Screenwriting : Character Development for WWII Military Movie by Alan J. Field

Alan J. Field

Character Development for WWII Military Movie

In know this is a bit broad, but I'm writing a memoir based on my father's WWII experience.

Of course, all of the interpersonal stuff I need to make up because he and all of his army buddies are dead. So, knowing only what my father was like, how should I go about "building" characters around him who are interesting without being cliche'?

So far I was thinking that because he was an introvert with a scientific and math background, maybe throw comrads at him who are a)extroverted/funny, b) naive/personable, and c) overbearing/controlling?

Is this the right way to go about it? Should they also have aligned traits as well?

What I want also is for two of them to die(a and b, preferably).

What do you all think?

Alan

Constance York

Do you know anyone who is an extrovert? Funny? Overbearing? etc. Think of those friends, co-workers, family members who are the most outrageous- or distinct in your own life- and then base your characters on the basis of - what would Uncle Jim say in this circumstance? Sounds like you're on the right track for sure. Good luck. I love WWII stuff. The Greatest Generation.

Alan J. Field

Thank you.

Paul Fallon

Was your father a reluctant draftee or an eager volunteer? WWII saw both types. Where are your characters from geographically? WWII saw people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds thrown together for one purpose. To me the adaptation from all -American rugged individualism to fighting unit is the backbone of any WWII story.; If your father was an introvert, a great character arc would be his growing into a leadership role in his platoon and gaining the trust of all those diverse "buddies" Spitballing here.

Alan J. Field

He was an EAGER volunteer. You see, he was an Austrian Jewish refugee who escaped the Third Reich. So when the U.S. Army finally allowed refugees to enlist, he jumped at the chance.

Alan J. Field

All the other characters have language skills. One is a Jewish American from Wisconsin another is a Jew from Germany and the fourth, his superior officer, is a Catholic Frenchman.

Paul Fallon

There's great potential there! I'm sure you're aware of the very real and legal anti-Semitism that was going on in our society at that time. Neil Simon touches on it in his play Biloxi Blues which was also made into a film. But there is so much more to explore. How far are you into your research? JWV.org might be a good place to explore anr reach out to some of their surviving WWII members.

Alan J. Field

Thanks! I'll check out BB and the website. My dad was trained along with 20k others as an an interrogator during the war and worked for the the O.S.S. during those years.

Claude Gagne

Throw-in a,b,c. with a lot of conflict, drama, suspense, goals achieved, victories, family life, mix it well and end it with happiness.

Cameron Leigh James

Both StoryCorps and Library of Congress have vaults of information -- stories, recordings by WWII vets. LOC database is easily searchable. https://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-changemakers.html

Erik A. Jacobson

I'd suggest viewing movies like Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, or Inglorious Bastards to get a better feel for WW2 buddy movies. If much of the story takes place in France you might want to include key French stories or people they meet. I've lived in France and can vividly recall: the man with a tattooed number on his arm from a German labor camp experience, the family slated for execution for hiding Jews but saved by the Maquis (French Resistance), the animosity felt toward Germans in rural villages even years later.

Alan J. Field

Claude: explain what you mean about happiness. Two of the protagonist's friends die before it's over. He gets an opportunity to exact revenge on the killer, but chooses the high road instead. Why should it end happily? The point should be that the protagonist has matured in some way. Yes?

Cameron: Thank you. I was able to retrieve a lot of information about my Dad's training in the Army and general G-2 intelligence reports from the National Archives here in Maryland.

Matt Otstot

Alan, within the realm of World War Two, you've got virtually the entire span of the United States from which to pull (for character types). But I wouldn't just limit it to three friends. Your father was likely part of a squad within a platoon within a regiment. Think Band of Brothers, Hacksaw Ridge, A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, etc. More characters means more interaction and a chance to add more rich elements to your script.

Alan J. Field

Matt: First, how deep should I delve into each supporting character, and second, how will I know if I have enough character background to start writing the first draft?

Matt Otstot

Alan - you don't have to "directly" lay out each back story with the close-knit group of four. You can reveal it with stories, jokes, references, etc. And flush out the key points as you like along with adding key, relevant elements along the way. The other characters can also be developed by comments from other soldiers or by their actions. Keep in mind, as casualties mount and new guys come in, some soldiers were here and gone before anyone knew much about them.

Alan J. Field

Thanks, Matt.

Alan J. Field

I have mapped out this story in outline form, and it's shaping up o be an epic story. At 77+ scenes, it's looking like a two-part miniseries.

