Friday, March 27, 2009

All the world's a stage (now with CLIPS for clarity!!!)


"You can introduce characters in odd, unusual, or active environments. James Bond films often open with dramatic action scenes meant to be thrilling and unique, but which also name a story issue....

If there's nothing interesting about the story environment you're using to introduce a character, why did you choose it? Can you make a better choice? Are you describing your environment in a way that clearly impacts your audience? Think of your story environment as a character in the story, rising up to act, to block, to help, to frustrate your main character."

These passages come from Bill Johnson's A Story is a Promise book. Again, I highly recommend this as one of the finest books I've seen on the subject of story. Along with Robert McKee's Story (the bible on Plot Driven Narrative) and Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing (Character Driven Drama), this forms the Trifecta. Most books I've read on story give you the bones and muscles and the organs that make up the anatomy of story... Johnson gives you its soul. I still recommend reading more (especially the 2 others I mentioned), but Johnson's book goes deeper than most, bypassing most of the anatomy to get right to the inner core, the true dramatic thrust that makes a story into a living organism.

In the above quoted passages, he was really discussing character and how to introduce them in a dynamic way without stopping the dramatic movement of the story (something most inexperienced writers tend to do... they let the story stall while they introduce characters). He just mentioned using environment in these few sentences, but it gave me a jolt. I realized this is something else that's done in these stopmotion films I've been dissecting... they all use environments dramatically... environments that were custom designed to help make the story issues concrete and palpable. Balance, Quest, The Sand Castle, and In the Box (which I haven't discussed yet, but it will be upcoming quite soon I promise) take place in specialised worlds that are definitely not part of the real world. They're more like dream worlds, that have their own very specific laws and physics... custom tailored to fit the dramatic action at the core of the story.

I don't think the image I posted above really demonstrates what Im talking about all that well... in Krysar the world is warped and stylized beautifully, and it does create a sense of everything being cohesive, all from one mind and very dreamlike. But I don't believe the environment in Barta's film really acts in any way against the protagonist, as it does in the other films I mentioned in this post. I would have posted an image from one of them, but I used Balance for the pic in the last post, and I couldn't find any nice big pics from any of the others.

Strangely enough though, in searching, I did run across an old post on my own blog about Balance and Quest from 2006. I've long been fascinated with these films and others like them, and I have been attempting to understand what makes them tick. In reading what I wrote back then, I was trying to explain the question, answer, question technique, and came pretty close. But now my understanding of it is much clearer... then it was muddy and fumbling. Ahhh... if only a clearer understanding of why something works would translate to being able to make it work in my own films.....


Ok, that's more like it! Any of Bickford's films take place in an active dream world! But I'll leave that awesome shot from Krysar up there at the top... I do like the way it looks. And having both pics here helps to illustrate the crucial difference... a simply picturesque environment versus a truly active one that helps to name or define the story issue, or the main dramatic thrust of your story.

*** *** ***

I've been alerted by a couple of my keen-eyed readers that I wasn't being very clear in this post. The images I posted in particular failed to get across my meaning. In order to see my point... an active environment engaging the characters as opposed to a beautiful and highly stylized but dramatically inert environment, I need to post clips! So here they are...

Starting with Jiri Barts's beautiful Krysar:
Krysar clip 1

Krysar clip 2

Krysar clip 3

These clips are ones I originally posted on my Darkstrider site, kindly uploaded to YouTube for a wider viewing audience by Niffiwan. Don't misunderstand, I love this film!!! But as beautiful as it is, it illustrates a static environment.

In contrast we have the ever-morphing world of visionary Bruce Bickford:

Prometheus' Garden


... And perhaps the ultimate living environment...
Baby Snakes

Environment in his films is in constant, ever shifting restless motion, and occasionally extrudes a part of itself to interact physically with the characters.

