what the character learns is not necessarily A positive truth and we have um, A fall Arc which is where character basically starts at a bad place and ends up in an even worse place.
Emily bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a good example of this. Um, the Star Wars prequels with Anakin Skywalker. Yes, it’s an example of an art. It’s an example of many things not to do but yes, I he definitely starts off and ends off worse. Absolutely. Anyway, so um, and then we also have a corruption Arc which is where character starts off in a good place this classic negative our character starts off in a good place and ends, um in a bad place go father Breaking Bad exam break it bad.
Uh, I haven’t seen that either. But yeah, that would be my impression of what I’ve heard about it. First of all, you need to stop this interview right now. Go to watch that show. I can’t Breaking Bad got it. You’ve got to watch Breaking Bad for God’s sakes. Um, so that’s so so how do you do so any tips on how to write like a a good positive or negative?
Yeah. Okay. So the key to any change Arc is that you’re looking at a um, a swivel between a lie that the. Believes and a truth that he’s either going to find and be positively transformed by or that he’s going to reject and therefore be negatively impacted and changed by his inability to absorb this truth.
So the character in positive Arc the characters going to start out believing a lie, and this lie is on some level going to be a survival. Instinct something has motivated this in his path that has led him to believe that he needs this lie to survive to be able to claim his self-worth or you know, just to survive in an environment that enables the slide and then over the course of the story, you know the conflicts going to enter his life and create situations where he’s going to be forced to recognize that this lie is no longer viable.
Slowly it’s going to become less and less effective for him, you know forcing him into this place where he has to face this truth, which is should be always a painful truth because if it’s not why hasn’t he absorbed it before so it’s very much a story about. About sacrificing the easy things that we we hold on to that enable us, um and prevent us from growth and reaching out for the powerful truths that may be difficult.
But in the end are going to be very freeing and allow us to move on and deal with our Flex in a way that is empowering and then obviously negative arcs are are basically the opposite of that in that the character ends up with a worse. In a worse place than he started out. Is there an example in in in movies that you can think of a character that has that lie, I can’t I’m trying to rattling my brain to find one.
But um, I mean at perfect example just as human beings like, oh, I don’t I don’t I can’t talk in front of people but yet that’s the lie. You tell yourself not to go on and become an author and have a speaking engagements and so on and so forth because that’s the light that safe. It keeps you keeps you protected.
Yeah, absolutely. I actually did an interesting exercise of while back where I kind of um used the um+ arc format that I use in end looked at my own life and the things that I had accomplished as a writer and you know starting out from this place, um, these lies that we believe, you know, as that I believed is this this shy introverted little writer who didn’t even like talking on the phone and.
You know having to confront that and face that over, you know, I mean it was there were challenges and difficulties and painful moments, but being able to look back and say yeah, I experienced this positive change in this this Embrace of a of a truth, you know an empowering truth of of courage and freedom in a sense and so it was.
It was very exciting to be able to actually look back and see a complete Ark in my own life because we’re experiencing them over and over in our own lives many different ways and many different areas of our lives without question. And I think that’s one of the reasons we love. Um, we love stories as much as we do because yeah, basically us exactly, um, as far as the movie example since we’re talkin about Marvel, um, I despite its many problems.
I have to say I really like the first Thor movie because I think that it is a good example of this. This beautiful change Arc that happens. Um, you know, he’s he’s an extreme example because he starts out in this extreme place. Yes, you know of arrogance and complete disharmony with understanding, you know, the truths of the world around him and what people needed and then this really lovely Arc in which he ends from a place of realizing that um rather than you know forcing war on somebody that he’s going to go to this place of self-sacrifice.
So I really like that as a very obvious example of a positive change Arc. Yeah and Iron Man and Avengers sacrifices himself, and that’s something that he is a character does not do. Yeah, exactly. Now what makes a good villain because that is one problem. If we’re going to go back into the Marvel world that Marvel’s happy problem with they have not had a lot of great great villains at least in my opinion.
