© Scott Myers
About the Author I’m Scott Myers and I have been a screenwriter for three decades. I broke into the business when I sold a spec script to Universal Pictures which became the hit movie K-9 and spawned two sequels. I've written over 30 movie and TV projects for every major studio and broadcast network, including Alaska (Sony/ Castle Rock), and Trojan War (Warner Bros.). I have been a member of the Writers’ Guild of America, West since 1987. I graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts degree (with Honors) in Religious Studies and Yale University, where I received a Masters of Divinity degree cum laude. I’ve variously enjoyed stints as a musician and stand-up comedian. From 2002-2010, I was an executive producer at Trailblazer Studios, overseeing the company’s original TV content development for Scripps and Discovery networks. In my spare time, I took up teaching in 2002 in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, receiving its Outstanding Instructor Award in 2005. For eight years, I was a visiting lecturer in the Writing for Screen and Stage program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2010, I cofounded Screenwriting Master Class with my longtime friend and professional colleague Tom Benedek whose movie credits include Cocoon. In 2008, I launched Go Into The Story which for the last five years has been the Official Screenwriting Blog of the Black List. Some numbers: The site has had over 10 million unique visits, 20 million page views, and I have posted 20,000+ items for over 3,000 consecutive days. The Go Into The Story Twitter feed has over 43,000 followers. In November 2015, I went public with the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge – write an entire script draft in 30 days – and over 1,000 writers joined in. Out of that, the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group emerged and as of January 2017 has over 1,400 members. In 2016, I was excited to be offered and accept the position of Assistant Professor at the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts in Chicago where I teach screenwriting to both undergraduate and graduate students. The adventure continues...
© Scott Myers
About the Go Into The Story PDF Book Series Two motivators I had in launching Go Into The Story in May 2008 were: 1. to create an extensive online resource for writers and 2. to provide that information for free. The world needs more diverse voices in the filmmaking community and making educationalcontent available to anyone and everyone is my humble way to facilitate that vision. There are currently over 20,000 posts on my blog and while an impressive number, it can be overwhelming for readers. So, based on suggestions from several people, I decided to launch a new initiative: Make a new Go Into The Story PDF available each month to the public. I reached out to the GITS community for volunteers to help with this effort and I’d like to express my deep gratitude to Trish Curtin and George “Clay” Mitchell. They stepped up to handle the process of taking blog posts and creating the ebooks in this series. A special blast of creative juju to you both! You can download the previous editions by clicking on their titles below. Volume 1: 30 Things about Screenwriting Volume 2: So-Called Screenwriting Rules Volume 3: Writing a Screenplay Volume 4: Rewriting a Screenplay Volume 5: A Screenwriter’s Guide to Aristotle’s Poetics Volume 6: A Screenwriter’s Guide to Reading a Screenplay Volume 7: Everything You Wanted to Know About Spec Scripts
© Scott Myers
Table of Contents: Movie Character Types About the Author About the Go Into The Story PDF Series Introduction: Movie Character Types
Go Into the Story and Find the Animals
© Scott Myers
Introduction: Movie Character Types This book is a collection of Character Types common in movies writers can use in conjuction with known Archetypes when developing characters for their own stories. Stuck on how to make your Protagonist unique? What about an Addict or a Gambler? Working on developing an interesting Nemesis? How about an Angel or a Rookie? Those of you who have followed my blog for some time or taken courses with me through Screenwriting Master Class know how fascinated I am with character archetypes, specifically how there are five which recur in movies over and over and over: Protagonist: Almost always the central character in the movie. It is their goal, their journey that creates the spine of the Plotline. Nemesis: The Nemesis provides an antagonist function in that they work in opposition to the Protagonist. Generally their goal is the same as the Protagonist or involves the same elements, only the Nemesis has a different intent in mind. Attractor: Oftentimes, but not always a romance figure, the Attractor is an ally, one most intimately connected with the Protagonist’s emotional growth. Mentor: Typically a teaching figure, the Mentor is an ally most directly connected with the Protagonist’s intellectual development. Trickster: Often a sidekick character, the Trickster tests the Protagonist’s will, shifting from ally to enemy, back and forth. Some might see archetypes as a sort of reductionist approach to writing. In my experience, it is precisely the opposite. By working with these five Primary Character Archetypes, we can identify the core narrative function of every key character, then use that knowledge as a guide as we build them out in a limitless number of ways. One approach is to use an extensive array of Character Types available to us - using them to add layers to our characters as we develop them, adding imagination and unique detail to bring them to life. Here we will explore 20 Character Types, and consider how we as writers can use them to create unique, compelling figures in our stories. As with any of the tools and suggestions I offer - they're tools, not rules. Feel free to use them or lose them as it suits you. I hope you find it helpful!
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Addict “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”
The words of Paul in the New Testament (Romans 7:15) weren’t about addiction per se (his focus was on “sin” that could live within a person), but it offers an apt description of the condition. He goes on to say: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.” And this goes to the heart of at least one reason why filmmakers have explored stories with Addict character types: The struggle between self-control and the pull of the addiction. It represents conflict on a fundamental level, powerful physical needs and impulses at war with an inner knowledge, conscious or unconscious, that the character is destroying him or herself. There are stories about drug addicts such as Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Trainspotting (1996) and The Man With the Golden Arm (1955).
There are alcoholics featured in movies such as Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Barfly (1987) and Bad Santa (2003). There are movies about sex addiction like Thanks for Sharing (2012), Don Jon (2013) and Shame (2011).
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The behavior has an authority over the Addict and its nature is even more insidious because addiction activity has the potential to become an object of obsession. One iteration of this type movies explore over and over is the character who is addicted to power. At this point, it is almost a given when dealing with superhero, science fiction or fantasy villains, their lust for power a presupposition per their narrative function like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They want to be all powerful because… they want to be all powerful. But there are more nuanced versions of this obsession with power. Consider Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941), Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), or Scar in The Lion King (1994). Their addictions derive from wounds deep within their psyche, their pursuit of power an externalized attempt to heal their inner selves.
Perhaps there is no more comprehensive an Addict type than Tony Montana (Al Pacino) from the 1983 movie Scarface. He is addicted to drugs. He is addicted to power. Addiction with a capitol “A”. Watch these clips: Sonny and Cocaine Mountain and “Say ‘hello’ to my little friend.” Sometimes Addict stories have happy endings where a character kicks the habit. More often than not, as Tony Montana conveys, the Addict ends up in a state of desolation. The dark pull of addiction often leads to grim stories, so why not play around with a counter approach? Arthur (1981) featured a happy drunk who eventually confronted his Self and made some changes in his life. But the movie was in fact a comedy. What about an Addict as Mentor? We see that in the 1978 movie Midnight Express with the character Max (John Hurt) who dispenses wisdom to the Protagonist Billy (Brad Davis) between hits of hashish.
