Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Screenwriting Bullet #2

What does 'a character-driven story' mean?

A character-driven story is one that focuses on the personal motivations and desires of the protagonist and secondary characters. As such, the characters create the plot, or have significant influence on what happens. Character-driven stories are normally associated with soul-searching or introspective dramas, and usually lauded above plot-driven stories, but this need not be the case. For example, Die Hard is a character-driven thriller with a great plot led by John McClane, which is why it's a classic. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a plot-driven adventure, with very high stakes and an engaging hero (who fails at every attempt he makes within the plot), which is why it's a classic.

Most great TV dramas are character-driven, like The Wire, Mad Men, Cracker etc, while some great TV like Dr Who are plot-driven. 'Character-driven' doesn't mean 'there is no plot', just as good plot-driven stories doesn't necessarily mean 'there are no decent characters', although that can happen frequently.

Related Posts:
Character Vs Plot
Sub-plots & Secondary Characters

Surprising Characterisation

1 comment:

londonscreenwriter said...

It could be added that TV is character-driven because series and serials have more time to develop characters.

Television is more close-up and dialogue-based because of the scale of the medium [than a film] and promoting identification with the characters, especially the protagonist, encourages a relationship with the audience.

It is really only 'action films' that are less apparently character driven, principally because their characters are usually archetypes with ideal who never appear to show pain or suffer as mere mortals do.

It has the disadvantage of making the heroes into comic-book heroes without much dimension - something remedied by more recent versions of these stories, for example Spiderman, or the development of Batman'sbackstory. They still ponce around as superheroes,but an audience is given the opportunity of closer identification with them.

One way film and television get round the character-driven dilemma is through casting. Some actors are very empathic - it is easy to establish identification with them. John Wayne may have been a star but he was only really a point of view character through which the audience could experience the story. You were never troubled with quibbles about his motivation or his deeper psychology.