Phil Parker

Two of the best ways to create distinct characters are 1.) give them a point of view of the world. In other words, how do they deal with people and problems, e.g., are they a control freak, a negotiator, an enabler, a sharer, a hoarder? 2.) give each one a different opinion of your moral premise/thematic argument, e.g., if the premise of your story is "to truly heal, you must forgive the person who wounded you" does your character agree? DIsagree? Or do they see both sides of that statement? For an example of this, look at Saving Private Ryan, and the different opinions Tom Hank's squad has of the validity of their mission.

Lindsay Aichinger

That's crazy. I always love to understand why people join the military. Obviously we know the background of your father but you have to think about how the backgrounds of the others and how it would influence their choices throughout the film. These one sided stereotypes need to stop. People are complex period including minor characters. As long as you understand the motivations behind each character, it helps come together with different scenes.

Claude Gagne

Alan... All I'm saying you need to end the movie on a positive note.

Nathan Smith

In my opinion, which means you can feel free to ignore it, I think the story impact here, with your father and the people he served with is the transformation he underwent. You describe him as eager to sign up to go to war and then mention that he was an introvert with a science and math background. Is that how you remember him? As an introvert? Or is that the change that happened because of the impact of his experience in the war? Do you know he was an introvert before signing up? What if he was any one of those other types you have listed as supporting characters and it was the service and sacrifice of the others around him that brought him out of the war alive that changed him to the introvert you recall him being?

Alan J. Field

He was a "well-respected" introvert--at least at his job.

Alan J. Field

I've had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite my outline. I would like to lay out a "dual story line" for the WWII story. The present story line would be the pressing mission that the soldiers are trying to complete(like Saving Private Ryan). The other story would be flashback of my father's imprisonment and escape from Germany. Do any of you know of any screenplays where the dual storyline is utilized to perfection?

Cameron Leigh James

When you say "dual storyline" do you mean parallel? Your example, Saving Private Ryan, isn't a dual story line. It uses a device, a frame with which to contain the larger story. Fiction writers and playwrights call it a nesting narrative, or in simpler terms, a story within a story. Shakespeare (Hamlet, a play within a play), Chaucer (Canterbury Tales), Poe (House of Usher), Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (and her sister Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and many others, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein use this technique to great effect to frame the larger narrative. Many films use framing devices. Off the top of my head: Life of Pi (based on a novel), Inception, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic and CastAway.

Alan J. Field

Thanks, I never thought of those. Yes, it would be a "parallel" story line. I' don't recall Inception as a parallel storyline, though. Could you elaborate on that one?

Dan MaxXx

Lookup Screenwriter Eric Hessierer. He wrote Arrival & Bird Box. Both movies use flashbacks/flash forward intercutting with main story.

Cameron Leigh James

No, Inception doesn't use parallel structure. Inception uses multiple nests like the Russian Doll series. In this case, multiple levels of dreams that DiCaprio's character (and Murphy's) goes into and then comes back out of to return to his real (at least we're made to think it's real) life at the end. It's a complex structure. I'm sure you can find the script to study the structure to see if it fits the story you want to tell.

Martin Roy Hill

Alan, if your father was an interrogator with OSS (no periods), his experience was far different than those seen in any of the movies mentioned here. OSS was an intelligence and special operations service and forerunner of the CIA and the Army Special Forces. OSS ran guerrilla operations behind enemy lines, ran spies in occupied and neutral nations, counter-espionage ops, and military and strategic intelligence operations. You should research the OSS and get an idea on how your father's experience fit in with those responsibilities. Start with the OSS Society. There are also several books on the OSS, including the official War Report of the OSS. I'm a novelist, not a screenwriter, but I also have written quite a bit on military history, including a book.

Alan J. Field

Thanks, Dan ManXx! I loved Birdbox. Arrival was hard for me to identify with, but I will read the screenplays. for sure.

Alan J. Field

Cameron, yes, I agree with your analysis. I adore the Inception screenplay, but I think it's too complex for what I need to convey.

Alan J. Field

Martin, thank you very much. I definitely need to hit the books!

Alan J. Field

What about "Sophie's Choice" as a parallel structure? I know that was a while back.

Martin Roy Hill

Alan, was your father one of the Ritchie Boys, refugees trained as interroators for the OSS, etc.? Here's some info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritchie_Boys

There was a movie made about them, too. https://www.ritchieboys.com/EN/home.html

Alan J. Field

Yes, I was aware and saw it. Thanks.

Alan J. Field

Martin, the OSS Society website had a direct request to the archives for any service recrods. I already requested the archives but I just submited another request through the website. Would you know if the resonse is quicker?

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