Um and most of the people who troll the internet. So what makes a good villain in European. First of all, I think it’s important to differentiate between the idea of a villain which is a a moral term an antagonist which is not antagonists have no moral alignment within the story. They are simply someone who is opposed to the protagonists.
Plot goal there an obstacle that’s getting in the protagonists way and presumably vice versa. The protagonist is getting in the antagonists way. So you don’t necessarily have to come out of story from this idea that oh the protagonists a good guy morally speaking and the antagonist is a bad guy.
Morley speak, uh, obviously often we we we resort to that and like that archetype for many different reasons, but I think it’s important to start from realization that just because someone is an antagonist does not mean that he is morally incorrect. Um, And I think that then frees us up to understand the role that an antagonist plays within a cohesive story form.
And that is someone who is a foil for the protagonist not just on a plot level. But if you’re going to gain that resonance that we talked about it has to be something that also is a soil for the protagonist thematically within that character Arc. As well and I think that’s where we see. Um, the Marvel movies kind of going awry with their antagonists in that very few of them are really good examples of antagonist who matter to the protagonist Journey.
They’re just kind of tacked on so we can have blood fights they’re deployed. So if you will device, yeah exactly and I always find that the villains that believe in. In another story, they wouldn’t be the villain or they wouldn’t be the antagonist because their point of view it’s just their point of view whether they’re doing it to an extreme or not.
Um, I always find those villains who have good. Um good intentions, but are doing it and in a an extreme way. I only find to be, you know, good villains or good antagonist because they’re they don’t mean bad. They’re just there. They just trying to achieve a goal but. Something happened to them in their in their life or their Journey that cause them to be a little bit more extreme from an outsider’s point of view from their point of view.
They don’t find it to be extreme. That’s as opposed to the um, twirling of the mustache guy on the uh on the railroad tracks, which a lot of times antagonist turn into. Yeah, I totally agree. I think that one of the most um important exercises that a writer can do is trying to look at the world from their antagonists point of view, you know, really get into this person’s head and give them a viable argument.
Um, the matically for why they’re doing what they’re doing to the point that they should be able to be in a conversation with the protagonist who’s also stating his viewpoints and. Be able to present such a convincing argument that they’re this close to convincing not just the protagonist but preferably the readers or the viewers as well so that you’re thinking he’s got a point and I think that that is.
It’s the key to really dimensional fiction because that’s how life is right and also the key to getting the the reader or the viewer to really, you know, ask themselves the hard questions instead of just saying, oh, yeah, I believe the protagonist use the good guy. Of course he’s right, but when you’re able to create this kind of Dimension and kind of play Devil’s Advocate with your antagonist, you have the opportunity to get people to ask really interesting questions about the world and about their own lives.
Right. Exactly and that’s why I think um Civil War I loved so much because arguably Iron Man wasn’t the bad guy or the group wasn’t the bad guys. There was that other guy who was again a week villain who kind of like put them all together, but but there was two point of use. And you either Captain you were teamcap or teamironman and it was very, you know, I I was a TV guy.
I completely agreed with him. I didn’t agree with what Iron Man was trying but but it was just very good example of point of view. Yeah, I totally agree. It’s like you say the bad guy in that movie was entirely a plot device and the reason the movie still work. The reason it was interesting was because we had this interesting dialogue between characters both of whom we actually cared about and so we could understand where they were both coming from without a signing more alignment necessarily to either one exactly.
Now, what do you do if your character has no Arc you’ve written a story with a character with no Arc. What do you do? Okay, another important distinction. I think that needs to be made it to beginning of that. Is that a lot of people think my character doesn’t change therefore. There’s no Arc in this story.
Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not. Flat arcs are actually just as viable and sometimes even more powerful a story arc as our change arcs. And what happens in these stories is that there is still a story of change. But what happens is that the character the protagonist starts out the story.