Now, this idea of an environment actually physically moving and changing to help or harm characters isn't really what Bill Johnson meant. He was talking more about choosing an environment that allows you to block or help a character toward their goal. But to me, this is one of the ideas that take on a whole new level of meaning in the short animated film. We can really take it to the utmost, and actually have environments with inimical intentions, that reach out and bitchslap the characters, or that cuddle and embrace them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Exploring the Dark Regions - delving into the nature of the short animated film


I've been studying various techniques of writing for film, stage and book now on my blog for some time. The idea was to fill my head with an embarrassment of riches, to overwhelm myself, so that no one technique dominated and I would be free to think democratically about the process. Also I hoped to illuminate much of the world of writing, so that the area where the techniques for the short animated film lie would be in one of the dark areas left over... enabling me to locate it by the process of elimination. And Now I feel like I"m prepared to take a stab at it. Following is essentially a wrap-up.... a listing of the techniques I've studied, plus my idea of what it leaves.... an exploration of the dark regions left unexplored by books about writing.

Areas of story I've explored to varying degrees thus far are:

The Aristitlean and Character Driven techniques apply primarily to feature-length live-action films, or novel-length stories, though I do believe some ideas from each can be used in slightly modified form in short films. The cartoon and episodic approaches are suited to of course cartoons and animation in general. And Poetic and Theatre of the Absurd apply to experimental films mainly. Any of these can be used to some extent in a short stopmotion film, but there are more approaches, that I haven't seen discussed or written about anywhere.... I have a vague notion of some of them, but it requires further exploration to bring it to light.

There's no way to develop good, 3 dimensional characters without a lot of time, a lot of dialogue, and a realistic social environment, all things I have no interest in. And I don't think there's any point in trying to develop solid 3 dimensional characters in short animation anyway, unless you're interested in fully naturalistic animation and essentially want to make a live action film in animation - not what I' want at all.

I'm looking for approaches to short stopmotion films that allow for great creativity, that don't try to imitate live action.

I need to analyze films like Balance, Quest, The Sand Castle etc.

In these films there's no real characterization or story development. In Balance the puppets are basically identical, differentiated only by numbers printed on their coats. And this works because it's a story about balance in relationships... social or interpersonal or political relationships... it's about the balance of power and the concepts of selfishness versus sharing. I suppose it has some degree of Aristotle in it... there's an Inciting Incident that kicks off the action, things build to a crescendo through a sequence of rising tension, and there's a climax that seems inherent in the beginning of the film, leaving a final image that imprints itself on the viewer's mind indelibly and makes them think about deeper issues.

The character in Quest is anonymous... a mannikin made of sand. This is right because he represents thirst and dryness, the quest for water. It's episodic and is situation-based, basically a cartoon, only not funny so much as fascinating and compelling.

The strange creatures in Sand Castle are inhuman, but represent early forms of creation, like some sort of early animal forms given life and left to create their environment. They also, like the character in Quest, seem to be made of sand (and created right in front of our eyes from it). Again, no individuality among characters... they're anonymous. It's more about how fun it is to watch these strange whimsical creatures form sand in various ways.

All of these films seem to operate on the Question, Answer, Question principle.... opening with a mysterious image that makes the viewer wonder what's going on, then answers (partial answers) are provided that lead him on like a trail of bread crumbs toward the ultimate conclusion... the revelation to the question that began it all.

These 3 films also serve to make their drama palpable (or physical) - turn it into something solid that can be manipulated. The idea of balance is made manifest by a tilting platform suspended in space. Creatures made of sand build a castle from sand... or a creature made of sand searches for water as he dries out. The idea of each film is made manifest by use of props or environment so the characters can act out the drama physically.

    Here's the perfect place to insert a quote from Shelley Noble, stopmoe, blogger and ballet dancer:

  • "Movement is consciousness made manifest"

  • A perfect allegory for animation!

Each of these films does something else as well... they all begin on a mysterious note and draw the viewer in with curiosity. Who are these strange beings, and what are they doing? You learn more stage by stage as the film progresses, till at the end your curiosity is satisfied. This is what I used to call "unravelling a mystery", and it's something I've written about since my first post about story structure way back on the original blog on my Darkstrider site.