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Or a Trickster as with Withnail (Richard E. Grant) in the wonderful 1987 comedy Withnail & I.
Look at characters in your stories. Are any of them under the control of an inner impulse or the allure of an outside temptation? If a character seems flat, explore the possibility they have some secret addiction. What might that be? What does it say about who they are and why they are the way they are. That pull toward doing what “I don’t want to do” is an experience every human being has at one time or another. The universality of that impulse creates an excellent opportunity for creating a bond between a script reader and an Addict character. What other Addict character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such compelling figures?
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Advocate Some of the greatest movie roles have been Advocates. For example, memorable attorneys like Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) in Inherit the Wind (1960), Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict (1982), and perhaps the greatest Advocate them all — Atticus Finch played brilliantly by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
Advocates champion a cause in a public arena such as politics. Notable figures in this area include Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) in Dave (1993), President Andrew Shephered (Michael Douglas) in The American President (1995), and Jefferson Smith in the classic 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. One of the central themes of many Advocate movies is empowerment, speaking up for the powerless. It’s no surprise that there are some great Advocate roles featuring women, inspired by the feminist movement, including Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) in Erin Brockovich (2000), and Norma Rae (Sally Field) in the 1979 movie of the same name.
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The power of an Advocate character derives not only from their passionate beliefs, but also from oppositional forces, Nemesis figures who are, in fact, advocates for their own cause albeit for personal gain, not the benefit of others. The essential goodness of a Protagonist Advocate is highlighted even more when a Nemesis figure works against them. This is a contrast reflected not only in substance, but also style. Compare Frank Galvin, the rumpled, alcoholic lawyer who rises from his own personal ashes, against his foe Ed Concannon (James Mason), the slick, enormously well-funded, and vicious legal eagle.
The Advocate taps into some powerful psychological and emotional strains at work in our collective psyche. The hope that there are good people out there. Fighters willing to take up our cause. Right can defeat might. That there is someone who gives voice to our beliefs and aspirations. In this regard, the Advocate becomes our spokesperson and moral leader. We willingly give ourselves over to their story… because their story is our story. What brainstorming can you do with an Advocate character type? The Advocate is a perfect type for a Protagonist: their passion, beliefs and underdog status a natural for a Hero’s Journey. Moreover actors love to play these types of roles, witness all the Oscar winners who played Advocates. What about Advocates as Mentor figures? Their ability to see through propaganda and conventional wisdom. Or Attractors? Their passion for a cause reflecting their general enthusiasm for life… and love.
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But what I think is perhaps most interesting is to embrace the idea noted above: What if you think of your Nemesis figure as an Advocate? The best Antagonists have a world view that makes sense to them. They believe in what they do and, therefore, it is only natural for them to advocate for their own cause. This figures to be an excellent writing exercise: Envisioning your Nemesis as an Advocate.
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Angel It is surprising how many movies featuring the Angels character type there are. Good Angels. Bad Angels. Wise Angels. Bumbling Angels. Across all genres. Perhaps their presence in films should not be a surprise. According to a 2011 poll, 8 in 10 Americans believed in the existence of these ethereal beings. For those counting at home, that is more than the number of Americans who believe in climate change. A prominent movie genre for Angels is comedy including noteworthy movies like The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Michael (1996), and Date With an Angel (1987). Emmanuel Béart portrays a classic version of an Angel, complete with wings and heavenly glow, an alluring Attractor which was pretty much the whole point of this high concept 1987 comedy. There are other comedic versions of Angels that explore different characteristics such as the bumbling Clarence (Henry Travers) in the 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, the over-anxious Escort (Buck Henry) in the 1978 romantic comedy Heaven Can Wait, and two angelic renegades Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) in the 1999 movie Dogma. Clip: “How can you be sure?”
The downward moral spiral represented by the Angels noted above opens the door to the darker side to this character type such as the cursed Angel in the 1998 movie Fallen, the half-angel, half-devil child Little Nicky (2000), and the 2010 action fantasy Legion. Watch the clip here showing The arrival of Gabriel.
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But for my money, the very best Angel movie is the original 1987 German language version of Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). Premise: An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.
Of course, not all angels have to be supernatural in nature. How many of us have received a grandparent’s compliment, “Well, aren’t you an angel” for some nicety we brought their way? Perhaps the best example of this type of ‘angel’ is Melanie (Olivia de Haviland) from the 1941 movie Gone With The Wind. Generous, kindhearted, longsuffering, and a loving soul even on her deathbed, Melanie provided an angelic counterpoint to the selfish machinations of Scarlett O’Hara.
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Angels come in all shapes, sizes, demeanors and forms. Their presence in movies and culture reflect a desire on our part to believe in an after-life and to acknowledge there are supernatural forces of good working on our behalf… as well as darker entities creating havoc and destruction. What brainstorming can you do with an Angel character type? If the only thing you take away from this post is to consider Angels who are not the typical beatific well-meaning spirits from Heaven, that’s a start. How much fun to consider an Angel as a Trickster, imbued with whatever powers you wish to give them, but instead of seeking to benefit others, out to satisfy their own desires. In other words, go against convention and do something surprising when working with this particular character type. What brainstorming can you do with a Angel?
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Artist How does the creative mind work? What are the inner forces the spawn great art? Why are some people drawn to give expression to their unique vision of life? It is questions such as these that give voice to a longstanding fascination in Hollywood movies with Artists. Much of the persistence which filmmakers have demonstrated in dipping into this particular well again and again for stories arises from the knowledge that the masses are ever curious about the artistic mindset. Some of it, however, must derive from the filmmakers themselves who are, after all, artists in their own rights. There have been numerous biographical movies about artists including Frida (2002),
Pollock (2000) and Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965):
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Oftentimes Artist stories focus on the ‘madness’ of creativity such as the 1956 movie Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas portraying the brilliant but tortured existence of Vincent Van Gogh:
In some cases, the Artist’s struggles manifest themselves more in the physical than psychological realm as with the 1989 movie My Left Foot featuring Daniel Day Lewis, who learned to paint and write with his only controllable limb — his left foot: Christy writes his first word. The Artist appears in movies also as fictional characters like Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) in the 1997 movie As Good As It Gets or Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp in the 1990 urban fairytale of the same title): Edward’s ice sculpture. As Simon’s character demonstrates in the scene above, the Artist can get a sudden inspiration. Combined with their passion to express that vision in some physical form, the Artist character type can be about communication, but also about the intensity of their creative experience. To see the world differently. To feel life fully. To immerse oneself in the experience of the creative moment. That is the domain of the Artist character type. What brainstorming can you do with an Artist character type? One obvious area to mine is this: Artists are about visual expression. Since movies are primarily a visual medium, they would seem to fit hand in glove. So what if you have a story that is weighed down by too much exposition, too much expression of backstory? Why not explore the possibility that one of your characters is an Artist? If a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words, then what better way to cut excess dialogue by giving a character the ability to speak through what they draw, paint or create. You can also widen the scope of what we may typically think of art. The central concept of © Scott Myers / Screenwriter's Guide to Character Types / 16
the movie Butter did precisely this: “In Iowa, an adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their town’s annual contest.”
