Not satisfied with one complex character? How about an army?
We started this series a few months back and never quite got to finish it. Therefore, with no further adieu, I give you the final two pillars of dramatic writing, courtesy of Craig Volk, screenwriting and playwriting professor at the University of Colorado at Denver.
To review, the first two pillars were:
1) Images over Ideas: In short, ideas are great, but images are what burns into a viewer's (or reader's) mind. You'll get far more mileage out of an image than you will out of a raw idea.
2) Simple Plots, Complex Character: This one is very important for tying into the last two. Complicated plots can be fun, but remember that just about every plot known to man has already been done far before you were born: likely in the Bible, Shakespeare, or Greek Mythology... Tear the fancy curtains and snazzy new furniture away and you'll find the same house that's been used for millennia. Characters, however, can be immortal and ever-changing. Focus on a complex, engaging character that holds the audience's interest, who they both love and/or hate... The plot will follow.
We continue onward with:
3) Conflict is Character, Character is Story: Want to make a complex character who will drive your plot and give your readers a story that they'll not soon forget? Insert conflict into that protagonist's world. Disrupt the cosmos. In the words of The Joker, "Insert a little anarchy..." Seriously, chaos is not such a bad thing for a writer. It may seem cruel to take your perfectly happy hero and cause him to lose the person dearest to him or to take your crime-solving femme fatale and have her utterly fail on a case, ending up rejected from the justice world... Conflict makes your character come alive. How they react to obstacles, what tactics they use, how their failures mold them... In the role-playing world, they have a term for characters who always overcome conflict unscathed: Mary Sue's. They're perfectly perfect in every way, beautiful, always able to overcome problems, and they are sickeningly boring to boot. Two films I reference quite frequently: The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millionaire, demonstrate conflict brilliantly. Think about the sheer amount of things that go wrong in these films. Batman is a superhero... He's already larger than life thanks to his use of theatricality and technology. All of a sudden someone comes along who Batman truly doesn't know how to beat... so much so that the woman he loves ends up getting blown to bits in a dark warehouse. In Slumdog, Jamel experiences repeated tragedies in his life... He goes through this in such engaging terms that when the film has the happiest ending you could conjure, we don't scoff at it. We rejoice with him and Latika. To recap, add conflict into your character's life, and the story will gain strength.
4) Constantly Create an Alluring Future: While all of these can apply to non-visual writing genres, this one especially does. There's a reason we use terms like "page-turner" and "I was on the edge of my seat" with certain stories. It's because the author or scriptwriter managed to keep us wondering what was going to happen next... We had to know. Part of this is done by having a strong (and sometimes ever-evolving) dramatic question that carries us through. Will Neo save mankind? Will Rocky go the distance with Apollo Creed? Will Frodo get the ring to Mount Doom and survive? None of these plots are really that complicated. Once again, your characters and the use of conflict play heavily into keeping readers and viewers engaged. Consider this point intensely while going through revisions. Have you constantly created an alluring future in your story, or is there "dead time" where we just stop caring? This point is crucial to consider.
There you have it... While these pillars are designed with playwriting, screenwriting, and teleplay writing in mind, writers of other genres can use these pointers as well. After all, aren't novelists trying to paint images in the mind with words? Isn't a great part of poetry imagery? Another thank you to Craig Volk for allowing me to share this with the Denver community.