A few months ago I wrote this:

"A scene can unscroll in such a way that, in the beginning, the audience is mystified... what is happening? And as it plays out, or perhaps in the next scene, or two or three scenes later (or even at the end of the movie) the mystery is revealed. Max Payne is an entire movie done in this way... the beginning is a tableaux - a montage of enigmatic and confusing but enticing images which are only explained by the end of the entire film. This compels a second viewing.

Let the Right One in (just saw both movies today) is set up so that each scene (at least near the beginning... or at least certain key scenes) play out enigmatically, with an answer provided only near or at the end of the scene. As long as there's something to captivate and hold the viewers interest this results in suspense.

I should add that this post was actually inspired originally by seeing Crone, an incredible stopmo short animated by Mikey Please and designed by Ben Gerlis. In addition to the mysterious scene construction there was also a Wolfean twist of sudden powerful violence that led from what seemed to be a somewhat dark cartoon to a stark, intense revelation of the truly darker side of human nature. "

And now I want to amend it with more.... deeper meaning can be put into these enigmatic reveals using ideas from Bill Johnson's A Story Is a Promise. Rather than just be mysterious and draw a viewer in, they can posit a question, or deep meaning that speaks to the human condition. The opening statement of a story should not only captivate the viewer's attention, it should encapsulate the dramatic promise of the story to come.... begin the dramatic movement that is the essence of the story.

One idea that's emerging as I think about this --

It seems you can use some of the basic concepts I've been learning in my studies into story, but in abbreviated form -- characters need not be fully-realized, the society in which the film is set can be a microcosm - a small self-contained world separated from the world of drab reality - the story itself can be very brief and to-the-point, no need to fully develop it in great depth the way you would for a longer film. It's about brevity - reducing things to their essence. In fact in all the films I discuss in today's post there are no real characters at all... they're all pretty vague and nondescript. I think in films of this nature character just gets in the way... these puppets are only ciphers... stand-ins... the ideas of characters.

But I do believe it's necessary to use some of the principles of good story development to create a strong dramatic movement and tension, and to provide a good sense of resolution at the end. Unless of course you're doing a purely experimental film or aren't interested in drama. Bear in mind.... what I'm seeking here are ideas for the kinds of film I want to make... I'm sure there are many other ways to go.

*** *** ***

On the issue of dramatic movement... it occurs to me that both Balance and Quest have a pretty good dramatic concept embodied in them -- while The Sand Castle really doesn't. In Balance and Quest there are characters who are fighting against each other or against their environment for something they desperately need or want so badly they'll endanger their own lives or the lives of others to attain it. But The Sand Castle is more a whimsical creation myth with nothing really at stake. Creatures are made of sand, then build a castle from sand. There's no real tension anywhere... nothing to lose.

Analysis of the film Crone:

At first a question is set up....

Who is the narrator?

Additional questions...

If the narrator is really a crow, why does it have the voice of a woman? and why does it seem so ominous, as if its intentions are evil?

Why has it "been sat here" for so long?

We don't get the answers to any of these questions yet, we must watch to learn. And the ominous atmosphere is interesting enough to make us want to do that.

The narration continues. In lieu of any other explanation, we assume the crow is the narrator. Then suddenly something happens to dispel that notion... the camera 'blinks' from a low-level shot, looking AT the crow! This leads us to believe it's a POV shot, most likely from the narrators viewpoint.... so the narrator isn't the crow, it's something down on the ground looking at the crow.

In the next sequence, there's an indication that grass, in fact all vegetation - is subject to the narrator's power... serves it as a weapon of some sort. "green fingers" etc. And we see grass and leaves trembling and moving seemingly like conscious things, as if moving toward someone with menacing intent. This begins a new thread... the idea that the narrator either IS vegetation, or somehow controls it - is in league with it.

The woman who watches the old man walking to the bench has a lot of plants in her bathroom... she's watering them as she watches him. This increases the sense of menace from plant life... it seems to be multiplying and dominating the screen more and more.