Artist as Attractor, filled with passion for living.
Artist as Mentor, a distinctive perspective of the universe.
Artist as Trickster, living on the fringe of society and the welfare of strangers.
What can you do with an Artist character type?
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Bully Movies have a long history with bullies. There are boy bullies such as in The Outsiders (1983), The Karate Kid (1984) and Billy Madison (1995). There are girl bullies such as in The Craft (1996), Mean Girls (2004) and Heathers (1988).
There are bullies who are family members such Biff in Back to the Future (1985). Bullies in bureaucratic positions like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). And bullies who have enormous authority like Commodus in Gladiator (2000).
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Why are bullies such a recurring character type in movies? First, they give an audience someone to hate, a focused object of personal loathing. Why personal? Because everyone at some point in their lives has been the subject of bullying — physical, emotional, or both. As a writer, this is great because the bully characters we craft can tap into a script reader’s own life experience, dredging up memories and psychological associations, imbuing our story with that much more power. Second, the dark, malevolent energy created by a bully only makes the Protagonist’s goodness stand out even more, the contrast highlighting the essential difference between the two. Third, bullies create instant conflict with whoever is the object of their scorn. And conflict, as we all have heard a thousand times, is key to drama. But perhaps most importantly, a bully can represent what Joseph Campbell calls the dragon:
“Psychologically, the dragon is one’s own binding of oneself to one’s ego. We’re captured in our own dragon cage. The problem of the psychiatrist is to disintegrate that dragon, break him up, so that you may expand to a larger field of relationships. The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.”
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In this respect, the bully — as dragon — is the physicalization of that negative power restraining us. So consider Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs (1991):
What is Clarice Starling’s “dragon cage”? It’s the boogeyman — or in her case, men — the two assailants who shot and killed her father. The evil ghosts from her past, lurking in her nightmares, the crying of the lambs representing the pleas for help from her father, also an innocent who is slaughtered. Her narrative destiny is, in part, to confront her dragon. And that narrative function is performed by Buffalo Bill who has taken being a bully to an extreme. He does not see his victims as people, rather as objects — “It puts the lotion on its skin”. Clarice cannot be free unless she “disintegrates” the dragon, Buffalo Bill, who represents the bullies who slew her father: Buffalo Bill watches Clarice What brainstorming can you do with the bully character type? •
Ask yourself: What does my Protagonist fear most? What is their ‘dragon cage’? Then this: What character could best represent the object of the Protagonist’s fears in the form of a bully?
How would that bully look? How would they act? What would be their goals? Why would they be focused on the Protagonist?
It’s natural to assume a bully is a Nemesis character, but why not play around with other of the primary character archetypes as bullies?
You can have Protagonists as bullies such as Melvin in As Good As It Gets (1997).
Mentor figures can have a bully streak to their personality such as Miyagi for the first half of The Karate Kid.
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How about a Trickster like Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket (1987)?
The bully type is all about power. As such, they can make for a powerful character in a story. Consider whether the story you’re working on now could benefit from having a bully… or whether you have a dragon lurking inside the psyche of a character who already exists. What other bully character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such compelling figures?
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Clown Some of the earliest and most successful actors in cinema history were clowns including The Keystone Cops, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin: Charlie Chaplin’s boxing match. It’s interesting to note how broad, physical humor, often called slapstick, is a feature of clown character types. One of the greatest of all in movies is Harpo Marx from the Marx Brothers: The best of Harpo Marx in Animal Crackers (1930). Of course, they are often known by their verbal wit such as Danny Kaye’s character in the 1955 movie The Court Jester: The vessel with the pestle. Clowns tend to be Trickster figures and often defy convention or authority. As such, they upset the normal state of affairs, creating confusion, even chaos. But that can be precisely what must happen to reveal some underlying truth that needs to emerge into the light of day. Consider Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) in the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life. He is a Clown in the form of an Angel who upends the ordinary life of George Bailey (James Stewart), compelling into an extraordinary experience — one in which George has never been born. We may think of Clowns as happy figures, but they can don their comic masks to shroud deeper, darker psychological dynamics. A great example is Steven Gold (Tom Hanks) in the 1988’s Punchline, a comedian tormented by inner demons: Steven Gold’s meltdown. Then there are Clowns whose stories are enmeshed in tragedy like Guido (Roberto Benigni) in Life is Beautiful (1997) who concocts an elaborate fantasy — the Holocaust is a game and the grand prize for winning is a tank — to protect the imagination of his son: Watch Guido’s last moments. There is a tradition in the horror genre of scary clowns such as It (2017), Clownhouse (1989) and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
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A mainstream version of this is the Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight (2008): Watch here as The Joker offers to bring down Batman. Clowns can mock and betray, but also delight and inspire. Since movies are fundamentally a visual medium, Clowns can cut quite memorable figures due to their sheer physicality and Id-driven impulses. What brainstorming can you do with a Clown character type? Is your story in need of some levity and chaos? Consider your cast of characters. Might one of them have a bent toward a humorous psyche, willing to flaunt conventions as well as be the object of ridicule? While a Protagonist can be a Clown type, some of the best sidekick characters fall into this category, creating a comic spark to change the mood, put things into perspective, or just to give a jolt to a scene. What other Clown character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such interesting figures?
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Companion The Companion character type is one of the most common figures in movies. We can begin our analysis with this most basic reason for their existence: A main character, most often the Protagonist, will need someone to talk to. Think about it. How can we know about a character’s Inner Self? Through their actions, yes, but largely through their dialogue. A Companion provides a natural object to which a particular character may express their feelings, thoughts, ideas, and so forth. A perfect example of this is Wilson from the 2000 movie Cast Away.
Obviously Companions can be much more than a listening ear. Often they are staunch allies to the Protagonist exhibiting loyalty, tenacity and unselfishness. Examples of this type of Companion include Chewbaca from the Star Wars films, Timon and Pumba from the 1994 movie The Lion King, and Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee (Sean Astin) from The Lord of the Rings trilogy: “I want to hear about Sam.”
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Sometimes Companions provide such mutual levels of friendship and emotional support, they exist within a narrative as co-equals such as Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) from the 1997 comedy Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) from the 2008 movie Step Brothers, and Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) from the 1991 movie Thelma & Louise.