Already in possession of the main thematic truth. So he’s already got a handle and you know pretty much a handle on whatever whatever’s the central question of the story is and then he threw out the conflict he is able to use that truth to transform the world around him. So it’s a world that believes the lie, and the protagonist is able to transform that world essentially Clinic give them.
The truth. Um again Marvel example Winter Soldier the second Captain America movie is a good example of this and then again, not everybody in the story, uh antagonist and protagonist have to change know if you look at Shawshank Redemption the warden is the warden at the end as he was at the beginning same thing goes for the for the guards.
They don’t they don’t change at all. The only people who change are the other guys, um, and some of those characters don’t change either. I mean only Andy and red really. Yeah, I think it’s that’s a question. I get asked a lot is do all my characters have to have character arcs and the short answer is no because you go.
Absolutely we try to give everybody. Can you give an example of a movie or a story that everybody changes? Like I’m just the thought of its exotic it’s a lot. But I think you know and the one of the reasons it is exhausting is that optimally you want every single Arc in that story to beat the matically pertinent, but it ties into that same Central lie or truth in in a related way.
So it you don’t want you can’t just throw. Oh this guy has a line. This guy has a different line throw it all into the same story and expect it to come out and work. You want to build, you know these character archetypes into a cohesive story form where they’re all commenting on different facets of that thematic truth and some sometimes the comment is this is what happens when you don’t change this is what happens when you stay static the warden Shawshank is a great example of this, you know, it’s.
It’s you know, I think we could look at that and say well that’s not such a great thing when you’re not open to accepting truths and allowing your life to be transformed. And and it really is a key point of character. Is that lie is that that lie and and getting to a truth at the end of it is that the kind of like the Ark of you will like you’ve got that live you believe till you’ve got to break through that lie.
To get to what the truth is of who you are as a person as a as a character in this story. Yeah, totally it’s it is a the this high like to look at story, um to me story. Ultimately about team. It is about the characters inner journey and the plot in order to be cohesive to that. The plot is basically a metaphor an externalized metaphor for that inner journey in which your dramatizing the this internal conflict in an external way and obviously they the influence each other the internal conflict is going to drive the external conflict and the things that are happening in the external plot are going to force and catalyze.
The change that this character is you know, struggling against and the beginning of the story and then is you know, slowly as the story continues coming to this place of realizing that yeah, this is really hard, but I have to do this if I’m going to. You know improve as a person and reach any place of of inner Freedom.
So basically like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, uh for hope the new hope he basically has the lie that he’s just a farm boy and he needs to stay to help his aunt and uncle, uh, but you know movie or two later. He’s a Jedi the original Star Wars Trilogy is a great example of an arc over the course of this of a series, um in that you there’s distinct.
Pieces of Luke’s journey and each story you can distinctly see how he’s changing. I mean even just go look for screenshots from each of the three movies and you know the way he looks his the expression on his face the way he’s dressed the way he looks in each movie is is an obvious progression of who he is.
Without quite and I think probably one of the the classic examples of the hero’s journey and the story structure and all that stuff. What’s your what’s your Vibe on the hero’s journey. I mean, I know I’ve spoken a few people who said like look the hero’s journey is great and you can literally attach the hero’s journey on to any story.
Um, but it’s not necessarily the end all be all. I would agree with that. I think that the hero’s journey is um, totally viable, um, tremendously insightful and very useful, but I don’t think that it is I don’t think it’s necessarily as useful a structure for creating, um character arcs, you know across genre and without formula as certain other systems.
It’s something that’s definitely influenced my work but it’s not something that I follow religiously and what I can you just name a couple of the other systems. Um, well ones that have been particularly formative to me. I’m a novelist but actually the ones that have been most formative for me have been screen writing books.
Um, so I’m sure you’re probably familiar with a lot of these. Um, Sid Fields screenwriting is a huge one, uh, John troubies. Anatomy of story was one that I’ve gotten out of just got just. John was just on the show a few episodes ago. He’s amazing. He’s great. I absolutely love his stuff. Um Robert McKee story.
