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4 Tips to Tell a Compelling Story: Using Your Characters

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

Stories. We all know them, we tell them every day. Whether that's in a pub with our friends, recalling to work colleagues or ranting about our day to our pets. Everybody has got a story to tell, it's all about how you tell them. Here at Fire and Iron Productions, we have a passion for narrative storytelling, no matter what the medium. The narrative drives the story. This is what we discussed with John Ware, the founder of the 168 Film Festival, a couple of weeks ago.

As part of the '168 Digital Drive-In Movies', myself and Marcus had a meeting with John to analyse our short film 'The Other Way', which you can check out here

If you want to watch the short film in full again, or if you haven't seen it already, then head over here to watch it here

It was a chance to re-live the production process and take a look at how far we've come as a film company. We took an in-depth dive into how we as a company like to structure our films and I thought we'd share that with you. Everybody knows that all good stories have a beginning, middle and end but what is the best way to enhance this structure? Today, I'd like to focus on how your characters can help tell a great story.

1.Conflicting Ideas

Every story has two sides. Good and Evil. Hero and Villian. Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action. there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same is true for a good story. The push and pull of two characters fighting out their morals are what creates drama and tension, whatever genre you are writing in. In Hot Fuzz, the comedy is created through Nicholas Angel's nature of doing things by the book and the rest of the Police stations lackadaisical approach. Give your story an extra bit of spice by making it uncertain as to who has the 'right' moral.

2. Give Your Protagonist a Goal

The 'hero' of the story needs to have a goal to reach by the end of the film. This could be a physical object or to grasp an idea or look for answers. Your character should have lots of goals in life, but to make the film work, you need one MAIN goal. An overarching problem that can be achieved by the movie's conclusion.

3. Create Problems to Solve

Your character's got a problem. Are you going to make it easy? No. Dull. You need something in their way. This is usually in the form of the protagonists enemy. If you are creating a longer film, then allow some time to solve smaller problems, but allow there to be one main battle at the climax of the film. For an action movie, that's a 'final battle' situation. For a Romantic Comedy, that's a resolution of the two lovers bickering. Whatever genre your film is in, there will be 'one final hurdle' for the hero to overcome.

4. Give Your Characters a Distinct Personality

Make them individuals. Make them human. All humans are flawed, so make all your characters flawed, even if they're not human. A human person will be watching your film and will want to connect to the characters emotionally. They could be a wise-cracker, serious, dumb, whatever they are, make sure they are unique to your story. This will also help when giving your characters dialogue. One way of defining your characters is by using a technique called stream of consciousness. Imagine them in your mind and write down what you see for five or ten minutes. Don't think, just write. This will give you a good starting point for your initial thoughts on the character.

Well, I hope this was helpful. Remember your characters are what drive the story. Use them to the best of your advantage and tell the story through them. If your characters are well defined, then the rest of the story will write itself... Well, it won't, you'll still have to write it. You know what I mean.

Stay safe and keep creative.

Bye for now.

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