Sometimes a Companion is a Trickster, switching from ally to enemy, enemy to ally, their function to test a Protagonist. Examples include Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the 1985 movie Back to the Future, Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) in the 1988 film Midnight Run, and Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) from the 1992 movie Lethal Weapon 2: Riggs and Murtaugh meet Leo. Whatever their personality or narrative function, a Companion character type goes along for the ride, and can be a major source of entertainment on the journey. Just like this furry guy: Michael Dooley (James Belushi) and Jerry Lee from K-9
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What brainstorming can you do with a Companion? Here again is a character type that can work with any of the five primary archetypes: Co-Protagonist
You want instant conflict? ⁃ How about if you handcuff together your Protagonist and your Nemesis, then put them on the road, companions at each others’ throats?
You want romance? ⁃ Work with an Attractor figure like Ellie (Claudette Colbert) in the 1932 movie It Happened One Night.
When thinking about a Companion, ask yourself: •
What can this character bring to the mix that the Protagonist can’t?
How can they aid the Protagonist on his/her journey or create stumbling blocks?
What entertainment value can they bring to the narrative?
What other notable Companion character types in movies can you suggest?
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Destroyer From serial killers to tyrants, mad scientists to evil geniuses, Destroyers have carved a deadly, yet noteworthy path through the history of movies. Let’s start at the big end of the spectrum: Monsters including the the Shark in Jaws (1975), the Xenomorph in Alien (1979), and Godzilla in many cinematic iterations.
Rampaging and hell-bent on destruction. There is no negotiating. No resolution with these kind of Destroyers. They themselves must be destroyed to stop the carnage.
We see this same type of slaughterous behavior at work on a smaller scale with Destroyer characters such as: ◆
Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Jason in Friday the 13th (1980)
Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) pictured at right →
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The fact that each of these movies spawned numerous sequels speaks to the allure of Destroyers and this specific iteration: The Boogeyman. But unlike the shark in Jaws, with these characters, we get a small glimpse into the psychology behind their madness. This speaks to one of the draws of Destroyers, how they provide a window into the Shadow, the dark aspects of the human psyche. Consider the psychopathology of characters such as Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) in Schindler’s List (1993), Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) in American Psycho (2000), and John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in Se7en (1995).
Even psychopaths have a world view which makes sense to them. In some cases, Destroyers are more consistent in their allegiance to their code than the humans they destroy like Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in The Terminator (1984), Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight (2008), and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in No Country for Old Men (2007): “I got here the same way the coin did.” Chigurh lives according to a strict set of rules. People make their choices. If they choose wrong, they become victims. In a way, he is quite legalistic. And there’s the rub: The trick is to make this type of Destroyer’s world view at least understandable to a script reader because in doing so, that pulls the character closer to the reader’s experience — makes for a much more interesting psychological dynamic wherein we can actually relate to the killer.
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What brainstorming can you do with a Destroyer character type? The Destroyer character type is a natural in providing the Nemesis function, but what if we imagined a Mentor as Destroyer? What if the end point for the Protagonist was for him/herself to destroy Evil? How to learn that? How to embrace destruction if it’s not part of your natural order? Enter the Destroyer Mentor. How about an Attractor whose function is not to slay the Protagonist, but to seduce him to destroy others? This takes us into Femme Fatale territory, but what if instead of manipulating the Protagonist to do violence on her behalf, this iteration of the Attractor is seeking a soulmate to go off on a destructive path together like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or Natural Born Killers (1994).
Just as with all character types, there are endless possibilities. All we need to add to the mix is our own imaginations.
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Femme Fatale Although we may associate the Femme Fatale most closely with film noir, this character type has been in existence since ancient times, the “fatal woman” often portrayed as a seductress, even to the point of having some sort of mystical power as an enchantress. Indeed we find an example in the Gospel of Matthew (14:6–9): “But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias (Salome) danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.”
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (Caravaggio) Obviously there is a strong element of sexuality at work with the Femme Fatale and that cuts both ways as an narrative element: empowerment for the woman, weakness for the man. Witness the hold Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) has over the ultimately hapless Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in the classic 1944 film Double Indemnity.
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This is a core element of dozens of movies including The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Killers (1946), and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), a staple of film noir. But even after that sub-genre’s heyday, Hollywood has returned to this character type in movies during the last three decades including The Last Seduction, To Die For, and the 1992 box office smash hit Basic Instinct and its Femme Fatale Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone):
Indeed the largest spec script sale in 2013 — for a reported $2M — was “Reminiscence” by Lisa Joy and it features a Femme Fatale in a prominent role.
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One dynamic common with almost all Femme Fatale characters: They engender dialogue that crackles with sexual subtext. Take this exchange between Ned (William Hurt) and Matty (Kathleen Turner) from the 1981 movie Body Heat: NED You can stand here with me if you want but you’ll have to agree not to talk about the heat. MATTY I’m a married woman. NED Meaning what? MATTY Meaning I'm not looking for company. NED Then you should have said I'm a happily married woman. MATTY You aren't too smart, are you? I like that in a man. NED What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got 'em all. MATTY You don't look lazy.
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Not all Femme Fatale characters are working perfect ‘black widow’ plans. Some find themselves trapped in circumstances in which they are desperately attempting to survive. A case in point: Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) in the 1986 movie Blue Velvet.
Since many, if not most of the movies featuring a Femme Fatale are written by men, it seems fair to consider a Jungian take on the character type, that it represents the negative aspect of the anima, more of a projection of how a woman appears to a man, rather than an objective reality. No matter how one interprets the Femme Fatale, clearly there is a not so veiled subtext at work: Sex is dangerous. What brainstorming can you do with a Femme Fatale character type? Is it possible to do a gender switch, make the character a male? That brings us to another character type: Don Juan. However whereas a Lothario is typically all about sexual or romantic conquest, the Femme Fatale has a darker edge often involving manipulation and murder. So could we work with a Homme Fatal? As long as there is some sort of violence in the cards. One interesting way to go: Rather than making the Femme Fatale a Nemesis, Trickster or as a variation on theme an Attractor as in Blade Runner (1982), what would a story look like with the character being the Protagonist? That would be tricky as part of the allure of this type is the mystery: Is she or isn’t she playing the guy? However it would be possible, at least in theory, in which we never quite know what’s in the mind of a Protagonist Femme Fatale… until the end… and maybe not even then. What other Femme Fatale character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such interesting figures?
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Gambler In a sense, every Protagonist is a ‘gambler’ in that they choose their standing in the Old World for what may or may not lie ahead in the New World. Even Nemesis figures will play the odds through the machinations of their plan to achieve their goal, generally in opposition with the Protagonist. In that match-up, there are winners and there are losers. So a certain amount of gambling is implied in the characters’ decision-making process.
