What's more important, a good character or a good story?
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In TV, a good character. In a movie, a good story.
A good character makes a good story and a good story makes a good character. So, both are--
Great question. It's the one that started the "Screenwriting Wars." I believe they're still fighting it out. For many years I fought on the side of Story, but I defected and now I'm with Character. On the other hand, if Story doesn't kick Character's ass (as they say), Character won't get off the sofa and do something. Here's what I do, if I think I have a story that can grow legs, and a good plot point or twist comes into my head. I take time out to think, "How will my character react?" That's the moment to stop what you are doing and get inside your character's head. Imagine you are he or she, feel their emotions, and understand how he or she will respond. Often your character will surprise you. I have one character - of several - who needs no prompting from me. She's so darn pushy, she takes over every plot, if I let her. I don't have to work to get her to tell me how she will react - she's right there with the sassy comebacks. It's taken me years to get to know her, and now we hang out a lot.
A good character can make a story good but a compelling character can make a story great.
Another way to discuss. It depends. In Slasher, for example, the story and execution are why you buy the ticket. The character is not why you buy the ticket. But all are part of the same pie.
I would have to say story. I have seen lots of films where there is a great character but nothing goes on so it just seems like an hour long character study. The first one that comes to mind is "When Will I Be Loved" starring Neve Campbell. Although do you need a good story or character in a horror movie which is what I'm currently working on.
Hey Billy, notice I said Slasher for example. I don't think you always need a great character in Slasher or in a movie like HOUSE OF WAX. Speaking of Neve Campbell, I love that character in SCREAM, so yeah, it really just depends and it all contributes to the movie.
@Regina... Thanks for all your excellent industry insight that you post. Certainly appreciated! :-)
Hey mate, I agree with Steven; a superb script is made from a combination of great characters' arc and a great story. BUT I have to say that if you don't have a well defined character, your story (even though is amazing) will lack of emotion and fluidity. The story will be stock in "so, what's next?" and your creation wouldn't get to the spot that you would like to.
How can you separate the two. You can't.
Best horror films have complex characters like any good drama. Don't be swayed by cinema canon fodder or sub genres like Regina mentioned ... It Follows, The Conjuring and Siniater were scary because we feared for the characters we had invested in through the story
Regina: my fav Neve movie was Wild Things because it had a unique story and very detailed characters. Story is so important but if you're not invested in the characters, then why would you bother watching the movie?
Both. There is no "vs." in screenwriting, you have to do everything right.
I only ask because I tend to lean towards character(s) then develop a story that stretches them and explores their inner selves. I essentially manipulate the story around them. However, I often talk with other people who write and we share our ideas, but most of what I hear is just story. And I can't help thinking to myself, how can I be invested in this story if I have no one to root for or no one I can root for. Too many times I'm watching something, brilliant story, colourful supporting characters, but the protagonist is insufferable. For me, that just brings me straight out. On the other hand, I've seen things with a terrible story, terrible premise, but the main characters are alot of fun. And this makes it far more watchable. Ideally, a film or tv series needs to have both, but I guess it's like the chicken and the egg. Which one comes first?
For me it depends upon the story. You must have at least good on one side if the other is great. Story is more important if you could use different characters to tell the story. These characters must be good enough to support the story. Jaws is an example, you could have used any member of the township to tell that story (as long as they are good characters). Hamlet on the other hand is the story of a man. The story must support him. I suppose this is the plot driven vs character driven conversation.
If you plan to sell it you have to have both.
Hi Steven, I hope your day is going well. Evenn with both it is not a sure sale.
If I didn't have a good story with good characters....I wouldn't consider myself a good writer. In my view....how can you NOT have a good story without good characters? Try pitching that to a producer...."good story, not good characters......PASS!"
And there it is. We must do both for one simple reason, it is our job.
Characters are the story. If you don't have great characters you don't have a story.
Think of screenplay like a car. Characters are the body, the story or message are the wheels, the obstacles make up the engine that drive the story, the road is the journey, page count or time to get the audience from point A to point B, with many possible detours along the way. Sacrificing one part or another only serves to make the ride that much less enjoyable.
Jethro raises a good point here. Sometimes it is too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on story rather than character - especially at the concept stage.
Think about this: if you have really great characters and a mediocre story, the movie would be watchable. If you have a good story, but dull characters, the movie would be harder to watch. With that said, I second the notion that having a good balance of both is ideal.
Well, considering the two separately just seems... wrong? Plot, story, character are all linked; interlocked. They are one and the same; one does not exist without the other. These are not separate "things" but rather parts of a whole. "Character-driven" is how some describe a story with a weak plot -- not much happens. On the other end of the spectrum, a story that uses characters just sprinkled around itself lacks any emotional impact. It is the combination -- the unification of these elements working together as a single entity -- that has importance; that creates great stories. :)
Aw, shucks, Steven. I'm just happy if I can be of some service. Help in some way. :)
@Beth... as I'm learning at my summer job as a cashier at a liquor store - Good service is an art form... and giving it feeds you in ways that help you sleep-the-sleep-of-the-just-(wo)man.
I gotta agree with my man , Preston. In film a good story is (to me) the car and the character the driver , but if the car is weak it ain't going anywhere, no matter who is (characters) in the driver seat.