Screenwriting Blueprint: Creating Unforgettable Characters
Legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell) discusses how to create unforgettable characters. For Hauge, character development is the pull between the strong desire to remain in the identity and the need, brought about by the events of the story, to live in essence.
Michael’s advice on figuring out a character’s inner conflict came down to asking myself these four questions:
What is your hero’s wound?
The hero has a wound or source of pain from his past that he has suppressed but has never really dealt with.
What is your hero’s belief?
Out of the hero’s wound comes a (usually mistaken) belief such as: I’m worthless (Will in Goodwill Hunting), I won’t survive without a rich man to take care of me (Rose in Titanic), if I show people my true self, I will be rejected (Shrek in Shrek) or, if I live as my true self, I will die (Ennis in Brokeback Mountain).
What is your hero’s identity?
The hero’s identity is the false self that they present to the world in order to protect themselves from re-experiencing the wound.
What is your hero’s essence?
The hero’s essence is what’s left if the identity is dropped, the hero’s true self.
In the video below he covers:
- FEAR: the power of the wound
- IDENTITY: The Hero’s emotional armor
- INNER CONFLICT
- The ARC of transformation
In this video, Michael Hauge goes over the six stages of a character. Covering:
- Uniting the Two Journeys
- Structuring the Inner Journey
- The 6 Stages of Transformation
- Defining your own Hero’s Journey
- Living your Essence
These videos are from his best selling online course: Story and Screenwriting Blueprint – The Hero’s Two Journeys.
In more than 4½ hours of lecture, discussion and Q&A, Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read; and Christopher Vogler, story analyst and author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers, unite to reveal the essential principles of plot structure, character arc, myth and transformation.
Click below to download more videos. ($10 Sale until January 11th, 2017)
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How to Write Screenplays That Sell with Michael Hauge
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– To me, there are four basic categories of what I call primary character. Now, the first one is what we’ve been talking about throughout the day, and that is the hero. That’s the protagonist. It’s the main character of the story. It’s the character whose goal drives the plot forward. It’s the character whose outer motivation defines your plot. It’s the character with whom we most identify. So, enough about that character. The second category of primary character is what I call the reflection. The reflection is the sidekick. It’s the wife, husband, best friend, co-worker, mentor, trainer, coach, boyfriend, girlfriend. It’s the character who is most closely aligned with the hero at the beginning of the movie. Now, in the plot, that character is there to help the hero achieve her outer motivation. So, for example, in Shrek, the fairly obvious reflection character is Donkey because Shrek doesn’t know where Lord Farquaad is, and Donkey says, “Take me, take me.” And he goes along, and he’s his sidekick, and there’s all this typical hero-reflection banter. And, ultimately, that character is there to help the hero achieve the visible goal. And remember, in Shrek, there are two goals because it is a love story, which I’m gonna talk about a bit more in a minute, but Shrek has two goals. One is to retrieve the princess for Lord Farquaad to get his land back. But gradually, it also turns into a love story, and his goal becomes to win her love. This is an example of what I said earlier: a love story where the audience knows they belong together long before the characters will admit it. They resist as is typical in many love stories, but we know. So we’re rooting for him to both get his swamp back and, even more, to win Princess Fiona, and Donkey’s trying to help him do both. But on the inner level, the reflection character is the character who reveals to the hero his inner conflict. It’s kind of like a conscience, but in movie morality, doing the right thing means living in one’s essence. So it’s not, “Do the moral thing,” or it’s not plot-specific, but it’s like a conscience. It’s like this character sitting on the.. It’s like Jiminy Cricket, if you grew up with The Mickey Mouse Club like I did, back in black-and-white days, you know, it shows how old I am. And Jiminy Cricket would sit on Mickey’s shoulder or somebody’s shoulder and say, “No, no, don’t do this, don’t do this, do the right thing.” What the reflection character does is keep saying to the hero, “Wait, wait, this isn’t right. “You shouldn’t be doing this because,” and this is a very typical line of dialogue in many movies, “it just isn’t you. “This isn’t like you,” the reflection will often say. “You’re not being yourself.” What is Donkey? He’s just always pushing Shrek. “Come on, Shrek, wake up and smell the pheromones,” he says, “you’ve got to go after the princess.” And he’s even like a reflection character to the princess as well because trying to, “Come on, Shrek’s ugly and you’re kind of ugly sometimes, “and you guys could get together.” But he’s saying to Shrek, and he won’t let go, he’s saying, “Come on, get out there. “You’ve got to step up, be who you truly are. “Tell her how you feel. “This is an onion thing, isn’t it?” And of course, Shrek resists. So the conflict with the reflection character will often be around this issue, that the hero is not stepping up and acting out of her essence, okay? The next category of primary character is what I call the nemesis. The most obvious example would be a villain in a movie. But it could be an opponent. Apollo Creed is a classic nemesis character. Or it could simply be a good guy who’s in opposition to the hero. In a movie like Amadeus, you have a hero who’s a killer, Salieri, and the nemesis is actually Mozart, who’s a much more moral person, but because he’s the character who most stands in the way of the hero achieving his goal, Mozart is the nemesis in that movie. Now here, we have pretty close to a villain in the movie Shrek because Lord Farquaad is the nemesis. Why? Because the nemesis is the character who is in the greatest conflict with the hero about achieving the goal. Remember, Shrek is falling in love with Princess Fiona. He wants to win her love, but the person who most stands in his way is Lord Farquaad, who’s going to take her away and marry her and turn her into, make her his princess or give her half the kingdom or whatever he’s going to do. So the nemesis on the visible level is the opposition. It’s the character who creates the greatest character, you know, visible conflict for the