But then there are actual Gamblers, a specific character type whose career, life, and personality is infused with a need, proclivity or instinct to take big risks like Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993). Often for money. Sometimes for fame. And other times, primarily for the rush it brings… despite or perhaps because of the danger involved. Let’s start with card players. Hollywood has featured Gamblers in high-stakes games in movies like The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Owning Mahowny (2003), and Rounders (1998) starring Matt Damon as a reformed gambler who is forced to return to the game to help a friend (Edward Norton Jr.) pay off loan sharks.
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Card games require certain skills: math, probability, psychology and the ability to wear ‘masks’ when confronting a rival across the table. There are other forms of gambling that necessitate different, more physical talents such pool as in movies like The Color of Money (1986), Poolhall Junkies (2002), and the 1961 classic The Hustler starring Paul Newman as an upstart talent who takes on the legendary Minnesota Fats played by Jackie Gleason.
Then there are Gambler types who bet on sporting events — horse races, basketball, baseball. Here there is no direct skill involved and no way, at least legally, to influence the outcome. The smarts required are an immersive knowledge on the sport in question… or just gut instinct. Movies featuring this Gambler character type include the 1989 comedy Let It Ride, the 1984 drama The Pope of Greenwich Village, and the 1974 film The Gambler starring James Caan as an NYU professor with a gambling habit that eventually gets him in over his head. Generally Gambler types are lone wolves, the individual in an existential exercise to beat the odds. However there is an entire subset of movies that feature a team of Gamblers, most often with a plan to make a big score. Movies in the sub-genre include The Sting (1973), Ocean’s Eleven (1960, 2001), and The Italian Job (1969, 2003).
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The appeal of Gambler character types is apparent. Who among us doesn’t imagine having loads of money? A bit of larceny in their soul? We can live vicariously through these characters, their ups and downs, the danger and the scores. And sometimes we may need to watch a straightforward morality tale to remind us of the substantial risks involved with a gambling lifestyle. What brainstorming can you do with a Gambler character type? Gamblers can get in over their heads financially, forced to seek out funds from loan sharks. While that’s an obvious path to work up a Protagonist character, what about a Trickster? We see this dynamic in the movie Rounders. Sometimes the Protagonist plays life too safe, they live too much inside their head. Then along comes a Mentor figure who goes by his gut and is willing to gamble everything on a fantastical scheme… with the Protagonist’s life-savings. That’s the plot of Zorba the Greek (1964). And what about a Gambler as Nemesis? They could be out for a big score like Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), but what if their thefts and games are all in service of something bigger, a plan to create chaos in order to flush out the real identity of a superhero?
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Healer Nurse. Doctor. Psychiatrist. Therapist. The Healer character type is typified by a passion to serve others with the skills to repair individuals. There are medical doctors feature prominently in movies such as Awakenings (1990), Dr. Doolittle (1998), and Patch Adams (1998).
While there are benevolent Healers who focus on the body, there are also counselors whose work is about the the patient’s psychological self in movies like Spellbound (1941), Good Will Hunting (1997), and Ordinary People (1981).
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Sometimes the Healer needs healing, either a disease of the body or a readjustment of their values and world view such as The Doctor (1991) and Doc Hollywood (1991). Watch this Doc Hollywood clip: Interview with Halberstrom. There are also shadow versions of the Healer. The characters give themselves over to darker impulses as in Frankenstein (1931), Dead Ringers (1988), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Here’s a link to The transformation scene.
Educated and intelligent, combined with their calling to make people well, the Healer is generally a character others put their trust in. Oftentimes this is a key to the patient’s ultimate well-being… or their downfall if they put their faith in a depraved Healer. What brainstorming can you do with a Healer? I took a psychology class in college in which the professor told of a study that showed a majority of people who chose to go into the field of psychiatry did so in large part to figure out their own emotional and behavioral issues. That right there creates a path toward Disunity, the mask of professionalism and care-giving shrouding deeper, perhaps darker motivations. Another thing to consider: If Healers are grounded in science, why not put one such character into a scenario that defies logic and can only lead to the conclusion there are forces beyond that which we can know through our intellect? The point is we can spin conventional wisdom and twist tropes. For example, what if we take a psychiatrist who is a psychopath, but put him into the role of a Mentor?
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That is precisely what we have with Dr. Hannibal Lecter who in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) leads Clarice Starling into and through the morass of her own tortured psyche. Or how about a nurse who is an insensitive control freak like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
What are some of your favorite Healer characters in movies?
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Innocent One of the most common narrative themes is innocence to experience, so there are plenty of stories where a character starts off in more or less of an innocent state. But a true Innocent presents a character existing in a heightened state of purity. Their innocence can derive from the fact they are a child like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) or Alice in Alice in Wonderland (2010), not having much in the way of life experience. Their innocence can be based on having led a sheltered life such as Princess Anne in Roman Holiday (1953).
Their innocence can arise from them suddenly being thrust into an environment completely new to them such as E.T. in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
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There are several appeals for a writer working with an Innocent. First, it is easy to establish a sense of sympathy for them because once they venture on their journey into the New World, they are immediately put into an underdog role, causing readers to worry about them, everything from their basic safety to the big question of how in the world will they achieve their goal. Additionally it can be a compelling and entertaining ride to go along with an Innocent as they experience one new thing after another, sharing in their fears and joys, mistakes and learning. Finally as the Innocent becomes more experienced, we are witness to their emergence as an active participant in the world as the process of metamorphosis, psychological and emotional, is perhaps most visibly noticeable in such characters precisely because they begin in such a guileless state. While children oftentimes fill these roles, there have been some notable adult Innocents such as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (1994) and Chance in Being There (1979). Here’s the Trailer for Being There. As with Chance, Alice, and E.T., there is often a kind of magical quality to the Innocent’s journey, almost as if a sort of fable. Perhaps this is because their innocent view of the world is an ‘enchanted’ one, seeing beauty and wonder all around them. The journey puts their innocence to the test: Will they be able to retain that essence as they gain their experience — or will they lose it? What brainstorming can you do with an Innocent character type? •
Do you have a character in your story who goes through an innocence to experience journey?
If so, is there a way to begin them in an even more advanced state of purity, either through youth, sheltered living or a Fish Out Of Water?
What lessons do they learn along the way?
What lessons do they bequeath upon or inspire in others?
As a character building exercise, imagine a Mentor as an Innocent, perhaps imbued with some supernatural insight into macro events, but lacking in experience in mundane matters.
How about a Trickster whose innocence gets the character into trouble through sheer lack of knowledge about local customs or laws?
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It would be intriguing to play around with a Nemesis as Innocent. Maybe the Powers That Be have kept this figure locked up to retain his/her purity, but instead of morality, the purity within the character is a malevolent one. I mean if the Devil were raised in seclusion, how would the character know if s/he was evil, no experience of goodness against which to measure his/her being. What would happen if Innocent Evil were suddenly unleashed on the world?
