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Create Your Screenplay site
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May 10, 2011

CREATE YOUR SCREENPLAY, BONDING CHARACTER - DAY

..........SUPER:......Bonding Character
....................Musing on Constellations.

............................BARRY
................If you have an affinity for the night
.............:..sky, you've likely had the experience of
................struggling to make out the shape of a
................constellation you're looking for.
......................(a beat)
................Writing a screenplay is similar. You
................need to create a constellation of
................characters that will drive your story
................forward and keep the eyes of the audience
................rivetted on the screen. So here's a
................small part of what I present in my
............... book IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY.

 

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Learn how to get your good ideas out of your head and into your computer. Find out how to source powerful psychological and emotional ideas for your characters and themes.

Discover the most efficient, professional ways to build your story, and your script. I show you how to energize your ideas, how to tell which ideas are good movie ideas, and where to look for elements that make winning movie scripts.

I expose the secret of the powerful principle of mendacity in movie characters and plot, and I show you examples of how to use it in your own screen-play.

Of course, there are skills you need to learn and use --formatting, scene structure, dialogue, and writing good narrative prose, for example. But you'll never have the chance to learn them if you don't

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Seeing the patterns

Think about building your story by "seeing" the emergence of the characters in a pattern. Unique, yet composed of types that work for the movies. If you study movies long enough, you'll see certain typical patterns of characters cropping up repeatedly.

As a storytelling form, the feature-length movie tends to be tightly structured. Specific patterns are adhered to more than in the novel, the short story, the biography, etc. Movies as we know them have been in existence for less than a hundred years. In that time, though, they've evolved their own unique storytelling form.

Past generations of screenwriters discovered what pleases and what displeases their audience, and today's screenwriters are following suit. The story pattern we see at the movies is largely the result of writers responding to the desires of the audience.

In a way, writing a movie is like writing a sonnet — there exists an evolved convention within a writer is expected to work. It's a blessing because the writer doesn't have to reinvent the wheel, and a curse because the creative process is never unfettered.

The good news is that, as in most other endeavors, knowledge and understanding is power. So let's do some stargazing into the galaxy of screenplay characters to find the patterns of the modern screenplay.

Not all Hollywood movies parade their constellation of characters as blatantly as American Graffiti did, but most advertising displays the two main characters, and sometimes a third character as well.

 

© Universal Pictures

One final comparison and I'll spare you any further extension of this metaphor.

Think of the Hero as the Pole Star — He or she is the character around whom all the other characters revolve.

I'm not prescribing a recipe. I'm describing the nature of 90% of successful movies. You're the writer. You can choose to work within the patterns I'm describing or not. But to make that choice intelligently, you need to know what the patterns are.

Room for creativity and invention within the patterns is almost infinite. Knowing the convention and its patterns will not stunt your creativity or board up your muse.

The Hero — then what?When you've decided on your Hero, where do you go next? There are numerous options.Early in my career, I struggled to create satisfactory connections between my Heroes and the other characters in my stories.Why was I struggling? Because I was thinking about story and characters in a literary way, a "straight line" way— HERO— INCITING INCIDENT— GOAL— RISING ACTION— etc., etc.Even worse, I just assumed that drama consisted mainly of "conflict" between two entities: Protagonist and Antagonist (Hero and Villain).

That’s okay for Literature and stage.Not for movies.My scripts didn’t always work, and so I struggled.One day, after enough years of this writer’s angst, and after studying enough movies, the light dawned.I discovered that the essential appeal of the screen story, unlike many literary forms, was not to be found in the conflict the villain created.

Surprise!

Of course the villain's important, but in my analysis of movies, I learned that the villain often got less screen time than another secondary character who had a lot of scenes with the Hero.

Look at these movie posters. Two characters are prominently depicted on each poster.

Neither character is the Villain.

What does that tell you?

Certainly, this idea of the "second character" intrigued me, because I'd been giving the second largest chunk of screen time to the Antagonist.

Then I rationalized that, well, this other secondary character existed because the Hero had a romantic interest, or else a Buddy.

But that didn't prove out either, because I found many movies where the character who got second most screen time was neither a lover or a buddy.

When I was preparing to lead seminars on screenplay writing, I did a deeper analysis of the character layout of successful movies.

I started by studying the role of Heroes and Antagonists in hundreds of movies, and even though I was reluctant to accept the fact at first, I discovered that the typical movie story is dominated by a personal relationship between two other characters—the Hero and what I called at the time the "second most important character."

That’s all. Just those two characters. When I first explored this principle, there wasn’t any information about screenplay writing that dealt satisfactorily with this "second most important character."

I named this character the BONDING CHARACTER. And then by studying movies further, I deduced four things about the audience’s response to the Bonding Character that truly surprised me:


Defining the Bonding Character

1. The more unlike the Hero and Bonding Character are, the better the audience likes them and gets involved in their relationship.

