Each action your characters take has to be motivated by an emotion.
I’m writing about this topic because of a script I was writing. I found myself stuck, sputtering ideas around in my head and not going anywhere. I had the characters, I had the story arc, it all had a beginning, it had an end. But everything was going wrong because I found my characters trapped in the middle of the story. It was clear why the characters were all there, and I knew where they would all be going. But they didn’t want to go there. I found myself forcing them to make decisions, I found myself making them say what I wanted them to say. And I was getting nowhere.
And the problem was motivation. The characters didn’t have any. Like a square peg in a round hole, I was trying to force something that didn’t fit. My characters were resisting my plot and nothing was working out.
It’s always a bit of a juggling act, trying to balance where I feel the story needs to go and where the characters want to take the story. But I can’t force the characters into my story, so instead I have to use emotions to gently guide my characters through my story and to it’s ultimate conclusion.
As I said a few weeks ago, a character like a person will always take the easy road if they can. If the characters are making tough decision without external and internal forces pushing them to take the difficult road then the characters are being forced to follow the story.
And then what ends up happening is that the audience feels disconnected from the characters. They can’t understand why the characters are acting so unnatural and making decisions that don’t make sense. But the audience wants to understand. They came to the movie to make a connection to the characters.
To create this connection, the audience needs to understand the character’s motivation. Both the task they want to accomplish during the story and the reason for their actions and reactions during a scene. The audience should not be a passive observer or a mere witness to the events. They should feel apart of it, they should feel apart of the characters and be able to not only describe what happened, but how the characters about what happened. They must be able to experience what it is to live the life of that character.
For every image in a film, the audience must understand the emotions behind it. When we see the childhood photo, or they look upon their wife, or see the dent in their new car the audience must know how it makes the characters feel. They must be able to connect with the emotions and understand the reaction that follows.
Otherwise all you have is talking heads being forced along an emotionless story.
And this brings me back to my script. I was ignoring my character’s emotions and focused entirely on the plot. My characters were not reacting to their feelings, they were simply doing what needed to get done. They were taking the difficult road, but without knowing why. All they knew was they had to reach the destination I had predetermined for them.
So I have had to edit. I had to describe body language, I had to cause emotional responses in the characters and and I have had to follow the chain of actions and reactions in my characters. To do this I have had loosen my grip on my plot and let the characters guide me to the end of this story.