Wednesday, October 27, 2010

At the beginning, there was your character

There are two types of stories:

- someone (or a group of people) wants something badly, and it’s really hard to get
- someone (or a group of people) doesn’t want something and it’s really hard to avoid

In other words, either your “characters” are running toward “something”, or they’re running away from “something”.

In the first pages of your manuscript, your main job is to make clear who are those “characters”, and to define clearly the “something” they either want or want to avoid.

There are four basics things you need to achieve in your first pages for the story to begin:

1. You need to introduce the character(s), and make them interesting – it doesn’t mean that they have to be particularly good or evil, or that your readers need to identify with them. It means that you need to make them remarkable enough so we will care about what happen to them through your story.

2. Introduce their predicament and/or goals CLEARLY. Meaning, that the goal or predicament of your characters are instinctively and undoubtedly understood by your readers (for example: surviving a killer, finding true love, saving the earth, destroying the Death Star, finding who murdered your kids, killing Bill, etc.)  

3. Defining all the obstacles and making your characters’ goal nearly unreachable (for example: the unstoppable comet on its way to splash earth, the strength of dark side of the force, the total lack of clues left by the murderer, Bill’s cool invincibility and deadly connections, etc.). The more obstacles - the stronger they are -, the more interesting becomes your story. It’s just like in life, if something is hard to get, it instantly becomes more desirable/valuable.  

4. Put your characters on their way to solve their predicament.  Meaning you need to define clearly and instinctively the sort of actions the character(s) need to take to reach their goal.

Take the first 10 pages of Kill Bill script by Quentin Tarantino.

1. Cut to: Page 1. Line 5. The Bride lies on the floor, bleeding. Half a page later, she takes a bullet in the head. When she wakes up, she goes onwhat the movie advertisements refer to as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.” Within 10 pages, she is killed, resuscitated, escape another murder attempt, brutally dispatch 3 people (a female killer turned house wife, two men trying to sleep-rape her) and drive around in a Pussy Wagon - becoming one of the most memorable characters in movie history.  
2. What does she want? Is her goal clear? You bet.  QT makes it totally unambiguous. In the Bride’s own words: “When I arrive at my destination… I’m gonna kill Bill!” (page 4)  
3. Obstacle? Sure.  That would be Bill and his crew of blood thirsty professional killers. Each of them skilled, sadistic and most importantly nearly invincible. And there’s Bill, of course - portrayed as some sort of cool God of bad-assness. The type of boss-creature that’s going to be impossible to destroy. 
4. But the Bride has a plan to defeat the undefeatable. It’s a list on a notepad: THE DEATH LIST FIVE. “On the page are five names numbered and written in red ink.”. She will confront and kill everybody on that list, and when she will have crossed the first four names, she’s going to kill number one. She’s going to kill Bill. 

It’s almost as if the first 20 pages of Kill Bill are the blue print of what should be the beginning of any story. Clear, inviting, character orientated, grabbing and projecting us in the events to come.

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