What other Innocent character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such compelling figures?
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Loner The Loner is another staple in Hollywood movie history spanning across all genres and story types. If you think about it, the Loner practically defined the Western genre during the 30s-50s with notable examples such as Shane (Alan Ladd, Jr.) in the 1953 movie Shane and Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in the 1956 film The Searchers.
The tradition of the Loner ‘gunslinger’ has continued into contemporary times with movies like Drive (2011) which parallels the plot of Shane in numerous ways. Why the popularity of Loners? From an entertainment standpoint, this character type can convey a palpable sense of mystery. Who are they? And perhaps more importantly, why are they alone? This last question is a central one in Loner movies like Finding Forrester (2000), whose central character William Forrester (Sean Connery) is a reclusive author, and Gran Torino (2008), in which (Clint Eastwood's) Walt Kowalski is a racist Korean War veteran living in a neighborhood populated by Asian immigrants.
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The bitter Loner is a particular subset of this type, one we see pop up with some frequency as a Protagonist like Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) in Up! (2009) and as a supporting character like Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom) in Home Alone (1990).
As with Old Man Marley and similar characters like Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Karl in Sling Blade (1996), the sometimes frightening image of the Loner can be demystified over the course of the story, becoming more human like the rest of us. However the Loner can also be a dark figure with violent impulses like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho (1960), Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) in Taxi Driver (1976), and even play the part of a Nemesis as with Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in the 2007 movie No Country for Old Men (2007). The Nature of Anton Chigurh. This type of Loner is perhaps set apart from the rest of us precisely because of their mental instability and/or inherent bent toward the Dark Side.
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Sometimes a character’s state of solitude derives not from psychological forces, but rather physical ones, trapped by forces of nature as in movies such as Cast Away (2000), Into the Wild (2007), and All Is Lost (2013).
One dynamic that is implied with almost any Loner character is our desire to see them make connections with others. Indeed many of the movies cited above have this theme at work, the Loner stretching beyond their own personal boundaries eventually to find a friend, a lover or a family, like Wall-E in the 2008 movie of the same name. Who of us didn’t get a lump in our throat when Wall-E, enraptured by the movie Hello, Dolly, mimics the couple on the screen holding hands… by holding his own hand:
Right there, from the earliest moments of the movie, we know the Protagonist’s narrative destiny: To find someone to be with, to care for and to love. The thing is, we’ve all experienced loneliness and almost all of us are, by our human nature, social creatures. So when we happen upon a Loner in a story, our instinct is to become engaged with them and their plight — to understand them and, if they are not
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vengeful souls, to hope they find their place in the world amidst a community. What brainstorming can you do with a Loner character type? If your goal is to create an immediate level of sympathy for any character with the script reader, there is perhaps no better way than to work with a Loner, for reasons cited above. Moreover the quality of solitude can add a dimension of mystery to any archetype: The Loner Nemesis becomes more threatening because of their silence. The Loner Attractor becomes more alluring because of their public reticence. The Loner Mentor becomes ever more wise because their quietude suggests deep wisdom. And the Loner Trickster becomes even more vexing because the less we know of their motives, the less we can predict when they will flip from enemy to ally, ally to enemy. The Loner also provides an object lesson about the use of dialogue. It should not be surprising that Clint Eastwood has played so many Loner characters in his career. This is an actor famous for red-lining dialogue in scripts, cutting out half or ever more of his character’s scripted words. Movies are a visual medium. Less dialogue can play to that strength. Who are your favorite Loner characters in movies?
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Martyr Typically we associate the term with someone who suffers persecution or even death for their religious or political beliefs. There are plenty of movie examples of this iteration including Ghandi (1982), Silkwood (1983) and Braveheart (1995) Freedom Speech.
Their suffering can be simply tragic, but more often than not, their deaths are a cause of inspiration for others. This hearkens back to the original root of the word from the Greek µάρτυς which means “witness.” A martyr has seen or experienced something so profoundly true, at least to them, they are willing to sacrifice everything on its behalf, including their own lives. More generally, a martyr can commit an act of self-sacrifice on behalf of someone or something other than him/herself. The death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (1977) is a case in point: “Strike me down, and I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” There is another narrative possibility whereby a character uses their suffering to manipulate others into doing the bidding of the martyr or pretends to suffer to garner sympathy. What sort of brainstorming can you do with the martyr character type? What if your Protagonist is a martyr? What cause or belief could they have which would lead them down a path of suffering and potential death? The belief might prove to be true or it can be shown to be a lie, forcing the Protagonist to question the very foundation of their world view.
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Perhaps it is someone the Protagonist is willing to suffer for. Who might that someone be? Why would the Protagonist commit to this course of action? For example, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan (1998) sacrifices his own life to save that of Private Ryan, not for any great cause, but rather at first merely following orders, then eventually to pass on the mantle of responsibility with two words: “Earn this.” You can apply the martyr type to any of the Primary Character Archetypes: Mentor as martyr. Attractor as martyr. Trickster as martyr. Even Nemesis as martyr at least their own self-perception. As heroes, it’s hard to imagine any bigger character type than a martyr. If we care about a character and they suffer grievously, even dying for a cause greater than him/herself, it’s pretty hard not to feel a strong emotional connection. What other movie characters can you think of who are martyr types? What do you see as some of the strengths of this character type?
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Orphan Some of the most notable movie characters of all time are Orphan types: Huckleberry Finn, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, and one of the most beloved of all, Dorothy Gale.
Why are orphans so popular in movies? Right off the bat, we are dealing with a character who generates instant sympathy. Abandoned by parents. Or worse, deceased parents. Each of us has experienced loneliness in our lives. Being an orphan taps into an existential sense of aloneness. What this does is immediately lock us into the story, engendering in us a desire to take care of the character in question, such as with the movie Babe (1995):
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Without parents to help shape the child’s sense of self, the Orphan grows into adulthood with a pronounced need to answer the question at the root of all stories: Who am I? Is it any wonder that so many superheroes are orphans: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Magneto, as well as science fiction heroes like Luke Skywalker and fantasy heroes like Harry Potter, carrying with them a need to figure out both how to use their extraordinary powers and how to understand who they are.