In fact the next shot is a downshot of nothing but a field of grass and some branches in front of the camera, with a slow pan and the sound track increasing the sense of menace and importance of the grass.

And then we see something new... a little pink worm of some kind wriggling amid all the grass, almost like a blade of grass itself, but pink and writhing with more animation, more life.

This completes something... there has been a crow, there has been talk of the narrator searching the ground for morsels of food, and now a worm. Birds eat worms... everyone knows that. At this point we expect the crow to eat the worm. What could be more natural?

Next shot... the crow sees the worm and swoops on it. Again we hear the narrator talk about "something catching her eye" while talking about food. But suddenly there's a reversal... prey becomes predator as the "worm" springs up, stretches to what would be an impossible length for a normal worm, and grabs the crow in mid-flight.... stops its forward momentum instantly and slams it repeatedly against the ground.

This is shocking!! So far everything has obeyed normal, real-world physics, and though this is an animated film, there haven't been any unrealistic creatures... only people and vegetation like you'd see in any park. Now we're suddenly and violently introduced to something new... and we suspect this will answer most if not all of the questions posed up until now.

The poor crow is killed mercilessly and dragged down into the ground. The camera follows along, the sound track providing a chilling rumbling sound as we plunge into the depths of the earth. Skulls litter the dirt as we progress... there has been a lot of killing here.

We emerge in an underground chamber where a strange cronelike creature sits. The wormlike tendril that snatched the crow drags it through the ceiling and brings it right to the crone's mouth where she takes a bite... raw and with feathers and all still intact. This creature eats like some wild beast.

Personal note... this creature reminds me of Grendel or possibly Grendel's mother. But that's neither here nor there at the moment.

We see that the tendril is one of a pair that emerge from the crone's forehead like feelers of an insect or something.

Is she holding a skull and talking to it? Or is it alive and on some kind of long neck... perhaps a part of her body, or another creature altogether? I can't tell, but then the online version of the fim is very dark and low resolution... a better copy might resolve the issue. I also have a hard time understanding some of what the narrator says, which if I understood it might explain some points I missed.

But we now realize that the cronelike being is the narrator. The main question posed at the beginning of the film (Who is the narrator? Also Why does shoe sound menacing and evil?) has been answered, and in a thrilling manner. Some mystery still remains, but it doesn't all need to be answered... this is a monster, and most likely we'll never fully understand it or its origin. I think it's best we don't actually... monsters become very mundane when explained fully. They should be mysterious.

As the closing theme begins to play and gets louder, announcing the end of the short film, we rise up rapidly along the same path we entered the underground lair, and see a little girl who thinks she sees a worm. It grabs her and begins to give her the same treatment the crow received. then the camera goes black... the film is over.

We never learn the true nature of the crone.. is it a woman who got herself stuck in here and perhaps the glowing green sludge she sits in is some kind of nuclear waste that caused her to mutate into this monster? We'll never know. It doesn't matter... the big question has been answered, and the structure of the film has been completed. We know by the rising of the music and the end credits that it's over, and it FEELS like it's over. It's achieved a sense of closure, or catharsis. And what's more, the abrupt, shocking revelation at the end has left us pondering.

This isn't an inhman monster... it's very human, much like Grendel... in fact, it suffers from lonliness and frustration, just like people can do. It seems to have been suffering like this for a long time, and this has twisted its nature into what it has become. There's something tragic about it (or am I reading Grendel into this character?).