That’s another one that I think is just fantastic and Dramatical. I mean that is a really heavy system to get into but it offers a ton of really interesting insights into archetypal stories dramatic. You mean the software. Um, it is a software but they’ve got a book as well. Okay, which I definitely recommend.
Okay great. Um now what are some keys to creating that Unforgettable character? I think that you know, primarily you’re starting from place of the character Arc because this is telling you how the character informs the plot and how the plot informs the character and and within that you’re getting that Dynamic sense of change which I think that is foundational to Unforgettable characters.
But from there, I think that several things that you can think about to help you develop characters are number one. You’re looking for dichotomies you’re looking for. Things in your character that on the surface don’t quite line up. Um, Jason Bourne is one of my all-time favorite characters because I think he is a brilliant example of this, you know, here’s this guy who’s a killer, you know, a total mindless killer and yet he is arguably one of the most decent people that you’re ever going to find in a movie and I love I love that.
I love that. Um, That decency juxtaposed, you know against somebody who is a murderer basically, but it’s like but it’s not his fault that he’s a murderer in the way that he’s been put in the story. Actually, that’s going to be my second point in that. I think that another key to dynamic characters is that it always has to be their fault.
Whatever’s happening to them. They should not be a victim at some level. They have to be responsible for it. And I think that Jason Bourne is responsible for what’s happened to him because he made the choice to let them turn him into that color. So and that’s what haunts him that that’s the guilt that haunts him through the entire series is you know, I I did this I let them do this to me.
But even though in the beginning in the first movie, he’s a victim. Of his own decision. That’s the point. He’s a victim of his own decision. Which and so there’s there’s a level of responsibility, you know, rather than just fobbing it off and saying oh, well somebody did this to me poor me but like, oh my gosh, I did this to me.
I have to you know face this I have to deal with it and that’s like a catalyst for Change and that’s so much more interesting exactly. There is a victim like, oh they did this to me or they did that to me and I. Dealing with the world is no it was your choice and now you’ve got to deal with it. Um now when you’re going about structuring a plot, how do you actually kind of put it down do you put down do outline?
Do you put down? Uh, you know, uh Road road map like a road map to the end and fill things in between. How do you actually do uh structuring a plot structure? So my approach to pot structures is basically the classic three-act structure. Um, I divide each of the acts into I divide the book into 8, basically and go from there.
Um, but what I do and what I I think I’m a big proponent of outlining, um, my book outlining your novel was kind of how I got started and um doing the whole. Writing instruction thing so I’m a huge on outlining and I think what I’ve seen from people, um, go to new darnton darling and everything resistance to the idea is that they’re often coming into the idea of outlining and structuring, um through this notion that they’re just going to sit down and fill in the blanks on their structure and uh, I have an outline and that’s.
That’s kind of Solace and it’s boring and then you have to you know, somehow figure out how to apply this skeleton to the story that you’re going to create. So my Approach and I think that this is a really important way to approach either outlining or structuring. And that is you have to get a holistic view of the story first.
So I enter outlanding through basically a very stream of conscious process where I like to write longhand in a notebook and I just kind of dump out everything that I know or since about this story. I look for plot holes and I’m asking questions to kind of fill those in until I start getting a more rounded view of the story and when that happens.
I then have a rounded enough of you to kind of be able to Again Begin saying, okay. Well, this is going to be my first plot Point. Here’s the the Moment of Truth at the midpoint where the character is going to start his shift from being focused on the LIE to be more focused on the truth and I can just you know, start picking instead of instead of looking at the structure and saying, okay.
Well, I need a midpoint. So this can be my midpoint. I’m instead. Throwing the story under the page and then kind of looking around and saying oh this is the midpoint. So I am I’m taking the story and putting it fitting it into the structure rather than using the structure to try to engineer a story and then obviously that will help me find you know, the parts that are missing that I need to fill in the blanks, but I find that a much more holistic process than starting with the structure and you trying to to create a story that’s perfectly structured rather than letting it find its own structure.