This Orphan’s quest to determine their self-identity can involve a coming to grips with deep emotions and psychological dynamics: shame as the child may feel responsible for being rejected, self-doubt the result of not growing up with parental support and encouragement of parents, and nightmares as the parents continue to hold sway over the Orphan long after they are gone, such as with Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Why Clarice left the ranch. What brainstorming can you do with an Orphan character type? It’s almost too easy to go this route with a Protagonist, surely so if the writer uses it as a cheap device to elicit sympathy. So dig deeper. What does the Orphan feel about their parents? What coping skills and defense mechanisms have they developed to manage those feelings? How do they compensate for the pain they feel? How has the loss of their parents branded them at their most fundamental level? Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941) while not technically an orphan, is abandoned by his mother and sent away from the only home and true happiness he will know in his life. Almost everything you need to know about his character you can see in his face as a child when he learns he is being sent away: The Sled Shed and Room Trashing scene.
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Prostitute There have been dramas with prostitutes such as Taxi Driver (1976), Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995).
There have been comedies featuring prostitutes like Irma La Douce (1963), Night Shift (1982) and Mighty Aphrodite (1995).
There have been thrillers like Klute (1971), Angel (1984) and American Gigolo (1980).
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What is the appeal of these characters in movies? Obviously there is the allure of sex. But beyond that, there is an implied question for any movie viewer about a primary character who is a Prostitute and that is this: Could I do that? Can I imagine myself in a situation like that? A well-crafted Prostitute character can move the moviegoer experience beyond voyeurism to vicarious imagination. One of the most popular iterations of this type is the proverbial Hooker-With-a-Heart-of -Gold such as Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind (1939) and Vivan Ward in Pretty Woman (1990). “I can do anything I want to, baby. I ain’t lost.” But there is also prostitution in a metaphorical sense. In The Apartment (1960), Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is having an affair with her boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray):
At one point, Sheldrake tosses a hundred dollar bill to Fran in order for her to go buy herself a Christmas present and she starts taking off her clothes saying, “I just thought as long as it was paid for.” At that moment, the stark truth hits her: She has been prostituting herself. Notably this is what leads to her suicide attempt. One of the many reasons The Apartment is such a superlative movie is that the theme of prostitution comes into play with another character: The Protagonist C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who by allowing his co-workers, then Sheldrake to use Baxter’s apartment for their trysts has sold his soul in an attempt to climb the corporate ladder. Which brings us back to the question that invites a script reader to participate more fully in the story: How far would I go to survive or to obtain wealth? Would I be willing to prostitute myself to achieve my goals? The Prostitute type almost inevitably raises questions of this type in the subtext of their presence in a story. What brainstorming can you do with a Prostitute character type? A Protagonist as a Prostitute would be interesting. They could get caught up in a scandal
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with The Powers That Be, putting him/her in danger. What about a comedy with a Prostitute forced to become a nanny (Mary Poppins: Hooker Nanny). It’s pretty easy to imagine a Prostitute as an Attractor character, but what about Mentor? Certainly life on the streets and meeting all sorts of clientele would lead to a depth of understanding beyond that of a ‘normal’ person. Prostitute as Trickster? That’s a good fit, too, as they are natural born survivors, and can turn from ally to enemy in a flash… like Rosie (Maria Bello) in Payback (1999) or Bridget Fonda’s Jessica in the 2001 action thriller Kiss of the Dragon.
And then prostitution as a metaphor: Ask your characters, “How much of their soul have they sold to achieve their end?” What other Prostitute character types can you think of in movies? Why do you think they make for such compelling figures?
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Rebel There are conventional thinkers. However those types don’t make the most compelling, let alone entertaining characters in a story. Instead give us someone who has an unconventional world view. A different way of doing things. Someone who shakes this up, defies authority, and dares to take on The Powers That Be. In other words, a Rebel. There are Rebels in political movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Bulworth (1998), and the unforgettable mayhem created by Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1932) when he is named leader of Fredonia.
When a Rebel becomes the spokesperson for a movement, they can take on iconic status in leading a rebellion as in movies like Gandhi (1982), Braveheart (1995), and Joan of Arc (1948).
Then there are Rebels who defy cultural or aesthetic norms like Amadeus (1984), Pollock (2000), and Frida (2002).
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There are characters we may not associate with the concept of a Rebel, but consider these three: Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) in Gone With the Wind (1939), R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Rebels can be charismatic figures which works on multiple levels: Within in the context of the story universe enabling them to rally people to their side, actors who enjoy playing these type of roles, and audiences who live vicariously through Rebel figures. What brainstorming can you do with a Rebel? It’s easy to think of a Rebel as a Protagonist, but Mentors often have a wisdom that cuts against the grain like John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989). “Seize the day!” Of course, the Shadow dynamic of a Rebel is conformity, so if you’re attracted to this character type, why not explore a society, culture or world where through peer pressure or governmental control, the masses think one way, but need someone to shake them up, even if what that entails is dancing as in Footloose (1984).
What are your favorite movie Rebels?
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Rookie The newbie. Wet behind the ears. Had some training, but now it’s the first day on the job. Most prominent among Rookie character types are sports figures such as Rookie of the Year (1993), The Rookie (2002), and Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh in the 1988 comedy Bull Durham.
From a writing standpoint, one of the major benefits of a Rookie is they are an outsider, unfamiliar with the rules and codes of behavior now that they’ve hit the ‘major leagues’. In this respect, a Rookie character can function as the eyes and ears of the script reader, also new to the subculture. What the Rookie learns, we learn along with them which can intensify the connection we make with the character. A good example of this are Rookie cops, that particular subculture one steeped in all sorts of arcane practices and secret rules of conduct such as with movies like The Rookie (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Training Day (2001).
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Rookies can exist in all vocations and subcultures: Politics (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939), Law (The Firm, 1993), Journalism (The Help, 2011), even Assassins (Kill Bill: Vol. 2, 2004).
If the underdog dynamic is particularly effective in raising the stakes of a story and engendering sympathy for a Protagonist figure, then there is perhaps no better character type to slot into that role than a Rookie. For example, what business does Will Turner, a simple blacksmith, have taking on bloodthirsty pirates in The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)?
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But, of course, Will Turner has pirate’s blood and that is a key to a Rookie: They have training which can enable them to stumble into the New World, but it is their instinct to Become Who They Are which enables them to succeed. Whatever the specifics of the Rookie’s journey, their path is replete with challenges, not only discerning the lay of the land into which they plunge, but also coming to grips with what bubbles up from their own inner psyche. For almost always, the Rookie is a neophyte at their own self-understanding and need to be helped along to get in touch with their Authentic Self, and along the way move from Rookie to Veteran. What brainstorming can you do with a Rookie character type? My mind immediately goes to Buddy stories. Veteran and a Newbie. Either one could be a Protagonist. The other could be… a Trickster… Mentor… or Attractor. Perhaps the grizzled veteran needs to get in touch with his/her lapsed idealism. Perhaps the Rookie needs to learn the tricks of the trade. Maybe the Rookie has a powerful emotional center that causes the Protagonist to reawaken their Heart and open him/herself to the world. On the other hand, what would a Rookie Nemesis look like? Their lack of experience could make them an even more dangerous figure because they don’t know the customs or rules. What can you do with a Rookie character?