This film doesn't lend itself to an Aritsotlean analysis... there's no main character, no problem that needs to be solved, no inciting incident. Instead the viewer's mission is to determine who the narrator is. The film seems to be built entirely on the question, answer, question technique.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Breaking Bad -- Character Driven ACTION


Breaking Bad is my favorite show... and the best-written one I've ever seen. In my quest to learn as much as I can about writing, I decided to seek out what I can find online about the writing for this powerful character-driven drama. Here's an excellent interview with the creator and head writer: Vince Gilligan interview @ Writing for Performance -- and if you look closely at the bottom of the page, you'll find a link to the script for the pilot episode. I'll copy the link here: Breaking Bad pilot script. It's amazing how perfectly worked out everything already is in the script... it's polished up to perfection! Apparently the years of writing for the X Files with Chris Carter learnt him a few things. The characters are all there fully realized... but some of the minor differences from the actual episode are fascinating as well. A setting or two are different, a few lines of dialogue, and Jesse Pinkman's name was originally Marion Dupree. Strange... though his character shines exactly as it will in the episode itself.

This script shows how to write character driven ACTION.

And I'll just drop a few more links here for related goodness:

Vince Gilligan teases the new season of Breaking Bad @ The Futon Critic

Q&A - Bryan Cranston (Director) @

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Story is a Promise


It seems like there was a long hard slog through the whole Aristotlean thing, learning the basics of story and screenwriting technique, but suddenly after switching over to dramatic (theatrical) techniques things have taken a (ahem) dramatic leap forward.

I've run across the best writing about writing I've seen yet, on the site Linked above. Bill Johnson's whole concept is that a story is a promise, and you must deliver on that promise in a way that's satisfying to the reader or viewer. I've read a few of the essays, and so far each one is excellent. But the best thing I've found there is called Question, Answer, Question. I hope Bill doesn't mind if I post a bit of that essay here (with a link to the rest of it):

Bringing the Dead to Life

Notes on Twilight

by Bill Johnson

I'm always curious when a book becomes a phenomena. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, is such a novel. So I bought it to see how the story 'works' to draw in its audience. In these notes I'll begin by breaking down the novel's opening preface line by line.

First line,

I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

This is pure drama, which I define as an anticipation of an outcome. There are many dramatic questions here.

Why did the narrator have reasons to imagine his or her death?
What kind of death is the narrator facing, that he or she couldn't have imagined it?
What situation does the narrator find him or herself in?
Where is the narrator?
To get the answer to these questions, the reader has to read the next sentence. That is the prime responsibility of the first sentence of a novel, that a reader be compelled to read a second sentence. That's why this kind of mysterious first sentence is often seen in popular novels. A first sentence that is not compelling becomes a first step in a reader disengaging from a novel. I teach that it's three steps and the reader is gone.

There's a difference between a dramatic question and a question. 'Would I die today?' is a question, but it's not a dramatic question like the first sentence above. When I try and teach some writers the art of a good opening line with dramatic questions, some people respond by framing ordinary sentences as questions.

Second paragraph, second sentence,

I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.

This begins to suggest a place, 'the long room,' while raising the question, why a long room? Where is this room? It also raises the question, who is the hunter? Why does the hunter look 'pleasantly' at the narrator who, based on the first sentence, would appear to be facing death from the hunter? Or not. To get the answer to that question, the reader has to read the third sentence.

These two sentences have set up a process I call question, answer, question. The first sentence raises questions, the second sentence begins to answer those questions (who or what is threatening the narrator with death), while the answer to the question (the hunter is threatending the narrator) simply raises another question, who is the hunter?

This question, answer, question process creates an on-going hold on the attention of readers, and also creates forward movement that pulls the reader ahead. When the opening to an unpublished novel lacks this process, the sentences are often a collection of details describing a time, place, or character. Such statements operate as statements: this is what so-and-so looks like; this is what this place looks like. The risk is that such statements lack drama -- there's no anticipation of an outcome. There can be an anticipation of an outcome based on the appearance of a character, but when there's not, the opening pages of a story can be the weakest writing in an unpublished novel.

A literary agent or editor reading the above two lines would be immediately aware that this is a novel written by a storyteller.

Third paragraph,

Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble, even. That ought to count for something.