Got it. And that’s a lot of mr. That’s the mistake. I’ve made in the past in many many writers made in pass if they take that hero’s journey model and then it just starts slapping things in um, it just kind of like you’re jamming everything in there not letting letting everything breathe. Yeah, and it’s not as fun either.
It’s not as as subconscious and holistic. So it’s I just find it not nearly as fun as doing it the other way now, do you find that too many writers today are not taking enough risks with their work?
I think yes, I would say yes overall. Um, I think that there’s this sense that they want to take risks and that they’re they’re trying but that they don’t understand. It’s kind of like I always say that the Only Rule in writing is follow all the rules unless you’re brilliant and then break them but you know, we have to in order to do that in order to reach that level of Brilliance where we’re able to take these risks that take us beyond the normal story conventions.
We first have to start with that foundation in what those rules actually are what story theory is and why it matters because if we don’t understand. That then we’re not able to make educated decisions about where to vary from it or where to experiment with it. Um, but the same time. I definitely feel like particularly in screenwriting.
I would say there’s this um, just this, you know, it’s the the save the cat syndrome. Yeah call it. Yeah where you have this great beat sheet and then they’re following it. So religiously and again, I think not to holistically and as a result you end up. You know with something that really doesn’t seem fresh or original.
It’s it’s someplace we’ve all been there before and probably dozens or even hundreds of times. So even though it may be while structured it may be well written it just doesn’t feel fresh. And I think there’s a big difference between. Uh following a beat sheet or imposing that beat sheet on a story idea and allowing a story to holistically find that structure because it will find that structure because that is what we as humans resonate with as you know, a story arc that we can connect with now what are a few secrets to telling a good story in your opinion.
I think everything we’ve talked about dirty much fact that um, I think that I think Honesty is key. Yeah, I really believe that to tell a story that is worthwhile. That is more than just surface entertainment and I think entertainments great. I mean stories have to they start and then they’re if they’re not entertaining then forget about it, but as a viewer and a reader, I want more.
I want something that is going to tell me something about life that is going to make me think about myself. I do not want to be preached at but I want an honest experience of character that allows me to see the world from someone else’s perspective and the only way that’s possible is if the author is first of all being honest with themselves about their lives is is leading a life of.
Of self-discovery and is trying to you know have their eyes wide open to what that means and is then able to bring that honestly to the page is not censoring themselves, you know how to fear of being judged or what but learning how to bring that in an authentic way that informs the characters in The themes I think last year was a great movie example of that was Logan.
Which means such a one of my favorite movies of the year, um, and I think should have been nominated by far but it was a perfect entertaining yet made you think kind of movie in a large way. Yeah, I I love what I call Pope movies, you know the books death. I mean on the surface, they’re cheap entertainment right there sleep people in spandex running around you’re done, right?
You know when they look a little deeper as Logan did in and are honest about the characters. I think that that mix. I’ve entertained meant and death is is just fantastic. I think it’s it’s one of the best things in story time and it’s also in all honesty what we kind of strived for because if you can tell the story that’s honest and deep and but doesn’t have the kind of it has all the steak but no Sizzle.
Yeah, if you know and then Hollywood is basically all Sizzle and no steak. Um, if you can combine the two yeah, that’s when like Wonder Woman another if we’re going back to the kind of comic. Movies another one that had a deeper understanding of things black panther when you see it you understand as well.
Um, yeah, I agree with you hundred percent. Now, this is a question I have for I’m going to ask for all of us writers out here any tips with dealing with writer’s block. I think that writer’s block. That is something that it always has a cost. And I find that vastly encouraging because if you can find the cause if you can ask the right question, then you’ll find the answer in my experience.
It’s either it comes down to two different kinds of blocks one is a story block. And one is a personal block. Um, if it’s a story blockage, usually you’re just you’re stuck, you know, something’s not working in the story. Logically. It’s just not making any sense and you’re not able to progress it and that’s definitely the easiest one because you can sit down.