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Visionary They can see into the future… or think they can. They perceive possibilities when others see only walls. Often the power of their perceptions are matched by their zeal. These are Visionaries and they represent a character type we see often in movies. There are actual seers such as Oracle in The Matrix (1999) and Blind Seer in O Brother, Where Are Thou? (2000) who can peel back the veneer of the present and peer into the truth of what is to be. The Prophecy Scene. There are prophets consumed by their fantasy of the future such as Dr. Emett Brown in Back to the Future (1985) and Howard Beale in Network (1976).
There are the Visionary types in the arena of business like Tucker in Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Steve Jobs in Jobs (2013). There are other business Visionaries who genius and insight is aimed toward financial gain… even to the point of illegality like Henry Gondorff in The Sting (1973) and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street (2014).
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Then there are Visionaries whose world views are scarred by their psychosis such as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Maximillian Cohen in Pi (1998).
The Visionary can be a compelling figure precisely because of what they see and how they articulate their perception of reality… notwithstanding whether that vision is correct or not. What brainstorming can you do with a Visionary? Once again it’s easy to think of this character type slotting into the role of a Protagonist, however it’s also a natural fit for a Mentor. But how much fun to be Trickster like Zorba in Zorba the Greek (1964) or a Nemesis as with Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999).
What archetypes are your favorite movie Visionaries?
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Warrior Naturally the Warrior character type is about fighting, their stock-in-trade. But for whom do they fight? How? And most important… why? The answer to these questions define the very nature of the Warrior… or perhaps more precisely, their nature provides the answers to the questions. There is the lone Warrior who is called upon to fight on behalf of victims such as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Road House (1989), and Léon: The Professional (1994).
There is the retired Warrior who is forced by circumstances to take on one last job as with Shane (1953), Unforgiven (1992), and Gran Torino (2008). There is the Warrior who emerges from surprising roots over time unleashing their power which lies latent within as in movies like Hero (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), and The Matrix (1999).
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There is the Warrior hell-bent on revenge like Death Wish (1974), Gladiator (2000), and Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004).
Then there are the groups of Warriors like The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Avengers (2012), and Seven Samurai (1954). Whereas an Advocate will tend to use their logic and intellect to defeat their foes, Warriors rely on their physical strength. Not to say they are unintelligent. Often they have to rely on their wits and whatever wisdom they learn along the way of their journey to defeat a Nemesis contingent that makes the Warrior a decided underdog. But again, the keys to Warrior characters is to determine who they fight… how they fight… and why they fight. What brainstorming can you do with a Warrior? The Warrior character type is a natural fit for the role of Protagonist, but think about Mentor figures who have been trained in the way of fighting like Miyagi in The Karate Kid (1984). Need a reference point for an Attractor with mad Warrior skills? How about Trinity from The Matrix?
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And a Trickster Warrior? Look no further than Han Solo in the Star Wars films.
Of course, Warriors make excellent Nemeses as well. Whereas Warriors associated with the Protagonist and his/her cause are generally going to be fighting for something other than themselves, a Nemesis Warrior ultimately represents a distortion of ethics and humanist values, all in pursuit achieving their goal… and victory. What other notable Warrior character types in movies can you suggest?
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Go Into the Story and Find the Animals This mantra is both the name of my blog, and my wish for you. It derives from a conversation I had many years ago with my then three year-old son. It went pretty much like this:
ME Hey, Luke, I’m starting to write a new script tomorrow. And it’s funny, but no matter how many times I start a new story, I get a bit, uh, nervous about it. Got any, you know, advice for your dad? LUKE (without hesitation) Go into the story and find the animals. God as my witness, that’s what my son said. Now who knows what Luke was really thinking at the time. Stupidly I didn’t follow up with him, flummoxed as I was at his comment. I remember mulling it over and thinking that the whole idea of going into a story is precisely what a writer does, immersing themselves in a narrative universe that they create. That has always seemed just right to me, both in its simplicity and profundity, which is frankly why I named this blog GoIntoTheStory. But over time, it’s the other part in which I’ve discovered more and more layers of meaning. Start with the verb “find.” Is there any word more appropriate to describe the writing process? Here are some of its definitions: to come upon by chance: Doesn’t that sound like brainstorming? to locate, attain, or obtain by search or effort: Doesn’t that sound like research? to discover or perceive after consideration: Doesn’t that sound like what happens when we mull over our story? to feel or perceive: As we go into the story, we become more emotionally connected to it. to become aware of, or discover: The biggie, where as explorers we uncover a story’s hidden gems. Then there is “the animals”. I’m almost sure what Luke was thinking about was how a children’s story so often is habituated by animals. Thus in his eyes, my task was probably pretty simple: Go find the animals. They are your characters.
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But what if we think about it more symbolically? ● Animals can be both domesticated and wild. So some things we discover as we go into the story are what we might expect (domesticated). Other times we’re surprised, even shocked by ideas and thoughts that spring to mind (wild). ● Animals are alive, organic, and intuitive beings. So are our story’s characters. ● Throughout human history, animals have come to mean something in stories. A fox is sly and cunning. A crow in many cultures signifies death. An owl is wise. Per Jung and others who study myth and psychoanalysis, animals can serve as conduits into the mind of the dreamer. Which reminds me of something I read about a movie director who in prepping to make a movie gave each of the actors their own animal token as something they could reference in interpreting their character. I’m sure if you think about it, you could probably come up with other shades of meaning for the mantra. I just know that this one’s my favorite mantra of all because of its source. There you have it: My approach to rewriting a screenplay and my wish for you. I hope that you have resonated with at least one of them. Use them to help you focus your thoughts and bring clarity to your writing process. But for now and always, my wish for each of you is the same sentiment as once uttered by a cherubic youngster with bright blue eyes and a look of deep intention in his face:
Go into the story… and find the animals.
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Resources Go Into The Story: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/ Screenwriting Master Class: http://screenwritingmasterclass.com/ DePaul School of Cinematic Arts: http://www.cdm.depaul.edu/about/Pages/School-of-CinematicArts.aspx Zero Draft Thirty Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/731218807011913/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/GoIntoTheStory Email: [email protected]
Special thanks to Franklin Leonard and the entire Black List team. In the 12 years of its existence, the Black List has evolved into the single most important screenwriting brand in Hollywood. Their commitment to shining a spotlight on the craft of screenwriting and notable screenplays, and to create new avenues for outsiders to break into the movie and TV business is a vision I share. I’m proud to contribute to the Black List’s efforts through Go Into The Story and serve as a mentor at their outstanding screenwriter labs. For more information about the Black List: https://blcklst.com/
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