These examples show two popular unlike pairings:

ERIN BROCKOVICH

Studio Stills

 

Julia Roberts and Albert Finney in Universal Pictures Erin Brockovich.

Roberts plays a young single mom struggling to make ends meet.

Her Bonding Character is Albert Finney, a modestly successful lawyer winding down his career. Not like each other at all.

LETHAL WEAPON

Mel Gibson and
Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.

© 1998 - Warner Brothers

Gibson's a widowed, suicidal cop paired
with Glover, the conservative family man
.

And...how many lines do I have?

The second principle that emerged for me was one that stemmed from my stop-watch studies of which characters had how much screen time. This is what I concluded:

2. The audience expects the Bonding Character to have at least as much, if not more, screen time than the Villain.

This idea isn't a tablet toted down from the mountain, but if you give the Villain too much screen time, the audience could feel cheated because the Hero/Bonding Character relationship will necessarily be weakened. But amount of screen time is partly a technical issue, and easy to solve if it gets out of balance. The third principle I learned, however, is right at the core of what makes a successful screenplay:

3. The audience invests its positive emotion in the relationship between the Bonding Character and the Hero.

Quite often this relationship grows throughout the movie to become a romantic involvement, but if you study the function of Bonding Characters in many different movies, you discover that the Hero/Bonding Character relationship has a number of consistent qualities, which do not necessitate that the relationship be romantic.

In my book
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY . I go into detail about these qualities. The important thing to understand is that an audience follows a screen story not just with eyes and ears, but with emotions.

Using the emotional attachment of the audience

The consequence of this audience interaction with that central relationship is the following fact:To write a successful screenplay story, you need to exploitthe fact that the dominant emotional attachment of anaudience is to the Hero/Bonding Character Relationship.

What is the best way to do that?You make the relationship the instrument to defeat the Villain.

In the typical movie, the Hero and the Bonding Character are forced into contact with each other. This event usually occurs somewhere during the first thirty pages.

In Ghost, for example, the Hero, Sam Wheat is murdered in the early part of the movie, and as a ghost, desperately seeks a means to contact his girlfriend, Molly.

Hero:

Sam Wheat
(Patrick Swayze
)
Bonding Character :

Oda-Mae Brown
(Whoopi Goldberg
)

He visits a medium named Oda-Mae Brown, and even though she thinks she's faking being a medium, she discovers that she can hear Sam when he speaks to her. The subsequent scene is a welcome piece of comic relief after the intense drama of the beginning.

Now we come to the fourth principle — a key component of good story making, which is dictated by the moviegoing audience:

4. As part of their involvement in the central character relationship, the audience expects the Hero to use the Bonding Character's qualities to help defeat the villain.

In the case of Ghost, the Villain is a co-worker of Sam's named Carl Bruner, and Sam determines that, by using Oda-Mae to carry out his plans, he will be able to expose Carl as the thief and murderer he is.

During a movie, the audience "tracks" the progress of the Hero/Bonding Character relationship and yearns for the Hero to "get together" with the Bonding Character in some way.

When you are writing your screenplay, you need to satisfy this audience desire. Sometimes the only way to do that is to have the Hero and Bonding character part at the end.

This is the case with such movies as Casablanca, Ghost, Witness, Minority Report, and many others.

In Minority Report, Tom Cruise hooks up with Agatha, the precog, in order to defeat the villain, and in so doing, they rescue each other, and go on to reclaim the lives they had almost lost.

An immensely satisfying ending for the audience.

Bonding Character :

Agatha
(Samantha Morton)

Photo: David James
Hero:

John Anderton
(Tom Cruise)

The film that I use extensively in my book IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY is Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis.

This movie contains one of the most unusual unlike character pairings: A hard-bitten, inner city cop bonds with an Amish widow to bring a rogue police officer to justice.

The interesting twist is that the Hero, John Book, adopts his Bonding Character's pacifism in order to finally defeat the homicidal villain.

© Paramount Pictures Corp.

Wounded, and on the run from his would-be killers, John Book takes refuge in Rachel Lapp's Amish community.

Their growing attraction to each other is one of the most skillfully written, and sensitively directed, romances in movies.

The success of this movie illustrates the effectiveness of using an extremely unlikely pairing when creating your Hero/Bonding Character relationship.

When you understand the working dynamic of the Hero/Bonding Character relationship and apply it to crafting your story, you'll be preparing a solid foundation for the creation of the other characters in your story, particularly the Opposing/Attacking Force (Villain). And you'll be laying a firm foundation for the plot of your movie. Find out more about the Bonding Character and these relationships when you order my book IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY

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The secret of The Bonding Character© -- the key
...concept for creating a dynamic screen story.

The Bonding Character© is Barry Pearson's original
.. concept -- a new strategy in the creative process of
.. screenplay
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