Um, I like again I like to do work long hand in a notebook and I just started asking myself questions. Why isn’t this working? You know, what is what is the problem here and just trying to follow that back to the beginning and um, you know find a solution so that’s you know, relatively easy because you can work your way through it and.
And find an answer without any problem personal blocks are a little harder. This is you know something going on in your life the LIE of the truth, right? Yeah. Exactly. You’re too busy working on your own character Arc. But yeah, you’re going through something difficult and your life you’re depressed.
There’s you know, yeah, you’ve experienced the death of a loved one something like that. Got it, um or something much less dramatic. I mean Health can definitely have an effect on that and in those instances again, I think it’s really important to identify. You know what? The problem is instead of I think saying, oh, I’ve got writer’s block.
That’s not the answer. You know, that that’s not helping you you have to go deeper and find oh, this is why I’m totally unmotivated right now, and then you have to evaluate whether. It’s a legitimate, um excuse, you know, if you just being lazy because you’re scared to deal with the page will you know, then then you have to deal with that and I’d say get back to writing but if it’s something else, you know, if you’re going through a legitimate difficulty in your life, um, if health is a big issue then I would say be kind to yourself, you know, there’s there’s a time and a place to crack the whip and get to writing and there’s a time and a place to step back and concentrate on yourself and your life and not.
Yourself to um, you know, the guilt that is associated with the idea of writer’s block. One of the great movies about writer’s block that I’ve ever seen was adaptation. Did you like that movie? I haven’t seen the whole thing. So I wouldn’t say I’m completely able to comment on that. Okay? All right, um the best it please add to the list but I mean, but Breaking Bad seriously, I mean stop it, uh now um, and what uh, can I ask you why do you think stories are so important to our society in general today?
Why is it means so much in today’s, you know, I can understand when back when there was nothing to do other than hunt and gather. But in today’s world, why is story so important still story is hardwired into who we are as Humanity. I think it’s something that we we have craved at every juncture in history and will continue to Crave.
I think that um, You know, it’s it is a expression of self actualization. So I think it is particularly impertinent in today’s, you know, Society. We live in a first world country where for most of us survival is an issue, you know, it’s we have easier lives than arguably anybody any other generation in history, um on a physical sense our physical needs are completely met and that gives us a lot of time and space to address the deeper.
Of life, um self-worth of purpose, you know, what does it all mean? Like when like when the Greeks had slaves basically back in the day and they think and they just sit around thinking Deep Thoughts. Yeah exactly. I’m not saying we’re on par with that but by far I think it gives us time to to. To need to find you.
No answers and I think story is such a great venue for that because number one it’s it’s um, very non-threatening on a certain level. It’s something we do for enjoyment. It’s an easy way to connect with, you know, our fellow human beings, but it also when it’s done well is something that. You know gives us insight into who we are, you know, as individuals as people into our history into our future and I think that those those are big questions and they’re questions that we all want answers to and story is one of the best ways that we find those answers not just on an intellectual level but on an emotional level as well.
Now I’m gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. Um, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? That’s interesting. I actually just wrote a post about that a couple months ago. I was reading a really great Anthology called like the dark, um, which had asked many many different excellent writers.
What what was their formative influence? Basically? Why did you become a writer and I’m reading this book and then you know, they all have these fly dancers, which they probably thought about for a long time before they wrote the post but it was just like they immediately knew what their response was and I’m going.
I don’t know, you know, what was my influence so I got to thinking about that and um kind of just thinking about the stories that I’m repeatedly drawn to the stories that I’m interested in writing which again are are very much this epic archetypal. Um approach to drama and there was a book when I was probably I’m going to say eight or nine that my dad had actually read it to me, you know looking back now.