Many more questions here; more 'pull' on the reader.
Why is the narrator ready to die in place of someone else?
What makes that noble?
Why is it important to the narrator that this noble act 'count for something?'
What has the narrator done in life that he or she needs to balance the scales?
Fourth paragraph,

I knew that if I'd never gone to Forks, I wouldn't be facing death now. But, terrified as I was, I couldn't bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond your expectations, it's not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

This begins to answer the question, where is this story happening (Forks), but that answer raises another question, where is Forks? Why did the narrator go to Forks? Why does the narrator not regret the decision, which could lead to his or her death? How did this journey to Forks become this grand fulfillment of a dream for the narrator?

Last sentence of preface,

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.

Click here to read the entire essay - ok, I posted most of it above, but there's still a little more left!!

This concept of question, answer, question has explained something to me. I'm a huge fan of the show Breaking Bad, as well as a few of the other recent character driven cable shows (Saving Grace especially). There's something extra compelling about these shows... once you start watching it's hard to stop, and they only seem to follow basic Aristotlean structure to a very limited extent. I knew it was something about the characters that drove these shows, but I couldn't figure out how they did it.

The question, answer, question technique answers a big part of that question. As I was watching Breaking Bad last night I could see it in action. Little revelations fed out sparingly as the show progresses, enough to answer a previously-posed question, but always raising new ones, until the end. Well ok, scratch that... at the end they leave a big question hanging to make you want to watch the next episode. The process creates a dramatic throughline that draws a viewer all the way through the story while keeping their interest riveted. It's also a perfect example of a show that's character driven but with plenty of action. Too often the term character driven means quiet and internal, with little to no action, but Breaking Bad proves it needn't be like that.

Breaking Bad is a perfect example of this technique. If you want to examine how it's done, download an episode or 2 from the iTunes store for $1.99 (or Netflix it, whatever) and watch with a critical eye. It helps to watch twice... the first time you tend to get sucked in and just enjoy the ride... the second time you can spot the tricks and techniques better.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Introducing Skulkin

Meet Skulkin. He's a puppet I whipped up quickly just so I could get in a little practice at animation. He's built similarly to the Radkin puppets for the film I'm working on, because I don't want to practice with them and break their aluminum bones.

Don't worry too much about the words... they have no meaning really, just something I thought up to connect these completely unrelated clips.

I don't know why the clip is squashed on my site... but if you download it to your own computer (right click and Save As on a PC, or control click Download Linked File on a Mac) it shows the way it's supposed to, and you can even watch it fullscreen. I'll see if I can figure out the snafu... I know the clip wasn't squashed like that when I uploaded it. In the meantime, please just bear with me and download the clip to watch it.

I've also added it to the sidebar with my other clips. Enjoy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Character Driven Drama (now with LINKS!)


My latest discovery in the realm of story is Character-Driven Drama, a particular type of story that originates from the world of live theater.

In order to understand what it is, it helps to learn what it ISN'T.

Its antithesis is the Plot-Driven Narrative. (I call one drama and the other narrative because, to me, the word drama essentially MEANS character-driven). Plot-driven stories tend to be more structured.... all this 3-act, inciting incident, turning point, Aristotlean stuff that I've been studying. That's not to say all those things don't also apply to character-driven drama... they DO... but in a less obvious way. The structure tends to be more subliminal, giving precedence to the personalities that power the story and letting things flow forth in a more organic, holistic manner. The CDD (Character Driven Drama) tends to be focused on individuals -- a character portrait or a biography if you will, whereas the PDN (Plot Driven Narrative) is about a series of events. Writing a plot-driven narrative has the tendency to flatten characters by subjecting them to the twists and turns dictated by the carefully crafted story.

I've been discussing the subject with fellow Stopmoe and blogger Sven Bonnichsen, who is currently taking a playwriting course and digging into it much deeper than I am... Im basically just getting the benefit of his studies and doing a little additional research of my own. D G Goans introduced us to a great playwriting book by Laos Egri called The Art of Dramatic Writing, which has been the basis of my own studies thus far into the field. I won't bother to repeat anything Sven has said on his blog.... I'll just give my own thoughts, which are fairly subjective.