hero. But on the deeper level, the nemesis is the character who embodies the hero’s inner conflict. Remember, the hero’s inner conflict is this tug of war between identity and essence. So the nemesis will always be there as an example to us and to the hero. Now sometimes, the nemesis is a bad example, an example of the dark side, you might say, of living totally an identity, and sometimes the good side. In the case of Shrek, the nemesis, Lord Farquaad, is the embodiment of regarding ogres as less than human, so to speak, as unworthy because he’s constantly, “Oh, isn’t this cute,” he says at the end. The ogre has fallen in love with the princess, and he’s putting him down. He is reinforcing this idea that Shrek could not possibly win the love of a princess because he’s so ugly, he’s just an ogre. He regards or treats Shrek the way Shrek treats himself at the beginning of the film. In the movie The Firm, there’s something interesting in The Firm because if you take Chris’ archetypes or what he was talking about with the mentor, clearly, in The Firm, the mentor is the Gene Hackman character who.. Because when he comes to this new world of the firm he’s saying, “This is how this works. “You do this, and you do that, “and you’ve got to bend the law “but don’t break it, and this is a quiz.” And he’s giving them all the ropes, showing them the ropes, but he’s still the nemesis because he is the biggest obstacle. He guards the secret files, and he’s the one they have to get away from the files so they can steal them. He’s the biggest obstacle to getting the evidence that’s gonna enable Mitch and Abby to get away from the firm. But he’s also the embodiment of the inner conflict because he’s the embodiment of someone who has gotten so caught up in the wealth and the status and the tanned legs that God forbid he’s an idealist. In fact, it’s a very blatant statement at that point in the movie of how hero and nemesis are united because he says, “So I guess neither one of us are idealists,” and Gene Hackman says, “God forbid.” That’s where our character is in his identity. And finally, there is the romance character. The romance character, if you’re writing a love story, is simply the object of the hero’s sexual or romantic pursuit. It’s Princess Fiona, or it’s Jack in Titanic, or it’s Michael in My Best Friend’s Wedding that she’s trying to win back from Cameron Diaz, or it’s the voice on the radio in Sleepless in Seattle. And the romance character, on the plot level, is the object of pursuit. It’s part of the visible goal. But on the inner level, the romance character is the reward for having overcome the inner conflict, for having moved out of identity and into essence. There’s a reason thematically that Shrek cannot kiss or tell Princess Fiona how he feels when they’re eating the field rat there and having that romantic scene by the campfire. He’s not courageous enough yet. He pulls back because he hasn’t fully evolved. It’s only when he goes to her wedding and says, “I love you, Princess,” that he wins her love, she lets him kiss her, and then they’re both transformed. Her, physically, both of them spiritually into realizing they are each other’s destiny. So the romance character is the reward for having overcome that. And here’s the other nifty thing when you’re writing a love story. I absolutely love love stories. More than anything, I think that’s where I live with movies, either romantic comedies or introducing love stories into even action films or dramas or whatever because it’s such a rich way to bring out character arc. And the thing about love stories is this: badly written romantic comedies or badly written scripts of love stories are often bad because there is no logical reason why the hero and the romance would be together. I’m betting Chris, who’s read more scripts than I have, would bear this out, but again and again, when I used to be a reader or story executive, scripts would cross my desk and it would be like.. There would be these two people and the guy was always handsome, and this hunk and just rich and had everything together, and the woman would always be young and blonde and buxom and beautiful. And it was like they’d never been on a date before they met each other. It’s like, if they’re so attractive, why isn’t someone else in their life? Why are they waiting for this person? And then when they finally get together, it’s just ’cause the writer wanted them to. It’s like this review I read once in Premiere magazine by Libby Gelman-Waxner. She was reviewing Pretty Woman and cutting it to pieces as she always did, or I think it was a he that wrote those. But he said, “It was like Richard Gere “walked up to Julia Roberts and said, “‘I love you because we’re in this movie together.'” And that’s what a lot of scripts are. It’s just like, “I want a love story. “I’m going to pretend “they have no lives outside of my movie. “They’re going to meet, and they’ll be in bed “just like that.” And there’s no reason. In a good love story, there’s absolutely a reason. It’s always the same reason. The reason that two people get together is because the romance character recognizes the hero’s essence underneath that protective identity and falls in love with that. And this is the person who sees the hero as she truly is. When Jack first meets Rose in Titanic, he says, “What’s your name?” And she reels out, “Rose da-duh, da-duh, da-duh.” And he says, “Well, I’m going to “take to take some practice there. “I’ll just call you Rose.” In other words, I don’t give a shit how many names you’ve got. I see who you truly are, which is someone who is beautiful on a deep level. There’s a reason I said earlier that he has.. It’s a wonderful device that he paints her in the nude. It’s because that’s what has to happen in every good love story. The characters must see each other naked. It’s not that they have to take their clothes off in every movie. It’s that they see who they truly are. He sees her stripped of all of that finery that hid her. The opening shot of Rose is she’s hidden by that giant hat. It’s the antithesis of her being absolutely naked. But it’s the same in Shrek. It’s not that they take their clothes off, ew, it’s that they see the beauty of each other underneath that. And when you’re writing a love story, that’s why the two people fall in love. And when you’re creating conflict in a love story, which you must, the conflict comes at the level of identity. So when the two characters or at least the hero gets too frightened of exposing himself, he retreats to his identity and then they argue or fight or break up. And the break-up would always be at the end of act two. That’s the major setback in a love story. So, in a love story, hero and romance are in conflict at the level of identity and connect at the level of essence.