I see it was this completely crazy puppy melodramatic romance that was written in the in the 1700s about William Wallace. It was called the Scottish Chiefs and it was really interesting. I just pulled it off the shelf and I’m like, okay. Well, I’m right about this book and I flipped open to a passage that I remember.
And was just shocked by this this book that I just kind of randomly chosen is the book and this passage that I kind of randomly turned to you and within that passage it was about um, The death of a brother in arms in the middle of that and it was like this is my writing. This is everything that I write about and so it was kind of just shocking and interesting to realize that um, whether that book had actually influenced everything that I’d written afterwards or whether it was just an example of something that I continue to resonate with.
It was very interesting to kind of look back on that that bit of my childhood now. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? Not the film business obviously in writing or in life. Well, that’s that is an interesting question. I’m going to say I think that.
I think it’s been the idea of being kind to myself. I think that um, it’s it’s something that we see in people in general, but particularly I think in writers. There’s this self-flagellation this this constant sense that we’re not measuring up that we’re not writing as an any good. You know what we’re going to say.
We all suck. Yeah, and I think a realization that number one. We’re all in this together and we all feel that way. So, you know, it’s really not a benchmark and um, but also just realizing that it’s a journey, you know, it’s life is not so much about the destinations as it is about the journey. Oh, yes, and that’s true in life as much as it is in the actual writing process.
Now, this is gonna be part of the toughest question of all three of your favorite three of your favorite films of all time. Oh gosh. Okay. Well number one. It’s got to be the Great Escape. That’s my all-time favorite movie. I watch it every year move it. Um Gladiator. Oh definitely movie and I’m gonna go Master and Commander for the third one.
Wow, Master and Commander not I that has not been on the list before on the show. So yeah, I love that movie. Um, Patrick O’Brien who wrote the Aubrey modern books on which that is based is an absolute genius as far as I’m concerned and the movie is one of the best adaptations of a not just of a book one of a series that I’ve ever seen very cool.
Um, and then where can people find you online. Okay. So my writing website is helping writers become authors, okay? That’s it. And of course you have many books that I can find all of them on the website and you have many books that you’ve written and all that stuff and we’ll put links to all of them on the show notes.
Uh, Katie. Thank you so much for doing this. It was been an absolute pleasure, uh talking shop with you. It really was absolutely it was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me. Katie was an absolute pleasure to talk to and I learned so much about character arcs and plotting story structure and.
Sorts of other things. I love hearing different. Um, you just different people’s point of view on story because again, there is no absolute way. Everyone has their own path to go to but listening to different people’s stories, uh different people’s way of telling stories helps you develop your own and what clicks for you and what works for you.
So again Katie, thank you so much for being on the show. If you want links to anything that we talked about in this episode including her books, uh, and anything else she has to. For head over to any film also and that’s also for the indie film Hustlers listening to this podcast as well. I hope you enjoyed this crossover event.
I like I said before I’m going to do this every once in a blue moon. Uh, but I think it’s a lot of fun and if you have not if your first of all if you’re an indie film Hustler and you have not signed up for both screenplay, please head over to screenwriting podcast sign up and subscribe on iTunes.
And please leave us a good five star rating would really help us out a lot. And if and vice versa if you are a bulletproof screenplay listener and have not signed up for the indie film hustle podcast and are interested in filmmaking and all every single aspect of filmmaking other than screenwriting police sign up.
It’s really a lot of fun as well and head over to filmmaking podcast and you can sign up there as well. And as many of you guys know last week, I was sick. I was sick all weekend. I’m still a little bit nasally as you can kind of hear in my voice, but I’m here getting you out the content that I have to get you guys out every week.
Uh, but uh, I only did one episode last week for each app for each podcast. So this week I will be back on regular schedule as well. But thank you for all the well wishes on Twitter and Facebook. It truly truly helped and I really appreciate it guys so as. Always keep that house up going keep that dream alive, and I’ll talk to you soon and keep on writing no matter what season guys.
Thanks for listening to the bulletproof screenplay punk ass at bulletproof screenplay.