Since reading the Egri book I now have a much stronger idea of what's meant by "character driven" stories. I had heard the term before, but had only a vague notion of what it really meant. Basically it means all the action in the story derives directly from the personalities of the main characters, as opposed to stories that are about ideas or situations.

And suddenly I understand something that I was dimly aware of but couldn't put my finger on until now....

These days there are a lot of really powerful cable shows that are pushing the boundaries of what can be done in an ongoing television series, such as Saving Grace, Breaking Bad, Rescue Me, The Shield, etc. These shows are a complete paradigm shift from formulaic TV sitcoms like Giligan's Island, The Odd Couple, Family Matters, or Saved by the Bell.

All these cable shows I mentioned plus the rest I can think of (The Closer, Madmen, Nip/Tuck etc) are entirely character driven. There have been some character driven broadcast TV shows in the past... but not many. The only ones I can think of now would be Hill Street Blues and its spinoffs (such as NYPD Blue), All in the Family, M*A*S*H -- and those Joss Whedon classics Buffy and Angel.

Sitcoms, as the name implies, are situation driven. They always begin and end with essentially nothing having changed.... no-one dies, suffers any type of debilitating injury or illness, or has anything happen that changes their situation. The passengers on the SS Minnow never get off the island, no matter how close they come at times. Characters in a sitcom are pretty simple and almost formulaic.... not complex 3 dimensional individuals.

In a character-driven drama all the motive power derives from the personalities of the main characters. Often shows (or movies) of this nature seem formless, drifting -- because the structure (while usually there) is to some extent sublimated to the ebb and flow of the combat between the protagonist and antagonist, or just the protag going up against the world at large. How many shows were taken on a dizzying ride with Andy Sipowicz at the wheel, careening dangerously through the turmoils of his life?

The protagonist of a character-driven story is a deeply flawed person. Think about the main character in any of the cable shows I mentioned above.... these people all have serious issues!! At times the issues threaten to destroy them or the people around them. And in today's dark, edgy shows, sometimes it actually happens.... people suffer devastating losses and setbacks that you'd never see on prime time television.

Protags in character driven drama are also people who just won't let things be. They're always pushing... driving, striving to get what they want. They're not people who "don't rock the boat"... they're willing and quite ready to blow the boat right out of the water. They're what you would call driven people.... powered by their inner obsessions or compulsions. They're always pushing the issue. But their antags are the same way.... pushing back against them just as hard. When they meet, its time to duck for cover.... these are the alphas staking out the same territory and neither one is about to back down.

It's this kind of conflict that propels the character-driven drama. Things don't happen TO these people, they go out and happen to things -- and to each other.

I know quite a few people in real life that'd I'd call "Character Driven". These tend to be people with strong opinions about everything.... they have no neutral ground. You can be talking about the weather and they'll run the full emotional gamut -- they tend to push and probe to test you -- see if they can draw you out and get some fight out of you. And make no mistake, they love to fight!! They get bored when there's nothing to challenge them, and there's nothing they hate more than boredom. They tend to be people you either love or hate.... they get a strong reaction either way. You might admire them at times and at other times they annoy you or worse. They're AGGRESSIVE. Not passive.

This is hardly a complete rendering of what makes a character-driven drama, but it's all I got right now, so I thought I'd just plop it down here in my online notebook in case I want to look at it later. And you're welcome to peek in too if you want.

Oh, and here are some links:

Character-Driven or Action-Driven? @ Writer's Store

How to write the character driven novel @

A lighthearted peek at Character Driven Plotting by Valerie Comer

The Basics of Screenwriting Includes many of Egri's Dramatic concepts

'Breaking Bad' and Character-Driven TV @ The Harvard Crimson

Raising the Marketability of a Character-Driven Story also about 'finding your hook'

Let characters reveal themselves @

Six Simple Questions @

** I've come to the sudden realization that some of my favorite books are character driven, such as Moby Dick, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series by Fritz Lieber, and the stories of Gene Wolf. These are also the ones I'd characterize as Poetic Fiction (as per an earlier post).